I am so blessed to share some thoughts with you at my final service at St Andrew’s, which has been my home parish for the last 10 years. It is an extra blessing that my sister Andrea , my brother-in-law Jim, and two of my nephews Gilbert and Brady are here from Canada. To each and every one of you here today, thank you.
(Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46-55; Hebrew 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
As we patiently await the arrival of our Lord and Saviour in less than 5 days, it is a wonderful opportunity to take time away from the excited crowds and holiday frenzy to find a quiet place to pray and listen to what God is calling us to do. But as our readings today show, God’s message is often not at the time or place we’d expect. And God may have to try several times to reach us before we hear His message and do what He says.
Promise and Hope
Today’s readings beautifully combine the message of promise in the Old Testament with the message of Hope in the New Testament.
Starting with our Old Testament reading, Micah was a prophet living over 700 years before Christ was born. He spoke out against the injustices of the relatively newly freed Canaanite society that was becoming materialistic, inhumane, immoral and corrupt. So what we are experiencing in South Africa is common in a newly liberated country. That is not an excuse but rather a wake-up call that we have to work and pray much harder for our country. Micah tirelessly begged the Canaanites to stop their immoral behaviour and turn back to God instead of worshipping Baal, a pagan god, or there would be grave consequences. Micah also promised that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem of ancient ancestry and bring a kingdom of peace and justice that would reach the ends of the earth.
Bond among moms and babies
Now fast forward 700 years to the Virgin Mary, newly pregnant with Jesus, visits her relative Elizabeth (we would call sisters in African culture) who is 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist. Baby John leaps in the womb on hearing Mary’s greeting, and Elizabeth praises Mary for her great faith as mother of the Lord. In response, Mary sings her beautiful praises to God thanking Him for choosing her as his humble servant. This Song of Mary, known as the Magnificat, is adored by Christians throughout the world. Both Mary and Elizabeth were blessed with pregnancies in unusual circumstances but showed great faith in the big responsibilities God was calling them to do.
As relatives expecting babies at the same time, they shared a special bond of promise and hope. This bond is also between mother and baby and between the 2 babies.
Research shows that the most important time of a baby’s mental and physical development is the First 1000 Days, which is from conception to 2 years old. Babies can hear, think and feel much more than we ever realised.
Feeling the Holy Spirit
That is why loving and communicating with your baby from the time in the womb is very important. So Baby John was excited because he could feel his mother’s joy and hear her happy voice at seeing her relative arrive. I also believe he could feel the Holy Spirit that Elizabeth and Mary were feeling.
Elizabeth was very old when she conceived and was confined to her home for 6 months. She was probably so happy to have any company, and better still, this was the mother of her Lord. The two women had so much joy to share over the next three months until John the Baptist was born. The two baby boys would be forever connected as John became God’s messenger who announced the coming of the Messiah and paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life, as Jesus did.
‘Keep the faith’
Fast forward to later in the first century, to the Letter to the Hebrews, which was written to encourage Jewish Christians to ‘keep the faith’ despite the persecution they faced. The letter advised them that their Jewish rituals and animal sacrifices were no longer needed to be free of sin, because God sacrificed his only son when Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from our sins, once and for all.
What an amazing gift God has given us! But it was not God alone – it all came together because His faithful servants over thousands of years never gave up on what God asked them to do. All the way back to Micah, Elizabeth, Mary, John and Jesus. Our Christian faith continues to call us to serve God in unexpected ways today. I too was not expecting God to call me to St Michael’s Bryanston. I have struggled with the changes this move involves and all the goodbyes. But this struggle is helping me grow and appreciate so much. I am so blessed with the strong foundation you have all given me to go and I can now look forward to serving another loving and faithful community. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Hear God’s call
The challenge I leave all of us today is to take time out and really listen and hear God’s call, no matter how unexpected it may be. I would like to leave you with these encouraging words from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1980 for following God’s call to stand against injustice in El Salvador:
A Future Not Our Own*
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No programme accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.