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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 1, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44

‘One is "taken", one is "left"’

Our gospel refers to two people, one “taken” and one “left”. It’s always seemed an enigmatic reference. One is fortunate to be “taken” by a sense or image of the sacred, of the holy. The other, perhaps the same person (you/me in a different mood or moment), is “left” with nothing but delusion/isolation, mere ideology … God be with you

I am blessed to be taken by a primary sense or image of the sacred or holy …

Advent takes us back to the start... “I just want to see His face,” sings Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. “Don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus/ Just want to see His face …” (1972). We might even call this a faith before faith (a sense or image of the sacred prefigures religion or theology proper).

At yesterday’s church council meeting Miriam related a welcome to country which included the words: I see country, I hear country, I speak to country … “I just want to see the face of the Earth” …

I am taken by an image of the Saviour – the baby Jesus, the wise child, the compassionate teacher, the “man of constant sorrows”, the crucified and risen Lord, enthroned on the praises of the once-oppressed … I am taken by it. I am taken with it.

Perhaps you are taken with/by the vision of the prophet Isaiah. You are carried along with “many people” ascending the holy mountain, yearning to be “instructed in God’s ways”. You feel, yes, I get it – peace will come, and peace will mean beating “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks”. I, too, long for this time, when people “never again will train for war”.

The sacred, the holy face, has to do with the healing presence of all that is good. Today is World AIDS Day, the first ever global health day. Again, we are invited to see the face of the Saviour in every hard-working community health worker, in each member of an HIV network – lover, carer, friend, sister, brother …

The sacred has to do with renewable, abundant life for all. Friday saw student strikes and “solidarity sit-downs” across the country (across the globe) in the name/hope of climate action. We were/are inspired to see the face of the Saviour in someone like Shiann Broderick, 18, who lost her family home in the Nymboida bushfire last month.

On Friday Shiann gathered along with about 500 protesters outside Liberal Party headquarters in Woolloomooloo. “Mr Morrison, as Prime Minister, your thoughts and prayers are not enough,” she said (I hear this as criticism of religion or theology that misses the point, overlooks or smothers the sacred). “I just want to see the face of Real Concern,” we might hear her saying. “I just want to see the face of Wisdom … the face of Determination and Action.”

Our Christmas Bowl resources speak of this longing for goodness and life. At the same time they warn against sanitised and saccharine images.

“In our commercialised, social-media context, we might expect to hear people talking about ‘hope’ in relation to their Santa Christmas party, or the weather forecast for a planned beach activity. But for many of our Act for Peace partners, hope is not about wishful thinking or sentimentality. Hope is a powerful thing. A dangerous thing. It is the imperative for change.

“Hope is also a warning. For those of us who find our hope in Christ, the gospels remind us that this came at a terrible cost. This is the way of grace. I wonder what our hope [our longing for the holy] will cost us this year? I wonder what we are willing to give up, that others might share in the abundance and wealth we too often take for granted?”

The same resources present the face of ‘Asena, a trainer in disaster risk reduction and preparedness with the Tonga National Council of Churches. ‘Asena teaches local communities how to evacuate safely and ensure they stay safe during natural disasters like Tropical Cyclone Gita, which hit Tonga last year – flattening churches, levelling crops and collapsing power lines … She travels to communities across the island, teaching people how to survive during a calamity.

Both the calamity and the Promised One come at an unexpected time.

The holy work of Advent is to give voice to the desire we scarcely own, even before God. It is to strip away the excuses we would make if “left” to our own devices. It is to hold before us the only path into God’s future: the way of patient and persistent attention to the myriad and mysterious ways God comes to us.

How, then, are we “taken” by/with a sense or image of the holy? Which image in particular? … Amen.