Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
In August one of our SSH writers passed away. Jane Barton was a longstanding theatre reviewer and also wrote various features for the paper, including a profile of our current artist in residence, Jovana. Undergoing treatment for cancer, she carried on writing and studying – and it seemed she complained very little. Her heart was centred on passionate love for those she held precious – her partner and family and friends, her colleagues at the SSH and South Sydney Youth Services (Weave), younger and older people in the community. Jane’s witness comes to mind as we light the candle of joy today. It was easy to be in her company. It was uplifting and affirming. God be with you …
I’m remembering the memorial service for Jane, which was held, appropriately enough, at the Writers’ Centre in Rozelle. One of Jane’s good friends told a story about driving to Sydney from the Blue Mountains with Jane as passenger in his car. At some point Jane had said, gently: “You know, you probably need to drive more steadily.” Jane’s friend recounted that he’d understood her words in reference to his slightly erratic driving, and also more “metaphysically”. Yes, he was right. Jane was a steady person. According to friends and family, she had worked diligently at it – by way of meditation and study over a number of years. The Jane I knew over nearly six years was consistently and reliably kind. It’s one reason I felt so privileged to be, with many others, at her memorial service – to give thanks for her life and work.
I’m thinking about her steady witness to kindness. It strikes me that this has much to teach us today in light of the candle of joy – and in light of our readings from Zephaniah, Philippians and Luke. We often think of joy as something out of the ordinary, a point of conversion, a high point of an erratic journey. And yet does Paul not implore believers, twice, to “Rejoice in the Saviour always”? This is Paul who writes “in chains”, from a prison cell. It’s not simply about emotion, then. “Rejoice in the Saviour always.”
Today’s readings offer counsel and guidance. They are about joy in the midst of the everyday, in the midst of difficulty and anguish. Joy as a practice, as something to do – with a steady and regular passion. Joy as spiritual discipline, as habit. They are, most profoundly, about God’s constant and consistent care for the world and for us.
From the prophet Zephaniah, perennial Advent converts learn that the God who calls each of us to conversion remains in our midst, continually renewing, with gladness and love, all who turn toward the truth. In the Letter to the Philippians, Paul, as we’ve heard, calls the converted to rejoice in the nearness of God who hears prayers and whose peace safeguards our hearts and minds. The reading taken from Luke’s Gospel finds John the Baptist teaching a lesson that keeps the enthusiasm of the convert practical and in touch with the realities of human experience.
In the course of his preaching near the Jordan, John attracted a variety of diverse converts. Ordinary people, moved by his message and wishing to respond to it, asked: “What should we do?” Tax collectors and soldiers said: “Teacher, what are we to do?” One scholar suggests, that given such frank and eager questions, zealous converts would probably have agreed to anything John asked of them. But John did not issue Herculean challenges; he simply directed the energies and generosity of his questioners toward the routine circumstances of their everyday lives. Blessedness is to be found in the ordinary and even in the banal.
If John’s message were to be contemporised, we can hear him telling lovers to express the sincerity of their conversion to God by a renewal of their love and devotion to one another. Parents: revere your children. Children: respect your parents. Brothers and sisters: let sibling rivalry yield to mutual caring. Teachers: value your students, and students: realise that your mentors have wisdom to impart. Doctors, nurses: treat your patients with attentiveness and understanding. Lawyers: be defenders of justice for all. Journalists: report and investigate in the interests of the community – fairly, comprehensively, consistently. Artists: keep working, keep going, share your visions of a world made beautiful and destined for glory – resist glib affirmations and cynicism.
John would have his listeners pump the immediate zeal of their conversion into the long-
There is time to ask the question: “What should we do?” There is time to channel our eager willingness to respond to that question into the large and small, significant and insignificant moments of each and every day where we meet the Saviour whose face reflects God’s constant and consistent care for the world and for us.
Last Sunday night the Camdenville Community Choir performed a concert here in the very space they’d previously recorded a CD of choral music. One song in particular was uplifting and affirming. “You Look Into My Eyes” is a Norwegian song, and, according to the liner notes, “speaks about the complexity of passionate love, a meeting of the minds and a range of emotions such as fear, doubt, pain and … joy”.
As we listen to the song now, we can contemplate the nearness of the Saviour, the face of Jesus – the One who looks into our eyes. May we know what to do this hour, this day, this week. What should we do? Perhaps you’d then like to share something you feel called to do joyfully this week – it could be anything, however large or small … Amen.