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Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon

Christmas 1, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 1, 2012

Isaiah 61:10–62:3; Luke 2:22-40

The miracles of faith’

The prophet Isaiah celebrates that God is always offering us new beginnings the renewing of the plants which grow from small seeds within life. Always there are fresh possibilities because God never gives up on us. God is never defeated.

The passage in Luke is seen as a reflection on both the past and present for the people of Israel and possibly the world. The parents of Jesus are simply following the tradition required of them as parents of a young child. The name of “Jesus” was not an uncommon name in their day, even though the story has it that this was the name which the angel suggested to Mary before he was born.

Simeon was someone who grieved over the state of his nation and longed for a new day. In looking at the child Jesus, he saw a different future. He had faith that this child could transform the world.

Then there was Anna, who was recognised as one who could predict the future. She also saw that new future in Jesus.

We could simply see the insights of these two elderly people as arising from special gifts of prophetic recognition of the divinity of Jesus. Or we could see them as people who cared deeply about the state of the world and had the profound faith to hope for new possibilities a dream which could be fulfilled if any child lived in brave obedience to God. Whichever way we see it, they spoke out for a new day.

People of faith are often defined by themselves and others as those who believe in God. However, I want to suggest that, if we are to be people of faith, we are called to something grander. Belief in God is relatively meaningless unless it invites in us transformed lives which testify to the life of our God in Christ Jesus, the one who we follow.

As we listen to the word for us in these two passages, we are called, in the context of the New Year which begins today, to look out on the world with eyes of faith. I suggest that this means that, within the realities which we see before us, there are tiny seeds of hope for good, like what Simeon and Anna saw in the life of the Christchild. What we see inspires in us a trust that, even if we can’t see how it could be possible, good and change can happen.

Faith is a belief in things we cannot see, but from which we can live, in the company of our God. Probably this has never been easy. I would have to say that it feels to me particularly hard to do that today.

I have been connected with political life and movements for change for the last 60 years and I would have to say that I find it harder to have faith in the future now than at any earlier point. Maybe that has something to do with my age, but I am not sure about that.

I look out on a world which seems meaner than ever, which has little sympathy for people who suffer in varieties of ways. I look for political leadership from those who would claim to belong to the radical parties of the world and in Australia and I see only glimpses of faith in radical change.

There was a day when you could get hundreds of thousands to march for peace, even if we fought with each other within the Peace Movement, but it would be unlikely for anything remotely like that number to rally today.

Where are the voices which cry out that you can’t bomb and shoot people into democracy? Who imagines for one moment that, after losing hundreds of thousands of the lives of their own people, we will have a creative relationship with the people of Iraq or Afghanistan and that the warring tribes or the Taliban won’t simply hang around until foreign troops leave and then return?

Where are the crowds who protest our lack of humanity as desperate people try to reach our shores we whose ancestors came and claimed this land as their own, without any permission from its original people.

I know we have great initiates like GetUp and that people twitter and tweet away on various networks, but I think we need louder and clearer voices which both challenge what is and which invite in us a faith that we could be part of a creative action for justice and peace.

When we began to produce the South Sydney Herald, 100 issues ago, it was because we saw the mainstream media constantly present the Redfern/Waterloo area in a negative way. Not that we wanted to offer some sort of romantic alternative but we believed that, in this place, there lie seeds of good and acts of faith in the future which should be shared so that we would all enter a greater hope.

We wanted to challenge many situations which exist, but in ways which offer ideas, rather than simply discouraging people. We wanted to move past media spin and sensation into a deeper reflection on the community around us.

The very production of the paper is an act of faith each month as we rely on the gifts and goodwill of so many people, many of whom are outside our congregation. But . . . on we go!

If you look at the life of Jesus, you don’t see someone moving from success to success. On the contrary, you see a life which was lived with brave and committed determination and which appeared to be defeated in the end. However, people could see life rising even within that costly journey because it imaged for us love which never ceased.

It is often hard to keep the faith because we often see so little for our efforts. This is where an eternal view of reality is helpful. Each of us can add a little to the eternal future if we try to live with love and justice and that is gathered up with all the efforts of others down the ages. It is never lost.

The role of the prophets was often to both challenge the people and remind them of a greater hope, as did Isaiah. We can all have moments of prophetic life if we choose to do so.

We are called to look out into the world with the eyes of the child Jesus and allow our trust to be renewed over and over again. As a community of faith, we may celebrate each small sign that faith can be enacted by us and others that we will never allow it to die.

I loved sitting next to little Oliver Higgins on Christmas Day. There he was, earnestly carrying some coins in his cap which he told me were for poor people. When he put them in the offering, I watched his face as he enacted kindness so deliberately and gave real meaning to that moment of offering. Children do often restore meaning to things we take for granted.

So . . as we choose to be people of faith as we step into this New Year, what do we long to do or to stand for? Where have we seen tiny seeds of hope which could grow into the beauty of the life of Christ lived out among us?

Let us complete the homily together.