God sent his Son… in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’
This is the last week in 2020. Perhaps we will all have a huge communal sigh of relief. We started the year with Bush fires still ravaging so much of Australia. We hadn’t begun to recover from the bush fires and the drought that still persisted when the news started to come through of a new dangerous virous. Our world was thrown into turmoil. Nothing was as it had been. The Churches around the world were locked at Easter and many were still empty at Christmas. Overseas holidays were cancelled and even trips to family in other states were off the agenda. And of course the normal things that challenge us were all still there and they were exacerbated. Marriages that were struggling broke apart, anger tip over into violence in people homes, anxiety and depression descended to new depths, unemployment and loneliness grew, surgeries to reduce chronic pain were postponed indefinitely.
As we come to the end of the year its hard to hear Isaiah saying:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord ,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
Or to hear the psalmist dancing with joy and singing praises along with the whole of creation:
Praise him, sun and moon:
praise him, all you stars of light.
Praise him, you highest heaven:
and you waters that are above the heavens.
Even the sheer joy of Simeon and Anna seems over the top in this tumultuous year. But at the heart of our readings is a message that God has not only sent his son to bring salvation, he has sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts.
So, let’s be inspired by these holy men and women and join them in giving thanks to God and joyfully praising God. Let’s look for the many things we can give thanks for.
During the drought and the bush fires the community support for people in need was impressive. Fire fighters went from state to state tirelessly fighting the fires. Volunteers moved in to help build fences or to make sure enough refreshments were available for the front-line troops. Giving thanks doesn’t diminish the tragedy as people lost their lives, their homes, their livelihoods, and the multitude of animals that died in the fires. But nevertheless, as a nation when the chips were down we pulled together and show genuine concern and love for one another.
Then when the significance of the pandemic became more obvious, we saw something quite extraordinary in our politics. We saw state and federal leaders sitting together in the “national Cabinet” collaboratively working to reduce the impact of the virus. Suddenly, employers were being supported to keep their people employed. The unemployed were given extra support. Hospital wards were being prepared for the worst eventualities. School quickly moved to provide online learning while continuing to receive children of essential workers. Borders were closed down to keep the nation safe. Universities started working to find a vaccine for the virus. As a consequence, our first wave to many of us seemed like a non-event.
Then when the second wave hit Victoria, we began to see just how successful our earlier precautions had been. Then the people of Victoria went into a hard lock down and we saw the numbers of new cases drop from 700 to 0 in just a couple of months. The teams of health care workers and contact chases and those testing the for Covid worked around the clock. Tens of thousand were tested and the results were being sent back in quick time. The vast majority who were told to go into isolation or quarantine did so without complaining. When told to wear masks the vast majority accepted the new requirement. Even with this latest cluster on the northern beaches of Sydney we have seen the willingness to comply as a blessing to the whole nation.
There are many more things I could name that have been blessings this year.
Now I know that while so many blessings have come our way we have all watched with horror as the world has been overwhelmed. It is easy to recall many things that haven’t been good. But if you did that as this year comes to an end you would feel like you have been run over. So as it is good practice each day to count our blessings, lets make the end of 2020 a time to do likewise. Then we can more easily join with Isaiah, the psalmist, Simeon and Anna in rejoicing with our whole being.
Now if the dark side of the year keeps interrupting your attempt to count your blessings, we then turn to the core promise in the Scriptures for today. God sent his son to redeem and his Spirit into our hearts so that we can know God with the intimacy of a loving parent.
It is good to remember that Isaiah writing so joyfully was able to rejoice in the return from Exile but also good to keep in mind that it was hard work. The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed and the temple had been smashed. Yet Isaiah was still able to dream of a time when the city would shine, and the people of Israel would be a light to the nations. I am sure the psalmist knew well the pain of drought and famine, of plague and war. And yet his deep faith gave him the capacity to see and hear creation rejoicing and praising God. Their faith, their trust in God would have been tested to breaking point at times but their deep faith would rise up and give strength even in the darkest hours.
Simeon and Anna knew pain in their own lives and lifetime as well. Yet again their deep faith would bubble to the surface. They remind me of many of our folk here in the Church. We have many beautiful holy men and women who are in the church when you are not expecting anyone. They might be setting out the Chalice and the bread ready for our worship, or decorating the Sacred Space as the seasons change, or arranging beautiful flowers for the Church or mowing the lawn. Sometimes you wonder if they live here, they are like Anna, always in the temple. They are on the prayer chain as well often, and they volunteer for various jobs when worship is happening. They may not see themselves as a prophet or think of their words of encouragement as a blessing. Yet Anna and Simeon are here in the Church often.
Now I believe the Simeons and Annas of this world already knew in their hearts the redemption that Jesus brings into the world. They already had the Spirit of Jesus in their hearts even before Jesus was born. They like the Psalmist and Isaiah already had an intimate relationship with God. They may never have called God Abba, daddy but their relationship was that close. May be that is because they had learnt to count their blessings in good years and bad years. Perhaps it was because they committed to joining others in worship every Sabbath. Maybe it is because they sat with the words of the Scriptures and pondered them. Maybe it was because they loved to reach out in blessing to whomever they encountered. Perhaps it was because they had learnt the joy of serving others. I suspect the Annas and Simeons of this world were doing most of those things if not all of them and that is why they were close to God. It would not have been hard for them to learn Jesus’ intimate address to God as Abba, daddy.
So, I invite you all to join with these holy men and women in giving thanks to God and praising God along with all of creation. Join with them in counting your blessings. Soak up the worship and the Scriptures of the people of God. Learn the joy of serving and reach out to others in blessing. And most of all allow the Spirit of Jesus to help you cry out Abba, daddy or mummy when you address God. Enter into a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus and know that all of life’s brickbats and disasters can be placed at the foot of the cross. Our burdens can be handed over and instead, we can share the light yoke of Jesus.