Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Word became flesh, and sailed into our immigration zone...

Courier Mail
Today we celebrate the feast of Mary, Mother of Jesus. The Gospel today reminds us of her centrality in the fact of the incarnation, and the character of God’s intervention for the poor, the humble and the hungry. The story of the incarnation from Luke reminds us that she and Joseph were strangers and sojourners when Jesus was born in Bethlehem; and as a story in Matthew's Gospel has it, their subsequent flight into Egypt even makes Jesus a refugee - a queue jumper - as a well as a child born in poverty.

These stories are not however just poignant passing images within Jesus' and Mary's lives, but point to something fundamental about the character of the incarnation itself.

It is easier perhaps to think of Mary as the one who submits to God's gracious but powerful will in saying "yes" to the divine message. But in fact the incarnation is above all a submission by God to the perils of human existence. Journeying into human life was as always a risky business, for child as for mother; pregnancy and birth may be marvels of life, but they are dangerous ones.

In John's Gospel the incarnation is described in these remarkable terms: "the Word became flesh and lived among us". The Greek word translated "lived" or in older versions "dwelt" (ἐσκήνωσεν), is literally something more like "make camp" - and it sometimes means "to find a harbour". Thus while the first part of that verse tells us that the Word really does become flesh, and does not merely borrow human clothes for the sake of the Gospel, the second part suggests a sojourn, a journey, and yes literally a voyage - "the Word became flesh, and sailed into our immigration zone". John says in the same prologue about the incarnation that “his own people did not receive him” – some things have not changed.

The incarnation is thus the beginning of God’s acceptance of risk, of frailty and mortality, of which the Cross itself is the definitive sign and fulfilment, the ironic journey's end where God shows his triumph precisely in the thing we fear and avoid most, the sign that the incarnation really was God's sharing in our human life completely.

God's journey to birth through Mary, into the leaky boat of human existence, is undertaken not for Jesus' safety and freedom however but for ours. Most Australians have much to be thankful for, in freedom, security and relative prosperity, materially speaking. God arrives, become flesh, on the shore of our lives and offers even more; true freedom, fullness of life. Accepting citizenship of God's reign may find us changing how we deal with our own material realities; it calls us to consider afresh what true security, real prosperity, and lasting freedom are.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Let's Fully Welcome Refugees

This past week a banner was unfurled on the tower of the Cathedral, with the words "Let's fully welcome refugees".

This election season we can speak freely about refugee policy in for all the wrong reasons - since neither major party has been willing to give the claims even of international law--let alone of moral principle--the same emphasis being given to border control, as a result our banner is politically non-partisan.

 This election is being marked by a competition between the two parties to see whose policies will appear more punitive to asylum seekers who arrive by boat, although it is far from certain that what may seem unattractive options to us will even deter asylum seekers at all, whose choices in their places of origin apparently seem to them to outweigh the risks of leaky boats.

While we ought not to suggest that politicians as a group do not care, or that the policy issues are simple, there are prominent leaders whose loose treatment of the truth about asylum seekers - such as the regular suggestion that to be a refugee is somehow itself illegal - raises profound questions of integrity; and there are sections of the media whose enthusiasm for pointing to the admitted evils of people smuggling are not remotely matched by interest in the conditions under which asylum seekers have been housed, or the way xenophobia is being exploited in the political arena.

 The Church does not make immigration policy, but it is right for us to challenge our leaders and our community about issues a basic as these, and to take part in conversation about the kind of society we ought to be. Our nation, a country which owes so much to immigrants, including those involuntarily transported and many driven from homelands by need, is wrong to construct its public conversation about refugees as we are now largely doing, turning asylum seekers into scapegoats. 

[From a sermon given at St Paul's Cathedral, Sunday August 11 2013]