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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Advent 1, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 1, 2013

Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

‘I just want to see His face’

“The Promised One is coming at the time you least expect,” says Jesus. As I sat down to prepare this homily, I put on a record I hadn’t heard in a while. For no good reason I selected Exile On Main St by the Rolling Stones (1972). Background music, I thought. And then the unexpected. In the midst of rollicking and ramshackle blues and rock, I heard a song as if for the first time. A little swampy-stompy Jagger-Richards composition called “I Just Want To See His Face”. Maybe I’d never heard it before. Mick Jagger, I learn, was attending occasional revival meetings in Los Angeles at the time. Still, the Stones have never performed the song in concert. Neither has it ever appeared on a compilation album. An obscure track, then. Online research led to this comment by Matthew Wilkening: “Ever feel like there’s magic in the world that you’re just somehow not privileged enough to witness? Well, ‘I Just Want To See His Face’ by the Rolling Stones is your three-minute window into that mystical world” (Matthew Wilkening, Rolling Stone, July 2012). The Promised One is coming at the time you least expect. Indeed. God be with you ...

I would never have thought of the Rolling Stones in mystical terms. I’m quite surprised to begin the homily this way. The surprise, though, seems worthy of some exploration. Surprise, on this first Sunday in Advent, is what we should expect!

Some further reflection, then. “I Just Want To See His Face” interrupts Exile On Main St. It breaks in on a collection of juvenile and libertine anthems defiant, careless, free. It breaks in like a thief. Perhaps, like all good gospel, like the Gospel, it even steals hearts. This, I learn, is one of Tom Waits’ all-time favourite recordings. I put it on again.

Here it is, a little song wrapped in the warm swaddling cloths of electric piano and poly-rhythmic percussion. The little drummer boy meets a black gospel choir ... There is a murky quality, too. It sounds ancient I can picture people “out in the field”. A field recording ... A chain gang ... With what am I taken? With what am I left?

I’m taken by sweat, by sadness, by devastation, by my own ignorance and comfortable isolation. I’m taken by possibilities for empathy, for connection. I’m left with admiration (though that’s too weak a word). I’m left with a sense of unfinished business with regard to peoples and cultures exploited, in the American South, in the north of Australia exploitation of many for the sake of an elite and powerful group marginalisation of minority peoples ...

There is a note of fear in the Gospel parables. I feel it. Fear of what’s in store for us as we face the realities of greed and violence in the world; the realities of precious resources and unjust economic systems; the realities of climate change and reactionary politics; physical, mental and spiritual anguish. “Be vigilant!” Jesus says, echoing Isaiah and the prophets. Vigilance in the world, and in the world of scripture and tradition, can reveal opportunities for conversion and new direction. Fear, religiously speaking, might always be heard as awe a feeling that something or someone has overwhelmed our thoughts and senses. The reality of judgement is humbling something is lost we will need to think and start again.

You can hear this humility in the song by Jagger and Richards. The high falsetto singing is one way a man (in an otherwise macho cultural setting) might express a loss of identity or disorientation it’s also a way a man might express hidden dimensions of personality. What does this yearning to see the face of Jesus mean? Which face of Jesus is hoped for? The baby Jesus? The wise child? The compassionate teacher? The “man of constant sorrows”? The crucified and risen Saviour? The Saviour enthroned on the praises of the oppressed? What might happen then? What has already happened? What is happening?

One commentator writes of our passage from Matthew 24: “These short but telling images stressing the uncertainty of the coming of judgment [the flood, the field, the house] could convey the sense of a God just waiting for the opportunity to spring and catch people. That [however] would not respond to the image of God behind the whole economy of salvation revealed in the gospel: the God who sent the [Beloved] precisely to save rather than condemn humankind ... Attempts to crack the code, so to speak, of apocalyptic books like Daniel and Revelation are futile and contrary to the spirit of trust commended by the gospel” (Brendan Byrne).

May the Spirit of trust guide our reading and listening.

“We are called to be agnostics about the time of Jesus’ return. We simply do not know. What we do know is what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime ... the deeds of mercy, forgiveness, and peace that characterize kingdom people” (Eugene Boring).

The awe of personal encounter with Jesus a personal encounter marked by yearning and humility gives way to vigilance and commitment, to social and ecological justice in the name of God. In Advent we are called to be and to do something in expectation of the God who meets us in the face of Jesus.

Perhaps we’re ready to hear about the work of Act for Peace.

Act for Peace (National Council of Churches Australia) has worked for many years on disaster risk reduction projects. Our gifts to the Christmas Bowl will continue to support the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) in promoting a community-based understanding of disaster risks. NCCP helps to form local committees to identify risks, to take immediate action to reduce them and to have well-publicised plans for immediate action to save lives should disaster strike.

The Philippines has a population of nearly 100 million people. One in four lives below the poverty line. The country sits along a typhoon belt, with around 20 typhoons entering the area in a typical year. Eighty dollars can assist one person to participate in a risk reduction seminar and help develop a disaster risk reduction plan for their community.

“My name is Pastor Davvy A. Camba and I work with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines’ (NCCP) Disaster Risk Reduction program ...

“The terrible experience of typhoons has left a scar in the consciousness of people, which has caused them to become more receptive to disaster risk reduction programs. Eventually, they started attending community disaster risk sessions and observing early warning systems. Local government now enforces compulsory evacuation whenever there is an impending calamity.

“Climate change truly aggravates disaster risks. But these risks can be reduced to a more manageable level in order to have disaster-resilient communities. It’s important to put what I learned from the seminar into practice, as it will save lives. Thank you for helping us to effectively identify and manage the risks we face.”

The awe of personal encounter with Jesus a personal encounter marked by yearning and humility gives way to vigilance and commitment, to social and ecological justice in the name of God. In Advent we are called to be and to do something in expectation of the God who meets us in the face of Jesus.

Which face of Jesus do you imagine today? Which is the hoped-for face of Jesus? Let’s complete the homily together ... Amen.

That’s all right
That’s all right
That’s all right

Sometimes you felt the trouble
Sometimes you felt down
Let this music relax your mind
Let this music relax your mind

Stand up and be counted, yeah
Can’t get a witness
Sometimes you need somebody
If you have somebody to love
Sometimes you ain’t got nobody
And you want somebody to love, all right

Then you don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus
Just want to see His face
You don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus
Just want to see His face

Just want to see His face
Just want to see His face
Just want to see His face
Just want to see His face

© 1972 JAGGER, MICK/RICHARDS, KEITH