“As we walk through the camp I notice how many people come up to Claire and talk with her. Many of them she knows by name and I notice how many of them reach out to touch her, as if to confirm she is real. I notice other Angels too.”
This is how Uniting Church Minister Rev. Bill Crews described what he saw at a makeshift camp in Calais, France for people seeking refuge. Claire, a young charity worker, an accountant by profession, came and stayed because she fell in love with the people in the camp. To them she was a sign of hope.
Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ birth declares: “They will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us.” This is the fulfillment of the promise of God in the Hebrew Scriptures: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
All around us God is at work in the world, walking with people, among us in our celebrations of life and in our suffering. Jesus is a sign of hope, and Christians are to be carriers of that hope, bearers of light and love. Like Claire we are called to be signs of hope to walk with, sit with, cry with, laugh with, work alongside and listen attentively to others in their times of need and of celebration.
I am both humbled and proud that many members of our Uniting Church are engaged in exactly this kind of ministry.
People like Rev. Joan Fisher who spent three months in East Jerusalem with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. Joan says: “It was my privilege to accompany Palestinian people in their daily activities. They expressed their gratitude that their stories were being witnessed and would be shared.” It was a time of conflict and deep distress. Joan experienced personally in giving and in receiving, the reality of “God with us”. She was also a sign of hope for the Palestinian people she walked and lived with.
Rev. Gaby Kobrossi of Bankstown District Uniting Church recently met with people seeking refuge in Lebanon, from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. One woman he met who was from a Christian background had suffered great loss. Her husband and two sons had been killed. She told Gaby her faith had been strengthened. She experienced the reality of God with her, even in the midst of this seemingly unbearable tragedy. Christian organisations in Lebanon are the presence of God with refugees both Muslim and Christian from Iraq and Syria. They are tangibly the presence of God as they share the love of Jesus practically with those in need.
Friends, we are all called to be signs of hope to walk with, sit with, cry with, laugh with, work alongside and listen attentively to one another in our times of need and of celebration. To be present for another is to be the presence of Jesus, Immanuel, a sign of hope, God who is present with us.
Sometimes the greatest gift you can give to another human being is to be present for them, in this we discover we are not abandoned or alone, rather we discover afresh we are truly loved.
Here at home, First Australians have invited us who have come more recently to walk with them, to listen attentively and for each of us to share our stories, our journey.
I stand with my Indigenous brothers and sisters in their struggle for recognition, justice and treaty.
In the multicultural communities that enrich the Uniting Church we are cultivating what we call, a “space for grace”, making space for God and space for differing cultural understandings.
Especially at this time with so much conflict in our world, we must reach out to those who face hardship, illness, intolerance or abuse.
This Christmas and into the New Year let us be signs of God’s presence, signs of hope by walking with, talking with, listening and letting people know they are not isolated and alone and God loves them.
Let us be present for one another in such a way that there are no strangers, that all people would experience welcome and in this know they are valued and loved, for this is God’s grace in and through Jesus shared among us. Mägayamirri Rom.
Mägayamirri Rom means in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land: “the way of peace, of harmony and tranquility be with you.”