The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s003g10  Advent 3  12/12/2010

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘the poor have good news brought to them’   Matthew 11.5

John sends his disciples to ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"   And often we spend our lives wondering, waiting for someone to come or something to happen.   And the effort of wanting, of endlessly unrequited love, brings a stress of its own.   Even attending a Quiet Day or trying to set aside a regular time for meditation might well be stressful for some.   We can be ever thinking about what else we should be doing, all the things we could be doing to prepare for the ‘silly season’; but we feel we ought ..

We spend our lives chasing knowledge, wisdom, orthodoxy, sanctity and devotion, because this is what the church has taught us to do, as if therein is some way into heaven at the end of time.   Yet Jesus speaks to John and speaks to us of a different way.  

And the Christmass story is that it has already happened.   If we are looking for the rich and powerful to bring about the kingdom, we are looking in the wrong direction   If we are looking for the movers and shakers to get off their backsides, we will be waiting forever.   It is the poor who hold the key to it all.

I wonder if the worst thing that could happen to one would, in times past, be to find out one was pregnant (when one was female and not married).   Nowadays, amongst us for whom the possibility of pregnancy is past, the worst thing may be to have to go to hospital.   Here we are dragged, kicking and screaming, to be cheek by jowl with a whole lot of other people who we haven’t met before.   We know that our privacy and personal space will be invaded, we will be bored to sobs, and we will not be able to come and go as we might.   Our blessed independence will be shot to pieces!  And yet, here’s the rub, this is where healing takes place.

Perhaps on a lighter note, parents often have the experience of seeing their child one morning and thinking - they’ve grown an inch overnight!   Lots happen when we are asleep.  Indeed to return to the hospital situation, it is probably the rest that is a major contributor to the healing process.

So stopping is good - even if we are forced into it!

In my hospital chaplaincy work, I have often commented that it is in a hospital ward that I see God at work, rather than in church services.   It is here that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, (and) the dead are raised”.   Here people are accepted unconditionally, cared for and made able to return to what passes for normality - to get sick again :-).   When I have visited people I have sometimes been moved to say that this is what my bishop requires me and my clergy colleagues to do each year - it is called a retreat.  To leave the pressures of home and ministry and to be cared for.  One spends a lot of time resting, walking quietly, conversations with colleagues, drinking!   Often in my life it’s a time to think - when I go back, perhaps I’ll try that.   It’s an opportunity, without the day-to-day frantic activity of life to think laterally.   It’s exciting to explore new possibilities.   Some things may happen, some may not.  It doesn’t really matter.

I remember, last century and in another world, my first training Rector saying that of all these miraculous things - the blind receiving their sight, the lame enabled to walk, lepers being cleansed, the deaf enabled to hear, and most miraculous of all, the dead being raised - it was the last that was actually even more miraculous - the poor have good news brought to them!   May God rest his soul - he was a good man.   I wonder, if there is a heaven, if he is there smiling to realise that his first assistant curate remembers one of his sayings?   I would not now particularly follow the charismatic movement of which he was the focus in the diocese at that time, but here is a true piece of wisdom.

And it is a useful piece of wisdom now in this lead-up to christmass, for it is here and now that we celebrate Christ’s coming to this world.   And we begin with remembering that he came, not to the rich and powerful, not to the movers and shakers, not to the religiously orthodox and devout, but to ordinary people with no pretensions to power, knowledge, wisdom, orthodoxy, sanctity or devotion.

And I want to suggest that by recognising that God works through others, doctors, nurses, health professionals, wards-persons, is to bring good news to these people.   Mostly they will not be ‘christian’, yet all will be doing what they do, believing that doing what they can to help others is what God has called them to do, whatever name they call him or her.  Indeed it is sometimes the experience of some that it is a fellow patient who is suffering the same thing who is most helpful in their own recovery.

Of course when one begins to think like this we realise that God puts so many people around us and that without them we just wouldn’t enjoy the quality of life that we do.   What a bother it would be if there weren’t garbage collectors!   Or check-out operators.   What would society be like without police?   Or indeed, politicians!

Rather than looking at the world and seeing how overtly ‘christian’ it isn’t, it is a great relief to see that, in the words of the “Desiderata” (actually it was not found in Old St Paul’s Church Baltimore; dated 1692 as my copy asserts :-): ‘whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.’

Just the other day I read an article in the (Melbourne, Australia) Jesuit e-magazine ‘Eureka Street’ by Moira Rayner where she concludes: ‘nobody pretends child maltreatment is easily prevented, detected or remedied.   Yet we are passionate about the social evils of allowing same-sex couples to marry.   Would a child in a same-sex family be exposed to proportional rates of neglect, violence, emotional undermining or sexual assault as in the traditionally recognised partnering of one man and one woman?   Wouldn't it be great if we put all that energy into providing what all children need: a family environment of love and understanding where they can achieve their full potential?   Yes, it's a fundamental human right, which has no priority in our community, actually.   Shame on us.’  (Moira Rayner is a barrister and writer.   She is a former Equal Opportunity and HREOC Commissioner.

And I would fully agree.   But the problem is that much child abuse is perpetrated on religious grounds - from ‘christian’ (‘evangelical’!) schools who advocate and use corporal punishment to people whose love of music has been beaten out of them by religious teaching with a ruler rather than by encouragement.    Moira is right in advocating a change of theological emphasis, but I think it is a rather wider and more fundamental change that is necessary.  

Each and every one of us has a right to be here - and not just as a child - to be seen but not heard.   Each are here to make and have their contribution recognised and acknowledged.   I have seen many times in parishes where people are really only welcomed to perpetuate the worship of the particular contribution of those who are the established worshippers.  

Again, and sorry to harp on it, but it is the refusal to accept the use of contraception and condoms on RELIGIOUS grounds, that cause so many millions to live in poverty, pain and premature death.

Again to be fair, Michael Mullins, the editor, writes in the same edition: ‘The message is universal, though the strategies are different.   For AIDS Councils around Australia – and charities such as the Australian AIDS Fund – condoms is the preferred preventative measure, with abstinence a distant and improbable alternative.   For the Pope, it's the reverse.’   (  It is clear that many Catholics would welcome what is denied as the reversal of official policy.   But not all.   One priest recently wrote on his ‘Facebook’ page, that he ‘continues to be bemused at the way the media is so obsessed with condoms that it can’t see the wood for the rubber trees’ and that he: ‘thinks the Christians will win because the secularists will contracept, abort and euthanase themselves into oblivion!’  

So it is us, those of us who call ourselves ‘christians’ who have a fundamental part to play in doing this, because it is OUR theology which continues to cause other people harm, or perhaps misrepresentations of our theology.

It is never our efforts at orthodoxy or religious devotion that matter, it is always our relationship with others that does.   There is no point in thinking that God or others will come and fix things, for any fixing that is necessary is in our hands - in how we treat ourselves and others.   For me the incarnation of Jesus implies he is the proto-secularist!   He comes and blesses our lives as they are and other people’s lives as they are.   Jesus is, on the other hand, crucified anew by those who want Jesus to come and bless their own contribution and damn others.

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