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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 2, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 9, 2012

Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Prepare the way

One of the bass singers with the Cleftomaniacs choir called me a few days ago. The choir had performed in the city – traditional carols mostly – and he felt he’d let the group down. He felt he’d been under-prepared. “Might it be possible for the bass singers to meet at the church on Monday night and practise some more?” he asked. “We have a few gigs still to come.” I assured him it would be fine, moved by his humble resolve to do his best for the sake of others in the choir – and for the sake, more broadly, of “Christmas in the city”. His humility was expressive not so much of anxious perfectionism as of peace – the peace of one who brings/sings good news, believing that good work begun within will be carried through to completion (Philippians 1:6). The peace of those who, as best they can, herald the Advent of joy and love. Last Sunday we lit a candle for hope and today we have lit a candle for peace. In the austere light of John the Baptist (El Greco’s portrait is brilliant), perhaps this peace is a resolve, a self-awareness and attention to practice, that our lives might truly herald joy and love. God be with you

“We are all John the Baptists in our own way”, writes one contemplative. “Called to leave the comfort and security of our present lives and to go and immerse ourselves in the knowing of God. To participate [personally, socially, politically …] in the renewal of life, where hope comes alive, goodness abounds and where glory to God is given” (David L. Walker). There are a couple of things here, straight away, to reflect on. We can reflect on the knowing of God or the renewal of life, which has to do with compassion, overflowing compassion. And we can reflect on participation. The glory revealed in peace – extending to all humankind, throughout the earth – can only be achieved through our participation: through our preparing the way, through our helping to make ready the way of our God who makes the twisted paths straight and the rough roads smooth.

We are all – bass singers, baritone and tenor, metzo and soprano singers – partakers of grace, we are all part of the story. The glory of God may be (and is) manifested in us. Salvation is something we are called to practise – and something we are called to perform for the sake of others – for the sake, most broadly, of Christmas in the world. Our Act for Peace Representative, Rikki, will have a little more to say about that invitation/opportunity during our prayers of intercession today.

I’d like to say a little more, here, about the knowing of God, about the renewal of life. I experienced something like this on Wednesday night at the Wordplay meeting. Three poems were shared, each one stunning. In the context of personal and congregational concerns, and high humidity, the experience was refreshing and deeply affirming.

Heather’s poem is two poems about “a face in the crowd” – a person observed stepping from a taxi in Clarence Street. The poet empathises with the person, delights in the person, despite not knowing why the person seems bathed in the light of love. Hence, the two poems speculate as to reasons why. The truth, we surmise, lies somewhere between the two. In the “knowing of God” perhaps?

Cecile’s poem is called “Light”, and in just three lines expresses a profound peace.

   White wall silhouette
   Light stand lilies by my bed
   Green book lamp nearby

Catherine’s poem is inspired by a line Alana contributed to our collaborative work on Reign of Christ Sunday. It’s a visual poem so I’ll need to hand out copies for you to see.

REAL [is in the space between
   t   h   i   n   g   s;
   in the relation between
   between oth<->ers,
   between all<->living;
   between the ago
   and the to/come …] M

The making new of the word “REALM” in this way – a product of communal faithfulness and personal flair – casts everything in a new light. It makes me smile, and more than that, it calls me to repentance (the word, metanoia, means more than saying sorry, more than a change of heart or mind – it means something like having a new heart or new mind). I love the “M” at the very end of the poem – a poet’s initial? Or M for Me? The Real Me comprises all manner of relations and mysteries, past, present and future. For a Moment, I enter what one theologian calls “a wilderness mindset” …

“If we are opening ourselves to God, we are going into a place where things are beyond our control and beyond our comprehension. This is actually implicit in the word ‘repentance’; this thing that John calls us to … And this idea of ‘going beyond’ might be helpful, because it reminds us that we are not just looking for new ideas. We are looking for a different kind of mindset that is beyond our normal way of processing information and making decisions. We are looking for the wilderness mindset, the mindset that doesn’t expect to be able to explain and categorise and judge. We are looking for a mindset that does not seek control and categorisation. We are seeking the mind of Christ, the risky, open, uncluttered mindset …

“None of us manage to do that on a continuing basis, but almost all of us have known moments when we were rendered helpless before some awesome mystery, and in that moment, everything looked radically different ... Maybe it was at a childbirth. Maybe it was being present as a loved one died. Maybe it was sitting on a wilderness mountain top. Maybe it happened in the silence in worship, or as the bread was broken in the Eucharist. Maybe it was in prayer in your own room. But whenever it happens, those moments are of the mindset that will open us to God and enable us to prepare the way of the Lord.

“How do we prepare the way of the Lord? It begins with ‘repentance’, a mind changeover. It begins with opening ourselves to the wild possibilities that are beyond the reach of the powers that be, in their arrogant belief that they have the territory all carved up and labelled and under control ... It begins with opening ourselves to the absurd possibilities that the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine offer [real] hope for saving the world …” (Nathan Nettleton).

I’d add just this. That with repentance comes peace. This is the peace of participation in the knowing of God or the renewal of life, and it has to do, always, with compassion, overflowing compassion.

“… almost all of us have known moments when we were rendered helpless before some awesome mystery, and in that moment, everything looked radically different.” Have you experienced anything like this? Let’s complete the homily togetherAmen.