Sunday 31 December 2023 ~ Rev Hugh Perry

The Christian festival, when we focus on the Holy Family, has become through the commercialisation of Christmas a time when both Christians and the secular world focuses on their families.  We spend time together, we feast and give gifts to each other and the success of the festival is measured in efpos totals.

Due to the need to produce an order of service before people went on holiday and immersed themselves in those activities I needed to write this sermon before Christmas.  So I felt no guilt at looking back to the last time I preached on these readings for inspiration.  That was 15 years ago and I began by reflecting on our Christmas Day which obviously I can’t do now.  So, I have anticipate what might happen.

Like we did then, we are most likely to spend time at our son’s place on Huntsbury Hill.  The majority of Pakuranga Perrys are visiting us in relays in the new year. We won’t be seeing our eldest granddaughter becase she has just had a holiday in Japan and, as a diligent local body bureaucrat, she will need to support her colleagues in containing Auckland’s Mayor.

Sharing a meal with the Huntsbury Family will be different to 2008 when our Grandson Nico was 23 months old.  He will now be starting his last year of secondary schooling next term.  Furthermore, my son has separated and married Tina George and they are now referred to as the PGees. 

Fifteen years ago was the time of the popular commercial that had kids recruiting help to build a retaining wall because DIY was in their DNA.  In Nico’s presents was a toy electric drill and he raced around the lounge boring imaginary holes in all the furniture.  I truly believed that, like his father, he had DIY in his DNA.

Now if he is home when we visit he will most likely be playing games on his computer. He does this incessantly while his father and step mum race across the southern Alps or plunge to the depths of the T?kaka limestone caves like a couple of midlife energiser bunnies.   

However, in recent times Nico has confessed to quite liking skiing and has been rock climbing with his father. So, there are traces of his father’s DNA.

Jesus’ DNA is mapped out in chapter three of Luke’s Gospel after the voice from heaven declared ‘Jesus beloved and divine son of God’.

The genealogy goes back through David to Adam who, as the first created human, was of course son of God. 

That is not particularly unique because we are all children of the first humans and children of the Creator of the Universe.  Indeed, Luke’s genealogy and incarnational theology backs that up. 

We all have a divine nature within us but that needs to be nurtured by open and caring lovingkindness and empathy.  The divine spark can also be stunted and corrupted by neglect, self-centred indulgence, greed and fear.

Watching Nico in full carpenter mode fifteen years ago we wondered what his career path might be.  However, with his father a geography teacher, mother a maths teacher and a stepmother an ex-chef and sports scientist we worry if computer games could distract him from the influence of his DNA and his over active household.  

One of my mother’s often repeated whinges was that she was made to leave school and go to secretarial college so the family could finance my uncle going to university to become a lawyer.

But the reality is that the future is not ours to see.  My uncle was interred and lost his practicing certificate for objecting to World War Two. That meant he struggled financially with a large family.  Nevertheless, his professional status was restored, and he spent the rest of his life getting compensation that gave hope to injured workers before ACC.  He also helped change the world by passing his DNA to a linguist, a scientist, a school principal, a lawyer, woman’s rights activist, and a gay postie.  

My reading also leads me to suspect that his passion for peace and justice, along with a sharp wit, nurtured similar attributes in a large law clerk who became the prime minister who banned nuclear weapons from Aotearoa.

In my own household my mother was a passionate supporter of my father’s ability as a photographer but did not want me to inherit that affliction. 

She continually encouraged me to live out her unfulfilled academic ambitions and was always suggesting I become a schoolteacher.  An ambition fulfilled by the grandchildren she never lived to know. 

My photography career choice was probably based on the conservatism of following what I knew.  However my mother’s Liverpool left-wing, humanist convictions, family DNA and the Holy Spirit eventually led in an entirely different direction.

Joseph, we are told, was a carpenter in a time when opportunities to deviate from the household enterprise were extremely limited.  Therefore, expectations would have been that Jesus would follow his father’s occupation.

However, we are told that Jesus’ conception and his birth, filled his mother with interesting visions of his future.  Furthermore, the Bible, history and reading Inge Woolf’s book Resilience shows that Jewish mothers can be a determined lot.  Even stronger willed than mothers from Liverpool.

So, the reaction of Simeon and Anna to the infant Jesus might well have been encouragement to Mary’s ambitions for her son. 

But the despite the ambitions we hold for our children the passion for righteousness we install within them can divert the in other directions.

Although Ruth was my cousin that followed her father’s path into law she was steep in the \woman’s liberation movement so wouldn’t accept a job in what had been her father’s firm.  Then after a brush with a chauvinist judge she became complaints officer for the Consumers Institute.  She ended her short life in the office of the minister of woman’s affairs redrafting the laws she opposed.

Then because of her early death her brother went on to do a PhD in cancer research which, like all research, adds to the worldwide knowledge that gives life to humanity in a dangerous world.

Change happens through both triumph and disaster as learning and inspiration is passed from person to person in our own families and in the greater family of humanity. 

Both the science of genetics and our faith tell us that we are all children of the first humans.  All linked by our common DNA, our family stories, and the leading of the Divine Spirit..  

That Spirit is nurtured or stunted by our parents and the people we interact with, and the first three chapters of Luke draw attention to that reality in Jesus’ beginnings. 

John the Baptist’s mother was a relative of Mary.  Jesus subsequently accepted John’s baptism and carried on John’s mission after John was arrested.  Jesus’ parents were devout and followed the religious practices of their time.  Practise that the adult Jesus would criticise because it exploited the most vulnerable by demanding payments they couldn’t afford.  

We are told in verse 40 of our reading that Jesus ‘grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him’. 

Isn’t that what we wish for our children?  But isn’t it also true that in wishing that, we cannot wrap them in cotton wool and control their futures?

I used to fret about the marks my oldest boy coasted through university with, while his major focus seemed to be gaining the right to wear a black track suit, rather than an academic gown.

Nico’s dad was even more frightening with a passion for white water kayaking, tramping through Nepal and India and disappearing in Southeast Asia. 

I always had difficulty in understanding why he needed an honours degree in coastal geography to work as a painter in Christchurch and London, as a chair lift operator in Banff, or even as mail order manager for Kathmandu. 

Then one day he came into my study and said, ‘Can you can sign my Teacher’s College application, I’ve decided I need to get a life’.

Recently he added a Master of Education to his qualifications, ran the one-day Coast to Coast and, as a extra job teaches would-be geography teachers at Canterbury University. 

We grandparents can speculate about Nico’s future, but he has enough stubborn and self-determining DNA in him to find his own way.

Luke tells us that the infant Jesus had the DNA of kings, was conceived through the power of God’s spirit, and, like all of us, was a child of Adam and therefore a child of God.

Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, his destiny, would bring the falling and rising of many, the opposition that would reveal the inner thoughts of many, and the sword that would pierce his mother’s soul.  But that destiny also reveals to us that we each carry the divine spark and we are each linked to the loving creator of all that is. 

We each have the potential to walk our own journey with the Risen Christ and demonstrate to our world that indeed, the kingdom of God is at hand. 

We each have the Risen Christ within us that can guide us to be the church in this place.  Be part of reforming the church in a new way for the unknown future.  Like all those who came before us we are called to that task despite the fear we feel, the division we find amongst us, and the grip the past holds on us.

We can, like all those who have gone before us, be part of Jesus’ Kingdom of God project. 

We can in small insignificant ways, or in history making acts, be part of the future the Risen Christ calls us all to.

All of us can, at the right time and place, speak a telling truth or write an inspiring story.  For some it may be dangerous and deadly opposition to oppression.  Others it may simply be the DNA and nurture which forms our children into who they are becoming.

We can all play our part in building a world of justice and love! 

She’s a pretty big job! 

But it’s a D-I-Y project—Divine In Yourself. 

It’s in our culture and it’s in our DNA.