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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 1, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 2, 2018

Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

‘Look at the fig tree, or any other tree’

“When you see the buds,” says Jesus, “you know that summer is near. When you see anguish and need, know that the reign of God is near.”

Creation and religion weave together because the reign of God, the commonwealth or kin(g)dom of heaven, has to do with how the world appears in the light of Christ. This came as a recent epiphany of meaning and purpose – with Advent clarity. “Look at the fig tree, or any other tree” – the reign of God is about how we look … at trees, at one another. It has to do with how the world appears in the light of a Promised One. God be with you …

“Signs will appear,” says Jesus. And we can learn to read the signs through the eyes of those in anguish and need.

Our God comes in the immanence of hospitality – stables, manger, farm animals, night-shift workers, stranger-angels – a divine excess, surplus, extra in the human, of the human, through the human, beneath the human, beyond the human – whose very divinity does not take anything away from the humanity.

Lutheran theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote an essay entitled, “Why am I a Christian?” Moltmann talks about his experience of coming to faith as a German soldier in a British prisoner of war camp at the end of the second world war. He talks about utter desolation … and finding hope there.

Not the sort of hope that lulls us into a relaxed comfort, but the sort of hope that leaves us with a profound restlessness as we anguish over the suffering of life and as we yearn for the coming of salvation and as we offer our lives in order to embrace God’s future.

It’s the sort of hope expressed by Act for Peace staff and partners in Vanuatu, where the impacts of climate change are becoming apparent and must increasingly be taken into account. The Christmas Bowl focus project for this week supports women in Vanuatu who are struggling to keep their families resilient through worsening natural disasters.

It’s the sort of hope expressed by striking students in defiance of a prime minister who wants “less activism” in schools, marching on the nation’s capital cities, demanding an end to political inertia on climate change – in the lead-up to a federal election.

The sort of hope expressed by Uncle Archie Roach at last week’s Rock the Block event in Redfern. Lyn Turnbull took some beautiful photos of Archie for the SSH. Her caption notes: “For many of the couple of thousand people who attended over the day, Archie Roach’s heart-wrenching performance of “Took the Children Away” was a highlight. The poignant words of the song contrasted with shrieks of delight from the young Aboriginal children who slid down the giant inflated slide or drenched one another with super-soakers around the barriers in the wet play zone down the hill from the stage where Archie was singing.”

The sort of hope expressed by documentary filmmaker Clare Lewis who, in an interview to be published in the SSH this week, says of Waterloo: “I personally don’t see divisions. I see a diverse, thriving community of people no different from anyone else, who deserve to have a home in the inner city and to be looked after if they need it. And I would say that, yes, the film’s about celebrating the people and stories that make up the towers and the Waterloo estate. Also, I think getting people to understand that there are major decisions being made about the way our city is being developed – it’s important to engage with how that’s happening, to have an opinion, to fight for the kind of community you want.”

It’s the sort of hope expressed by the Jesse Tree (we have an example on our Advent liturgy booklets) – a diverse artistic tradition about prophecy and the miraculous restoration of branches, lines/channels of creativity and service, compassion and salvation.

The sort of hope – if only we can hear it – expressed in the prophetic texts of Judaism and Islam. An Abrahamic hope founded on respect for fellow “people of the book”, people of earlier and other revelations (Qu’ran 29:46). Hope founded on gender equality (the Qu’ran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were accorded such status) (Qu’ran 33:35). Hope founded on egalitarian desires for justice, care for the most vulnerable – belief that war is a catastrophe, peace an imperative (Qu’ran 8:16-17).

So much hope and beauty. An underlying faith in a God Most High/Low – a kindom of the poor and faithful. In the face of violent fundamentalism of all types, yes, it is heart-wrenching.

“Gamble everything for love, if you are a true human being …” says the Sufi poet Rumi.

Jesus says: “Nations will be in anguish. The powers will be shaken …” Perhaps we respond by wanting to run away.

Jesus says: “When these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your ransom/redemption is near at hand.” Stand tall, stick your necks out, seize the opportunity for creativity and service. Understand the signs and the seasons – God does not come as the abuser, the oppressor, the invader, the terror. God comes as light and colour in the midst of darkness.

“Advent reminds us that God embodies for us a way of renewal and love that is strong enough …” says Mary Pearson.

Advent beckons us to be a people who can read the signs of the times. To proclaim that we are all beloved – bearers of love and love’s embodiment – and to offer hospitality and the hope of new life to those at risk of confusion, fear, one or other death.

“Look at the fig tree, or any other tree” – the reign of God is about how we look … at trees, at one another. It has to do with how the world appears in the light of a Promised One. Amen.