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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 21, 2014

Luke 1:26-38


In today’s Gospel, Mary says Yes. “Here I am, the servant of our God,” she says to the angel Gabriel. “Let it be with me according to your word.” It is Mary’s faith, Mary’s trust, Mary’s openness to Creativity that draws a blessing. Her Yes to God – the magnification of her soul – a Yes from the margins of human history – makes way for the coming of the Promised One, the Saviour who is God’s Yes to the world. God be with you ...

Yes may well be a word that brings us very close to God. It may even be a good word for God – especially for those who find the word “God” untenable. Who could blame them for finding God-talk - religion - more than a little ambiguous, dangerous?

It has been an horrendous week. We have been reminded again of humanity's fearful ignorance, lust for violence, sinfulness. And we have been reminded of humanity's desire and capacity for love. Social media commentators acted quicker than the shock jocks to determine the city's response. Yes to decency. Yes to solidarity. Others were just as quick to say it with flowers. Already we can imagine a memorial to multicultural resistance and affirmation of difference. Perhaps something with a floral element.

To what have you said Yes? To whom have you said Yes? To what might you say Yes? To whom might you sing Yes (I'm thinking of Ian and the Sydney Sings choir at Martin Place last week - and I'm thinking of the choristers involved in Handel's Messiah at the Town Hall)? Perhaps you’ve known the power of another’s Yes to you? What was that like?

There are “yeses” I have spoken – to friends and lovers, in terms of vocation and ministry, outwardly and secretly – in a stammering way and under the pressure of greater affirmation. It can be hard to sustain the “yeses” we say and want to say again.

How hard it must have been for Mary to maintain faith in the awareness of hardship and rejection of her child. How hard for the evangelists – Luke and Matthew – to maintain praise for Mary and her child in the context of derision on the part of those unable to accept a Messiah from the margins.

The Holy Spirit is the power of affirmation: Yes, even in hardship; Yes, even in the face of derision; Yes, from the margins; Yes, in older age; Yes, in the insecurities of youth; Yes, in spite of failures; Yes, in spite of fears …

The Holy Spirit is also the power of affirmation in community: Yes, when all alone, it’s all too much.

I watched a documentary on television the other night: Soundtrack for a Revolution. I'd heard the story many times before, but the footage of American civil rights activism and violent responses from those in (civil and religious) authority was arresting and affecting. The moral and spiritual power of nonviolence in the context of bus boycotts, restaurant counter sit-ins, freedom rides and marches was something extraordinary. In the face of hatred - attack dogs, fire hoses, lynch mobs - to sing "We Shall Overcome" ... In the early 1960s in Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, Washington. To maintain dignity in the face of opposition, and to raise the standard of dignity for all, including those with such hateful agendas ... So costly, so wise ...

Another young girl, a young Muslim girl, can help us to celebrate love's Yes in a violent world. “If I win the Nobel Peace Prize, it would be a great opportunity for me, but if I don't get it, it's not important because my goal is not to get the Nobel Peace Prize, my goal is to get peace and my goal is to see the education of every child.”

Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. As a child, she became an advocate for girls' education, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her. On October 9, 2012, a gunman shot Malala when she was traveling home from school. She survived, and has continued to speak out on the importance of education.

Despite the Taliban's continuing threats and atrocities, Malala remains a staunch advocate for the power of education. On October 10, 2013, in acknowledgement of her work, the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. That same year, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She didn't win the prize, but was named a nominee again in March 2014.

In October 2014, Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. At age 17, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In congratulating her, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said: “She is (the) pride of Pakistan, she has made her country people proud. Her achievement is unparalleled and unequaled. Girls and boys of the world should take lead from her struggle and commitment." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described her as "a brave and gentle advocate of peace who through the simple act of going to school became a global teacher".

Let’s complete the homily together. To what have you said Yes? To whom have you said Yes? To what might you say Yes? To whom might you say Yes? Perhaps you’ve known the power of another’s Yes to you? What was that like? … Amen.