Messages of Hope

Month: December 2017

As the old year passes

Published / by Sandy

As the old year passes
(Tune: As the Green Blade Rises/Jesus Christ is waiting – Noel Nouvelet; Words: David MacGregor)

As the old year passes
we look back, reflect:
times of joy and promise,
times we’d best forget.

God of the ages
help us walk your way.
Help us greet your future,
seize tomorrow’s day

As the old year passes
sorrow wells within:
loved ones no more ’round us,
all that could have been.
God of compassion,
heal each ailing heart.
Guide us to your future
where new life may start.

As the old year passes
we cry for our struggling world.
Climate ever-changing,
fighting too often heard.
Jesus, you call us
to cherish all you give.
Call us to your future
where all in peace might live.

As the new year dawns now
we would give you praise.
Faithful God, come lead us
onward in new ways.
We’ll love and serve you
in the faith of Christ,
in your Spirit’s future:
people of new life.
(© 2007 Willow Publishing)

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they become inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

(Source: John O’Donohue, excerpt from ‘At the End of the Year’
in the publication ‘To bless the space between us’). 

Apocalypse now? The dangerous truth behind the birth of Christ.

Published / by Sandy

For most of us, there is a warmth, a magic, a timeless peace that comes with the Christmas season. Our childhood memories of Christmases past evoke in us a sense of transcendent wonder. Enjoying a good meal with loved ones, pausing to admire nativity scenes and colourful Christmas lights, and singing heartily along with the festive music that comes about only once per year.

These things help us return to a feeling of abiding hope, holy innocence, and supernatural rest. Many of us find that we deeply resonate with the classic Christmas song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. And, we long – as the song lyrics say – for our “troubles to be miles away,” even if only for a few days. We want to lose ourselves in the season . . . and hopefully to find ourselves sometime soon after the New Year.

No doubt, there is something worth keeping – even worth cherishing – in the peacefulness and restfulness that Christmas brings. The nostalgia and fond remembrance that it evokes in us is something I’d never want myself or anyone else to be without. Yet, when I look at the Scriptures, I start to wonder if in our eagerness to embrace the restfulness of the season we might have lost a sense of the restlessness toward which the birth of Christ is meant to call us. As noted theologian Jürgen Moltmann has said, “Faith, whenever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart . . . Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.”

What if the birth of Jesus evoked in us, not merely the seasonal warm fuzzies for the status quo of religious affection, but a revolutionary zeal to see the victory of God in Christ change everything? What if the incarnation of God in a manger in Bethlehem was not a merely merry occasion, but one that would have been terrifying to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds? What if it was an event that could be described – not as holly and jolly – but as vulnerable, dangerous, shocking, and dare I say apocalyptic?

In fact, this word – “apocalyptic” – is one that is applied to Jesus at many points in the New Testament. We tend to think of the word in negative terms, referring perhaps to the end of the space-time universe due to its association with the New Testament book of Revelation. However – contrary to the Christian movie industry – such a negative understanding of the word “apocalyptic” must be, if you will, left behind. ‘Apocalyptic’ (in Greek: apokalupsis) refers to the revelation of that which was previously hidden.

In Galatians 1:12–14, St Paul explains that the Gospel he received was not delivered to him through human beings. Rather, it came to him through “an apocalypse (meaning, ‘revelation’) of Jesus Christ.” Far from being the natural outworking of the status quo, or something Paul expected – the apocalypse, the revelation, of what God was up to in Jesus Christ literally knocked him off his horse. It shattered his world, it woke him up. He was spiritually illuminated whilst physically blinded.

If we asked Paul whether he enjoyed the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” I think he would be perplexed. He would likely suggest that we change the title to “Have Yourself an Apocalyptic Christmas!”

Paul would not have viewed the birth of Jesus as a merry little happening, complete with eggnog, Sinatra songs, and celebratory seasonal cigars. Rather, he would have perceived Christ’s birth to be an apocalyptic intrusion, a disruptive event that smashed to pieces the expectations and worldly restfulness of the status quo, replacing it with the inbreaking of God Almighty in the incarnation of his son for the redemption of the cosmos. And, of course, Paul would add, an apocalyptic Christmas should be ever calling us to remember the gravity of the gospel and cost of the victory of God, namely that the events of the first Christmas led to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, not to the return queue in Kmart. It is to the severe detriment of the true nature of Christmas that we let religious customs (even good customs!) or rank commercialism replace the apocalyptic power of the incarnation of God.

In fact, Jesus’ own name, which is mentioned in the birth account in Luke 2:15–21 often read on Christmas Day, is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “victory, deliverance, or salvation”. Thus, the manger wasn’t just an adorable, cute event; it was itself the initiation of the divine victory over the powers of sin and death through victory incarnate, Jesus.

When the Old Testament refers to the “victory” and “deliverance” of God (e.g. Psalms 96 and 98; and Isaiah 52:7–10); it uses the same Hebrew root as the word that is translated “Jesus.” Therefore, Jesus (“victory”) provides both the New Covenant lens and the literal fulfilment of the victory of God through Israel for the sake of the world. The victory of God in Jesus, beginning in Christmas, is thus the paradoxical joke of the gospel. Consider this: the greatest kingdoms and nations, the fiercest warlords and leaders, and the most brilliant thinkers and politicians have all been outsmarted and defeated by an infant in a manger in Bethlehem.

There is nothing less intimidating than a baby. And yet, a baby named “Victory” was God’s preemptive move in the metaphorical battle by which he is reconciling all things to himself. The vulnerability of the manger eventually led to the violence of the cross; violence inflicted on Jesus—not by God—but by “powerful” human beings intending to thwart the mission of Jesus.

Yet, profoundly, Scripture and the Great Tradition testify that through both his humble birth in the manger and his humiliating death on the cross, Jesus demonstrated that “power” and the “will to power” have been reframed by the paradox of the gospel. Vulnerability and sacrifice—not coercion, force, or violence—have now become the way of the people who follow the crucified God. All of this began on Christmas; and it changes everything. Or does it?

We must ask ourselves this Christmas season: is the humility of the manger and the humiliation of the cross the guiding paradigm and inspiration for our life together as the church, the body of Christ? Do we live by the apocalyptic message of peace, or do we think that—after all—the way to get things done in the church and in the world is through coercion, force, and manipulation? Do we behave more like the ones in “power” who crucified God, or do we adopt the ethos and character of the crucified God? Do we follow the way of the vulnerable God in a manger, or do we forsake that path for ecclesial pragmatism, politics, and worldly power—for the things that “work” and “get the job done”?

Have our Christmases been merry and bright; but not apocalyptic? Have we capitulated to the cultural Christ of comfort and commercialism, or are we seeking to see those things crucified in our flesh so that our lost, dying, and hurting world can receive more than a candy cane and a Christmas card this season but instead encounter the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ through us, through our ministries and through our churches?

An apocalyptic Christmas invites us to rest in the peace of the silent night in order that we can be preemptive peacemakers, holy troublemakers, and reconciled reconcilers in the light of day. The peace of the silent night is meant to shake things up; not simply to shut us up or settle us down. The restfulness of the silent night is not meant to serenade us into a permanent state of spiritual sleepiness in which the narcotic of religious nostalgia stuns us and subdues us, causing us to become complacent supporters of the status quo, at rest with the world in all its brokenness, injustice, and suffering.

The restfulness of the silent night is meant to be a missional rest, a Sabbath for the soul that energises and compels us to be restlessly active participants of the mission of God in the redemption of the world in and through Christ. My hope and prayer is that as individuals, families, churches and communities our Christmas may be flooded with the peace of Jesus Christ that brings both joy and apocalypse to the world

Sadness In a Time of Anticipation and Joy

Published / by Sandy

In the wake of the sad and tragic events in Melbourne (on 21st Dec), Rev Jon Humphries has offered this prayer…

Sadness In a Time of Anticipation and Joy
God of incarnate compassion,
We look to your Christ –
in a time where much of our world
is caught up in anticipation of joy and celebration,
our world throws us death and tragedy anew,
and we are cast back into the story of your birth,
where hardship and stress abounded,
and death and tragedy was awfully injected by cruelty and injustice.
So we find such things in our Christmas story.
Why do such things happen?
Where are you in all this?
Why are some effected and yet others escape harm?
More than ever we need hope, peace and joy.
More than ever we need to know and share your love.
Be with us Immanuel.
Be with those who are forced to mourn in shock and bewilderment.
Be with those who seek to help
that they might be resourced with resilience and compassion
as well as wisdom and skill.
In time and grace may we come to understanding
and then to forgiveness.
Yeshua – one who saves,
Save us at this time,
That we might cope and survive.
Gift us with the true gifts of Christmas,
so we might come through it.
Help us have faith,
for fear and anger and doubt – not to mention sadness unfathomable,
threaten to overwhelm us.
So, with deep need we pray.
Amen.

We must never forget

Published / by Peter

From the National Church

Stuart McMillan, President of the Uniting Church in Australia has issued the following Pastoral Statement in response to the Final Report to the government of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Five years after its announcement, Australia’s landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has handed its Final Report to Government.

On this occasion I want to acknowledge the extensive and invaluable body of work produced by the Royal Commission and its staff, and remind all church members of our solemn commitment to child safety that is informed by the Commission’s work.

As Chief Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan AM warned at the Royal Commission’s final sitting, the sexual abuse of children is not just a problem from the past.

Justice McClellan said: “Poor practices, inadequate governance structures, failures to record and report complaints, or understating the seriousness of complaints, have been frequent.”

He went on to say: “If the problems we have identified are to be adequately addressed, changes must be made. There must be changes in the culture, structure and governance practices of many institutions.”

The Uniting Church in Australia will consider the Royal Commission’s Final Report carefully, reflect on its findings and recommendations, and implement measures to deliver the best quality of care, service and support for children.

At this time, I would again like to sincerely apologise to all children in our care who suffered sexual abuse in our church, whether it happened after our foundation in 1977 or before that, in our predecessor churches.

We are, and I am, deeply sorry that we did not protect and care in accordance with our Christian values for those children. I again want to acknowledge the impact that it’s had in the lives of those young people and their families, and to say that I am truly sorry.

We must never forget the courage of survivors who’ve come forward to tell their stories in public and in private. The Uniting Church will continue to work constructively with Government and other stakeholders for a truly national redress scheme, as the most equitable way to support survivors wherever they might be.

Our church’s commitment is that we will seek to make amends and strive to ensure others will not suffer as they have. Our prayers and a determined focus will be required if we are to build a robust culture of child safety.

With the collaboration of Synods and many others across our church, we have begun applying the learnings of the Royal Commission through a National Child Safe Policy Framework. The work of implementation will continue to be resourced into the future through the National Royal Commission Task Group and support staff, who will work to incorporate the recommendations of the Final Report in the weeks and months ahead.

I urge all church members to remain vigilant, to ensure that wherever you are in our church, agencies or schools, you are focussed on child safety. If you are a church member and would like information about safe church training, please contact your Synod or Presbytery.

In the years ahead, may God grant us the strength and wisdom to honour our pledge to be the safest church we can be for children, and for all people in our midst.

Marrkapmirri,

Stuart McMillan
President, Uniting Church in Australia

Marrkapmirri means deep affection, love as with a brother or sister, in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land.

Discussing these issues can raise difficult emotions and past memories.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call:

1800 RESPECT (1 800 737 732)

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

For the full text and including Prayers for personal use or corporate worship  –  see here

 

Parliament voted yes

Published / by Sandy

Australia has joined 26 other developed nations in abolishing one of the last legal discriminations against the gay community, paving the way for its first same-sex weddings in January 2018, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claiming it as a win for his government.

Parliament erupted into cheers, hugs and tears of joy on Thursday night as it voted to pass a bill enabling same-sex marriage, three weeks after almost 62 per cent of voters backed the reform.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has appealed to Church members to continue their respectful considerations on marriage, in the wake of the Australian Parliament’s changes to the marriage laws.

In a Pastoral Statement to the Church, Mr McMillan said:

“Some members of our Church will greet this legislative change with great joy whilst others will be deeply concerned about what they see as the consequences of the change.”

“We recognise there will be frustration and disappointment for some same gender couples who will still be unable to be married in our Church because our policy on marriage remains unchanged.”

The Uniting Church has been discussing the theology of marriage since the 13th Assembly meeting in 2012. The 14th Assembly in 2015 committed to further discussions about marriage and same gender relationships in culturally appropriate ways, also affirming the Church’s embrace of LGBTIQ people as full members of its community.

“In line with the resolutions of the 14th Assembly, General Secretary Colleen Geyer has today written to all ministers and authorised marriage celebrants of the Uniting Church in Australia to explain what this means for each of them legally,” said Mr McMillan.

“During the triennium we have had formal and informal conversations, and we will have further opportunity at the Assembly to discuss marriage in a respectful way. “

“At the 15th Assembly in July 2018 we will again consider marriage, including a report being prepared by the Assembly Working Group on Doctrine and recommendations from the Assembly Standing Committee.”

“At that time I pray that God will enable us to truly hear one another and most importantly the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

“I appeal to you in the time between now and the rising of the 15th Assembly to please pray for wisdom and discernment for the members of Assembly who will gather as the body of Christ.”

Mr McMillan said that during his term as President from 2015 he had often spoken from Romans 12 verse 5: “We belong to one another”.

“The writer of Romans continues speaking about sincere love as: ‘Honouring one another above yourselves’ (verse 10).”

“In all we say and do, I appeal to you all, let us follow these encouragements to be Christ-like.

“Whatever your personal response is to these changes of Australian civil law, the Church’s call remains unchanged to be a ‘fellowship of reconciliation’.

“We are the body of Christ. Let us be witnesses to the transforming power of God’s love in Jesus Christ at work in and amongst us,” said Mr McMillan.

Pastoral statement here

Click here for more information on the Uniting Church’s ongoing conversations on marriage.