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In the name of the child for whom we wait

Third Sunday in Advent, 14 December, 2014
Melissa Clark, Theological Student

Well here we are half way through Advent, and just like in Lent, we have a little break out day to rejoice during this time of stillness and waiting. Sadly that doesn't mean that we can all go home and open gifts that we have already received or pig out on fruit mince pies. We still have to be mindful of the season of waiting...and contrary to the busyness around us we still need to at least try to have some quietness and contemplative time.

On this day it is absolutely right to express our joy. We are after all expecting the most precious gift ever received. We are waiting for the birth of a child. A child who will grow up to become the most vital person the world has ever known. It is this rejoicing that makes the Magnificat one of our most beloved pieces, and quite frankly why so many of us adore Our Lady. Mary, a very young girl, puts herself at significant social risk by saying yes to this request from the angel. How could we not love her?

A few years ago I took my young step children along to Evensong at Trinity College and they heard the Magnificat sung for the first time...they asked me on the way home what the song about the cat was. After scratching my head a bit I finally worked out what they were talking about — well when I told them the name of the piece they came up with all sorts of wonderful musings.

They didn't really concern themselves with Mary and her discernment or the angel or any other aspects of the story as we know it. To them the Magnificat must be some sort of super hero kitty cat who fights injustice and saves innocent lives.

I tried to set them straight but once a child with a great imagination is on a roll there is just no stopping them! On one level they could be considered right though. Mary could be considered a superhero of her time — of any time really. She was extraordinary in so many ways. And she gave to us her son; a son who did indeed fight injustice and free us from sin.

Last week Father Hugh preached about freedom; freedom fighters, prophets of freedom and the freedom that comes from faith. At the risk of disagreeing with my supervisor I think I want to challenge that last point. Yes we have freedom in Christ but we also bear a great responsibility. As followers of the one who came to save we have a responsibility to raise our voices against injustice when we see it in the world. We have a responsibility to see the face of Jesus in every person we encounter in the world and to treat them accordingly.

Now I want to preface the next part of my sermon by declaring that I do not vote for a particular political party. I'm not a left wing or a right wing voter; I don't vote blue, red or green — I vote according to the policies of the parties on offer and how those policies align with my values. My Christian values.

Last week new laws were passed that relate to the detention of asylum seekers, the so-called "boat people", and the status of people who have been found to be genuine refugees in our country. These new laws encourage our citizens to not just ignore injustice, but to actively engage in oppressing vulnerable people and keep them in a state of uncertainty and fear.

Could you imagine being so desperate to save the life of your child that you would put them on a boat to give them even the remotest chance of having the opportunity to live in a peaceful country — only to have them locked up in substandard care, without access to proper education, medical attention and that very basic human need — love?

When I read the books of scripture I see instructions on how to treat the widow, the orphan and the alien and nowhere in those books do I see that we should lock these most needy people up indefinitely, nor do I see that we should give them temporary protection and then ship them back to places where they may be persecuted, tortured or killed. On the contrary scripture, old and new testaments, prophetic writings and gospel stories all tell us to care for those who are in most need. Today's Old Testament reading from Isaiah tells us explicitly to proclaim liberty to captives, release prisoners and to bring good news to the oppressed. We, as Christians, as people who take seriously the words of scripture, have an absolute obligation to care for the needy in our world.

These new laws break my heart. They break my heart because I personally know many people who have come here from places of war where family members have been killed, where people have been raped and tortured. They break my heart because I see the wonderful contribution that refugees and their descendants have made to our country and I know that there are people who, if given the chance, could do the same but these laws won't let them.

I may well be accused of being a softie when it comes to this issue — I will wear that proudly. I am certain that God did not give me this wonderful life of opportunity, education, health, peace and freedom for me to sit back and let others suffer knowingly. When I read Isaiah, Luke, John and so many other bits of scripture I feel that I am compelled to raise this issue. Today I am inspired by Mary, the young woman who risked so much, to put myself out on a limb and talk about something that is not polite and safe.

I can't admit to knowing exactly how to resolve the situation. I don't know how to protect people from travelling in unsafe vessels across the ocean to Australia but I do know that locking up innocent people, people who have fled their homeland because they fear for their lives, is not the answer that we should be content with. I also know that using vulnerable and traumatised people as a way of portraying political leadership credentials has no part in the country which claims to give everyone a fair go.

In the last few weeks I have spent a bit of time with a volunteer group in the western suburbs called the West Welcome Wagon, delivering food parcels to refugees who are living in our community. If you want to experience real joy give that job a go for a day or two. The faces of people who are living in extremely shabby housing, with barely any furniture, when they receive a simple bag of groceries were just beautiful; nothing short of beautiful.

If I had accepted all of the offers to come into their homes and have tea with them I would still be out there. Without fail every single person I met in this way offered me hospitality in a way that taught me what that word really means. I rejoiced in their happiness in this smallest of gestures — I rejoice still.

The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can't be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up — not with a parade, not with an army of soldiers ready to fight, but in the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalised, not among the demanding but among the humble.

I know that this parish has a long history of looking after people and being aware of social justice issues. Indeed in today's pew sheet there is an opportunity to help. So on behalf of the children in detention and in the name of the child we spend Advent waiting for, let us all take Mary as our inspiration and resolve to speak out for and pray for a more humane resolution to this situation.

The peace of Christ be with you all.


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