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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Christmas 1, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 31, 2017

Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

‘Sign of the fish’

Our Christmas psalm (98) refers to sea and river creatures singing praise. “Let the sea and all within it thunder;/ the world and all its peoples./ Let the rivers clap their hands…” The fish are likened to the peoples of the earth – diverse, active, noisy, beloved … God be with you

We need to add to our wall display. Let’s see what we can do …

Of songs such as Psalm 98 John Bell says: “Humanity opposes the divine will if, through pollution, irradiation, deforestation or some other human negligence or design [a coal mine that threatens a coral reef], the earth is prevented from offering its song.”

Recently, I learned how toxic glitter can be for fish. Plastic bags are terrible too. Do you know why? …

So, fish on the walls are a sign of God’s love and a reminder of human responsibility to care and to share. Let’s keep fishing for signs …

In the early/ancient church, the fish became a symbol of faith. It was drawn like this … with the Greek word for fish: ichthys.

The word (an acronym) was a way of summarising what people believed because the letters stood for: (I) Jesus (CH) Christ, (TH) God’s (Y) Own/Beloved/Child, our (S) Saviour.

Our reading from the letter of Paul to the church in Galatia (modern Turkey) says that Jesus is God’s Child, just as we are God’s children. We all have been given the same Spirit who calls out, “Abba” (“Papa”, “Daddy”) … Here’s a spiritual Dad-joke, then, which might be apt and which you might enjoy – Jesus says, Your fins are forgiven.

Seriously, though, the early Christians drew pictures of fish on the walls. The fish were a kind of secret code. The word ichthys could also mean “dolphin” and “belly/womb”.

Perhaps because dolphins are super-fish – swift, clever, strong, graceful – they sometimes appeared as images of Christ alongside or encircling anchors or hearts. (What do you think the anchor might represent? What about the heart? …) Remember that the first followers of the Way, the first Christians, were coastal people.

We are all God’s children, like fish in a school, brothers and sisters of the one God we call Abba – who is also a Great Mother like the sea, replete with life, all kinds of life. [The sea was thought by some ancient cultures to be a goddess.]

There’s another tale that people in the early church would have known. Simeon and Anna, two faithful Jewish elders from our gospel reading, would certainly have known it. Jesus even referred to a “sign of the fish” as central to his life and teaching. Have you heard of the prophet Jonah? …

Jonah was a prophet from the north (Israel) about 700 years before Christ. The word of God came to Jonah …

At first he didn’t want to preach a message of change and love – he couldn’t imagine that the people of the city called Nineveh could really change or be loved by God. So he boarded a ship that sailed away from the city.

There was a storm, the boat was tossed from wave to wave and Jonah found himself in the sea, where he was swallowed by a big fish!

Do you know the rest of the story? Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the fish, then spat out onto the sand. Still grumpy and complaining, Jonah went to the city of Nineveh, he preached hope-and-change-and-love, and the people and animals of Nineveh were saved.

It’s a story that points to the resurrection of Jesus, after three days and nights in the belly of the earth. It’s also about us. People. Fish. Change. Love.

The more we know these traditional stories (and those of the dolphins, anchors and hearts), the more we can be ready for love when it happens to us again and again.

Anna knew the stories of hope and change. She saw that God’s Beloved is a baby of a poor couple, also devout, also displaced (on the move from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem and Jerusalem in the south; on their way back to Nazareth).

With all these fish and stories of hope-and-change-and-love, I want to fin-ish with a word on baptism.

If you think you might like to be baptised as a child of God, or confirm/reaffirm your baptism in commitment to God in this community, I’d love to talk with you about a special day for baptisms on Easter Day (April 1, 2018).

Let’s also discuss how we might recommit ourselves, as a congregation, to rivers and seas – the fish and the peoples of the Jordan, the Georges, the Cooks, the Hawkesbury, the Nepean, the Murray-Darling … Amen.