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Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon

Christmas 2, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 5, 2014

Jeremiah 31: 7-14; John 1: 10-18

‘The Word lives within us’

This is the last Sunday in this church year for us to reflect on Christmas, as we move towards the season of Epiphany.

As I thought about the fact that the story of the birth of Jesus is mentioned in only two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke, it struck me that the Bible, like all religious writings, is full of diverse ways of inviting people towards the truth. Sometimes we are told a story, which could be literally true, or not. Sometimes, the writer is offering a personal reflection or an account of a passage in history. Sometimes there are sections which read like liturgy, or poetry.

One of the significant risks of literalism is that, in trying to believe in every word we read in a book like the Bible, we actually miss the truth and wisdom which lies there we are restricted to each word, rather than the depths of insight which lie beneath those words.

The wonder of truth is that it is conveyed in so many different ways. We could each walk around our art gallery, looking at the wonderful works of art which hang there and simply see the colours and shapes. Or we can stand and reflect on the depth of the imagery before us and what it conveys to us. Someone else could stand beside us and see it quite differently. The same could apply to music or poetry or homilies, for that matter. As people spoke with me, after I had preached when I was at Pitt Street Church, they would often thank me for some insight they had received and I would think “But that is not what I said!”

We could see this as making life difficult. Why don’t we simply have clear definitions of God and commands which we must obey? The reality is that God can never be captured by someone’s words. Our God is far grander than that and invites us to live in creative relationship rather than simply following instructions.

The fact that God came among us in Jesus Christ tells us that this God profoundly understands the complexities of our lives, the ambiguities, the temptations and the struggles. This God sees that some people are disadvantaged by poverty, by abuse, by being born with various disabilities and holds us as we try to survive and do our best. It is also about respect for us an offering of freedoms to choose the ways in which we will live.

Within the complexities of relationships and events, this God offers to us the Word the inspiration for us to go deeper into each moment and then to have the freedom to respond as best we can. There is a deep respect for us from God in this relationship we may be guided and inspired, but in the end, the choices are ours.

In making those choices, we are invited to be like our God to invite true life in each other. This is not about creating dependencies, but about daring to take even small steps towards assuming responsibility for our own lives.

John the Baptist was obviously a special man. Not only did he recognise Jesus as the embodiment of his God, but when the people tried to give him status, John pointed away from himself to Jesus. He modelled, for us all, the fundamental invitation involved in our seeing more of God if we will develop true humility within ourselves. Often this humility opens for us gifts of the presence of God which come to us from unlikely people.

As human beings, we are often taught that the best insights about life and faith come from the more obviously strong, educated and successful people. In fact, as Jesus said later, they may come from a little child or some truly vulnerable person.

It is often when our life enters emptiness and doubt that the gifts of the Word come to us, if we will be open to receive them. “Grace upon grace” is often what God in Christ offers to us when we feel as though we are worthy of nothing. I remember well, at the time when I delayed my ordination because some brave friends had told me that my ego was too high and that I would be dangerous to both myself and others if I proceeded, I entered into a sad nothingness. I knew they were right, but it broke my heart to give up my calling.

It was only when I dared to enter that terrible sadness and emptiness and handed myself over to skilled spiritual direction that I began to have glimpses of a God who might give the true Word to me that I could, if I chose, become a different person.

When I finally felt the renewal of my call, as I knelt to receive the Eucharist in the St. James Anglican Church, I knew that I would always need to test whether I was returning to my ego-driven separation from God and the Word.

Part of my participation in that was to make sure that I had around me people who loved me enough to challenge what I was doing and saying. Ali was the best of all at doing that. I also found that silent meditation was a profound and creative way of hearing the voice of God and inviting honesty before that God.

One of the things which I love best about our congregation here is the amazing variety of people among us people with all sorts of backgrounds and gifts, people with differing struggles and strengths, people with hard questions for God and people of long-held journeyings with life and faith.

As I enter this church each week, I can hear and feel the presences of prayers and singing, of pain and joy, of faith and doubt the truly human life which has long been here. It is when we are gathered into the company of that authentic community of faith that the Word speaks to us, holds us and offers us grace upon grace.

We know that we are not alone in walking the way with the Christ, that we are held by others who understand our humanness and who celebrate with us the moments when we are able to take our stand in faith and hope. We see, with joy, the wonder of Christ’s life within others and lift our hearts as we contemplate their future and ours.

As we complete the homily together, I invite us, in the silence, to reflect on a moment when the Word became real for us or when we saw it in another. Then, if you wish, come forward and light a little candle near to the Christchild on the Altar Table, in silence or as you share.

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon