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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Advent 1, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 2, 2012

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; Luke 21:25-36

And we wait …

Today’s homily builds on “signs of the times” observed by SSH cartoonist, Norrie, and seeks to make further connections. The sky falls over Broadway, the sea turns red, bushfires rage just north of Sydney (we’re in for a hot summer). Science journal reports that melting ice from polar glaciers has contributed around 11 millimetres to global sea level since 1992. Palestine has observer status with the UN. A cure for HIV seems nearer than ever. The ordination of women in the Sydney Anglican diocese seems beyond reach. A feminist prime minister’s “resolve, ambition, self-protection and commonsense” in the wake of revelations of corruption go unnoticed by all but astute writers of letters to the editor. Refugees and survivors of abuse weep like Jeremiah. And we wait. God be with you

Advent is the season of waiting and watching. Each of us is waiting and watching in discrete ways. Together, we wait and watch for the coming of peace with justice. We wait on a day of peace for the earth and all its inhabitants.

To wait and to watch, standing up straight with heads held high, in other words without succumbing to violence, impatience or resigned self-righteousness, is the essence of hope. One of my favourite homilists [Peter Steele SJ] refers to Advent in terms of four oases in the desert. Today’s oasis is called hope. And it’s only in hope, alongside the hopes of all, that we faithfully make our preparations for Christmas.

Jesus, born in a manger and in a stable, on the “wrong” side of privilege, said: “The Spirit of our God is upon me, because the Most High has anointed me to bring good news to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, release to those in prison – to proclaim the Jubilee year of our God’s favour (Luke 4:18-19).

For more than 60 years churches have been working together to bring hope and transform the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. The international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia is called Act for Peace. It works through church partnerships seeking to bring a lasting peace to many conflict-affected regions.

Act for Peace empowers war-torn communities to reduce extreme poverty, protect refugees and displaced people, and prevent further conflict.

Act for Peace is better known to many of us through the activities of the Christmas Bowl, and in the past through Simply Sharing Week. These programs help bring hope to war-torn communities across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific.

Congregations are able to stand in solidarity with these people through awareness of the project areas, praying in informed ways, and supporting Act for Peace activities.

Today we will commission Rikki Taylor as our Act for Peace Representative. Rikki, in this ministry you will hold before us stories of lives and communities that are being transformed; you may distribute materials to keep us informed about Act for Peace programs and activities; you may offer prayer points to help our intercessions; you may encourage us to stand in solidarity with others; you may help us discover new ways to act for peace.

As we wait …

This year dramatic political developments have taken place in Burma/Myanmar which offer the possibility of peace and reconciliation. Preliminary ceasefires have been agreed, although in some areas conflict persists. Refugees remain in camps on the Thailand–Burma/Myanmar border. Let us hear the voice of one young adult.

I am Aye Reh and I have been living in this refugee camp in Thailand since 1996 when my family and I fled Burma.

I arrived in this camp with my parents, brothers and sisters. We came from our town in Karenni State. We received an order from the Burmese military that we all had to leave. Thirty to forty people from my town moved at once. There was no water or food. It was an impossible journey.

When I first came, I worked in the clinic as an assistant then worked my way up to section leader, after which I came here to work with the ration committee. I was recently promoted to the position of distribution manager in one of the warehouses, which we call “go-downs”. Through your gifts to Act for Peace, the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) provides us with food, shelter and other supplies which are stored in and distributed from these go-downs.

My job is to record rations going in and out. The trucks deliver the sacks and I record the details. We distribute rice, oil, chili and charcoal. We now get a different kind of beans because they are cheaper, and we get less rice than we used to. TBBC told us that this is because they are getting less money from donors now than in the past, and they have to prioritise nutrition for the most vulnerable populations like children and those who are sick.

I am still living with my family in the camp. We all hope to go back to Burma one day and do not want to apply for resettlement to another country. I am now 30.

Someday, hopefully, we can return, but right now people keep arriving to escape human rights abuses.

Thank you for your kind gifts to support refugees like me.

Act for Peace, through its partner on the Thailand-Burma/Myanmar border, supports nine refugee camps. The camps are run by refugees, which is unusual. Managing their own camps affirms the refugees’ sense of culture and community, and uses and develops their skills and knowledge in the complex task of providing essential aid to their own people. The program provides refugees with rations for food, cooking equipment and opportunities to build sustainable livelihoods.

And we wait …

We wait on a hopeful word. Our Gospel reading tells us that proper awe at the nearness of God’s presence in Christ translates into action (“Be on your guard … Pray constantly …” 21:34, 36a), rather than the paralysis of fear. The drawing near of the reign of God (21:31) is also a drawing near of ransom/redemption (21:28). The “crisis” of divine “judgement” is in fact a “turning point” – an opportunity to redeem past hurts and brokenness, be they personal or social. The democratic process in Burma/ Myanmar is an example of how such a turning point can be redemptive.

Let’s complete the homily together. Many congregations (we don’t usually admit this ourselves but we’re not really so different) are reluctant to be communities of action. What holds us back in our work of standing up for others in distress?Amen.