I want to begin by inviting you to look up - Look – here! at this trinity of angels, symbolising Courage, Compassion and Joy. Jyllie Jackson, the artist who with her team created them, saw these as qualities particularly embodied – incarnated indeed – here in our community at Pitt St Uniting Church. Those of us who worship here regularly – can we see ourselves I wonder? It is hard sometimes to see ourselves as others see us! And those of you visiting here today – I wonder what aspects of yourselves you see here in our angels? For they are icons of incarnation...
breaking and birthing
Courage - Compassion – Joy: these are the name of the angels we have, above us, this evening. Courage – Compassion – Joy: gifts of grace which our church community, with others, seeks to share at World Pride here in Sydney next year, and at all times. For Courage – Compassion – Joy: which of these, I wonder, do each of us need at this time, for ourselves, or for others? May these gifts truly enrich us, for they take us to the heart of our celebrations this evening: the very presence of God in humanity, in human birthing. As such, they are pointers to the deepest reality of our lives. As we see the angels above us, see and share light among us, and, above all, see and share bread and wine – the symbols of divine humanity in us – so may we know God’s extraordinary Love, within and beyond us. For the various elements of our Christmas celebration proclaim that, as above, so below and all around, between, and in all possible dimensions, the God of Love is born among us. Tonight, in the great Christian narrative, is the hinge of history, the heart of meaning, and the hallowing of human being. Let me briefly touch on three elements. For the Christian Christmas is a truly extra-ordinary happening, and a profound embodying, which is also ‘not quite nice’…
blooming with justice and joy
Christmas-time is so often a confluence of loss and gain. So many of us find that good and tough memories are tangled up. My parents died a year ago this weekend, just as a new child was conceived in my immediate family: a child who will therefore be a new gift among us this Christmas. Yet it is hardly the first time that death and birthing have been entwined. Reflecting on that helps me better understand today’s Gospel and not least Mary’s extraordinary cry of justice, and of joy. As Alla Renee Bozarth brilliantly expresses it in her poem Annunciation, it is a cry of subversive angelic power. No wonder the three large ‘queer’ angels we will shortly welcome from Lismore’s LIghtnUp project are entitled Courage, Compassion, and Joy. For, as Lismore’s wonderful community artist Jyllie Jackson has identified, Courage, Compassion and Joy are core life-giving elements, not only to Queer Pride. They also, vitally, flow out of the Gospel and Magnificat of Mary, and, as Jyllie suggests to us, they are at the core of what the Way of Jesus, and our particular community, is and can be…
One of my grandchildren was particularly fascinated when I was in England in December. She was trying to grasp how it was night with me when it was daytime in Australia, and how it was so warm here and so cold where I was. One day, she had it sorted. Speaking to Penny on the phone, she loudly proclaimed ‘GranJo is upside down!’ I am not sure whether she thought that I was standing or walking on my head. However, in more than one sense, she was right - not least spiritually. After all, as Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 reminds us, like other early Christians, Paul and Silas were accused of ‘turning the world upside down’. It remains part of our Christian calling and sits well with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, otherwise known as the feast of Candlemas, which we mark today. Wherever, or whoever, we are in the world, we are all called to ‘live upside down’ in spiritual terms…
of inns, mangers, and sheep
Little Johnny was upset. He really wanted the part of Joseph in the school nativity play, but the teacher had given the part to Stephen instead. Johnny was given the role of the innkeeper. All he had to say was, “There’s no room in my inn. But you can have the stable round the back if you like.” Over the weeks of rehearsals, Johnny plotted his revenge. The day of the play came, and Stephen in his role as Joseph knocked on the door of the inn. When Johnny as innkeeper opened the door, Joseph asked, ‘Have you a room for us? My wife is about to have a baby and is very tired.” Johnny beamed and replied, “Of course, come right along in, I’ll get the best bed made up!” ……………But Joseph was not to be put off. With great presence of mind, he looked through the doorway, and turned back holding his nose announcing, “This place is not fit for my wife. We’ll go round the back and sleep in the stable!”
We all know the stories of the inn, the inn keeper and the stable. People have been having fun with them, elaborating them and generally using their imaginations for centuries, certainly since the medieval mystery plays gave a starring comic role to the inn keeper. But the truth is that none of them is actually in the Biblical narrative – itself an imaginative tour de force – or at least the inn might be there, but probably not really.
a children's festival for grown ups?
“And the Word became flesh and stayed for a little while among us”
Most children of five or six can tell you at this season with reasonable confidence whose birth they are celebrating – “baby Jesus’” they will chorus if asked. It has to be said that it is with even greater confidence that they will tell you who it is that will visit their homes tonight and should even now be winging their way across rooftops, sleigh-bells ringing, bearing the presents for which they have learnt to long. In the minds of most of them Santa Claus and Baby Jesus belong together; and it cannot be thought surprising if over time the figure who brings the presents becomes more appealing than this somewhat elusive baby, who does not seem to bring anything in particular.
Now I’d like to invite you in these last few hours of Advent, while we still await the birth of Christ, to reflect on the ways in which the children are right – baby Jesus and Santa Claus do belong together; and upon the ways in which they are also wrong, or at any rate limited...
silence, dreams, and strength
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, once said that “somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning”. When there is silence, words also become infinitely more powerful. An enfleshed Word, like an infant Jesus – remembering that the word ‘infant’ comes from the Greek for ‘not speaking’ – carries most meaning of all; ‘the Word without a word’ as T.S Eliot expressed it in his poem Ash Wednesday...
hope beyond queasiness
How do you relate to Mary in our Christian tradition? Even mentioning her name opens up a host of feelings and thoughts for so many. As the Danish literary historian Pil Dahlerup rightly said, in an article entitled ‘Rejoice, Mary’:
No woman and no deity in the Middle Ages attracted the poets like the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. It is, however, hard to read what the poets write about Mary; we are inhibited by prejudices that block our understanding of what the texts are actually saying. Protestants dislike her because she is attributed divinity. Male chauvinists dislike her because she is a woman. Feminists dislike her because she is a woman in a way of which they disapprove. Nationalists dislike her because she represents an alien element in terms of creed and idiom. Marxists dislike her because they do not see her (in the North) as a figure of the people…
Despite this, we cannot avoid Mary in Christian faith. Not least, although women and their lives and gifts are so few and highly gendered in the Bible, Mary simply cannot be erased. So what do we make of her today?...
empowering diverse voices of faith
A shared reflection with Benjamin Oh - such an enlivening and distinguished leader in Australia's Asian, queer and faith communities - on Jesus and the poor widow, Ruth's covenantal promise to Naomi, and the gospel of liberation from and for the marginalised...
One of the saddest sounding of Christian truisms is that ‘God has no grandchildren’. When I first heard that phrase I was a little taken aback. Of course what it is trying to say is that we cannot have spiritual relationships at second hand. Each of us has to respond to God in our own particular way. Despite what some would like to believe, we cannot directly inherit faith from our parents, or from others. They can put us on the right path, just as Mary and Joseph were doing in taking Jesus to the temple in today’s Gospel story. We have responsibilities too to others to offer them spiritual pathways, and to invite them into journeys of faith. Ultimately however, each of us has to unwrap the present, and receive the promise, ourselves. Nonetheless, do we really believe that God does not enjoy relationships like a grandparent, or a grandchild for that matter? I truly do not think so: a conviction born both of my own experience and today’s Gospel story. Rather what I see and know is the extraordinary wonder of God in cross-generational relationships, and, not least, the resilience and joy of elders of many kinds…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney