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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Christmas Day, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 25, 2013

Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14

Revelations of divine love’

We don't know her name. We call her Julian after the name of the church in East Anglia where she lived in a small cell. St Julian's church in Norwich. Julian of Norwich was an anchorite, a single woman, a mystic, and, as far as we know, the first woman author in the English language. She wrote one book (two versions of the one book) based on visions or "showings" in 1373 (640 years ago). The book is called Revelations of Divine Love. God be with you ...

My thoughts turn to Julian today, this day of revelations of divine love, for several reasons. We've been busy buying, cooking and creating Christmas gifts. Julian's ardent desire of three gifts was a mark of her faith and person: contrition, compassion and longing for God.

Women were not encouraged to study religion. The later Middle Ages was actually a time of significant controversy and repression of women. It's striking that Julian wrote of her experiences at all.

She did more than document experience though. She reflected strenuously, intellectually. Commentators describe a movement from visionary to theologian. Some regard her bold engagement with rational religious authority, her reconciliation of dichotomies (experience and intellect, body and spirit, female and male aspects of humanity and divinity, divine judgement and divine love) an enduring theological contribution.

"All manner of things shall be well" is an oft-cited refrain. In the midst of devastating illness and persecution (personal and social), Julian imagined her God performing a "great deed" to make all well that is not well. She couched her hopeful universalism astutely in terms of humility and respect for tradition. But she did not hold back.

It's striking that her book has survived. Her cell at St Julian's did not survive the Reformation.

She said nothing about Eve's alleged responsibility for Adam's sin. She was silent about chastity and celibacy. She was creative with regard to what we've come to call psychology, seeing the human soul or self in two complementary aspects, a higher and lower nature. Our higher nature, she suggests, is untainted by sin. There's much here that's worth attending to ...

The centrepiece of her book is a parable. Julian tells a parable of a lord and a servant - a vision/story she spent many years contemplating. It's apt this morning. She sees that the servant (humanity) is sent by the lord (God) on a mission. The servant is described as a gardener and as a labourer. The lord is said to be "a great refuge, long and wide and all full of endless heavens". She sees that the servant is a labourer sent to find a treasure in the earth.

Evocative and wonderful!

She sees - she is shown - that the servant, passionate and naive, falls into a deep ditch and cannot free himself. She sees that God is not angry with the poor servant, but grief-stricken and compassionate. This is Julian's picture of sin, of the human predicament.

Most striking of all, Julian then sees that the servant is Christ - and that the Fall and the Incarnation are the same event. This eternal picture is one she contemplates deeply.

"When Adam fell, God's son fell; because of the true union made in heaven, God's son could not leave Adam, for by Adam I understand all [humanity]. Adam fell from life to death into the valley of this wretched world, and after that into Hell. God's son fell with Adam into the valley of the Virgin's womb (and she was the fairest daughter of Adam), in order to free Adam from guilt in heaven and in earth; and with his great power he fetched him out of hell."

Julian comes to see reality as God sees it. Lord and servant reigning together in heaven as Father-Mother and Child, the Holy Child crowned with humankind; God's triumph is also, through Jesus, the triumph of humanity.

"At the very centre of Julian's vision is a God inseparable from man and woman: transcendent in some sense, yes, but unable to set aside the bodily kinship he has chosen with his creatures" (A.C. Spearing).

Why share any of this today? Because the renewing of the Word can, for us here now, be called Holy Spirit. Because the Word is made flesh here now. Because revelations of divine love are offered to us - insights, innovations, liberation. We are emboldened today in contemplation of love.

The Nativity scene is a special focus. We are shown all kinds of people/creatures seeing new light: illiterate shepherds, foreigners in race and religion, a dutiful husband, a discerning young woman, animals of the stable and the field. Drawn alongside one or more of the figures shown here at the Table, what do you see? What are you shown? ... Amen.