Primate’s New Year’s Day Sermon

Archbishop Fred Hiltz
Sermon, New Year’s Day, 2018
Christ Church Cathedral
Ottawa, Ontario

“We praise you, heavenly Father,
for the name of your incarnate Son, Jesus.
May it be to us and all your children
the name that is above every name,
the name to be honoured, trusted, and adored,
now and forever more.  Amen”

Today it is our joy to remember the naming of the Child whose Nativity we celebrate throughout these twelve days of Christmas.  There was no question as to what his name would be.  In fact, the naming would be an act of obedience to instruction given by an angel when the child was conceived.  In Luke’s account of the Gospel, it is Mary who receives the instruction.  In Matthew’s it is Joseph.  “You shall name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  While the naming was an occasion of rejoicing, few perhaps, grasped the significance of this Child receiving that name.

“Jesus” you see, was a common name in those days.  But in the case of this little one, circumcised according to the law on the eighth day after his birth, this name would spell out his life and ministry.  He was that one of whom the prophet had spoken,

“To us a child is born
to us a son is given…
And his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.”
—(Isaiah 9:6)

Holding that child in his arms the devote and righteous Simeon would say “Lord, now let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled.  My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”  Luke 2:29 – 32)

At the very same hour the aged and faithful Anna would also give thanks to God and “speak of him to all who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38), beckoning them to come and see the child.

He was the Messiah, the Anointed One who would announce salvation and publish peace.  He was the Servant of God who would bear the sins of the world and give his life a ransom for many.  He would be the first born from the dead, the one of whom St. Paul would write, “God has exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at his name, every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and every tongue confess him Lord.” (Philippians 2: 8-10)

As a grandparent I was amazed by the care Nathan and Melissa took in naming their child – Leah Madeline.  Leah is a good biblical name, and Madeline is the name of Nathan’s maternal grandmother.  What for me and for any of us who are grandparents is equally wonderful is that time when our grandchild embraces that name as their own, that time when with the genuine joy of a child they respond to our question, “What’s your name?”  and “What’s Mommy’s name? What’s Daddy’s name?  What’s Gran’s name? What’s Papa’s name?”  And off they rhyme them one by one, that host of those to whom they know they belong, all those who love and nurture them with heart and soul, who watch and protect them, who teach and guide them, taking great delight in their growth and comprehension of the joys and complexities of life.

A child’s name gives them identity within their families, among friends, in society at large and eventually in their places of education and employment, in their life’s calling and labours.

Now dear friends, consider with me an awful indeed unacceptable reality that in our world, thousands of children are born and their birth is not registered.   This sadness is a violation of their first right as human beings.  To be registered at birth guarantees statehood, access to medical treatment, opportunity for an education and employment as an adult.  All these rights are at risk when a child’s birth is not or cannot be registered.  They are persons without an identity or a homeland, without rights or opportunities.  Legally they are nobodies.

Issues related to birth registration are huge in our world and the World Council of Churches, of which the Churches of the Anglican Communion are members, is endeavouring to address them through a global initiative known as “Churches’ Commitments to Children”.  Launched from Geneva in March 2017, this initiative seeks

  1. to promote child protection through church communities;
  2. to promote meaningful participation of children and adolescents as possessing agency – that is a mind and a voice in shaping social policies impacting their own lives, and
  3. to promote intergenerational activities for climate justice, for behaviours adaptive to the impacts of climate change.

In keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Council of Churches sees these initiatives as consonant with the ministry of Jesus’ embrace of children, how he welcomed, blessed and healed them; how he lifted up their awe and wonder in life itself, and in the mystery of things divine.  How he saw them as models for any who would embrace the joys of the Kingdom, he was announcing.  The World Council of Churches also sees these initiatives as consonant with Jesus’ stern warning against any who would violate their innocence or harm them in any way.

We live in times when it is impossible to escape seeing the images of children whose basic human rights are violated; a time when it is impossible to plead ignorance; a time when from the perspective of the Gospel of Jesus, it would be irresponsible indeed unforgivable, for us not to act in the interests of their dignity, safety and well-being.

You know the images of which I speak:

  • The children of war- just last week UNICEF described 2017 as a nightmare year for such children- the children of Israel and Palestine and Iraq and Syria, and South Sudan and Yemen
  • The children who become separated from their families in the masses of people fleeing oppression in their homelands.
  • The children who cling to their mothers and fathers in risky voyages across treacherous seas or desert treks in the hope of refuge in another country.
  • The children who know no life beyond a refugee camp.
  • The children who are trafficked as young as twelve or thirteen for the sex trade.
  • The children who work in unsafe factories meeting the unfettered greed of consumerism in other parts of the world.
  • The children in this country who are living in poverty-1 in 7 according to stats released in September 2017.
  • The children who are the descendants of those who were taken from their families and housed in the Indian Residential Schools, the children of those dark chapters in the history of Canada.
  • The children who suffer through bullying, physical, emotional or sexual abuse and in some cases utter neglect because their parents are so entrapped in cycles of addiction of one kind or another
  • The children who have suffered abuse by ministers of the Church, including our own.
  • The children who live within the horrors of domestic violence and those who are innocent victims in the midst of bitter custody disputes. As I speak I am sure you can see the faces of dear little Aubrey Berry and her sister Chloe who were found dead in their father’s home in Oak Bay B.C. on Christmas Day

Alongside these tragic images are a number of beautiful ones reflecting God’s call to love and protect and nurture these little ones; to do that in the name of Him of whom the prophet writes: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in the bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

I think of those who lead Children’s Time in our liturgies, those who teach Sunday School, those devoted to Godly Play and Messy Church and all others who with imagination and dedication nurture in our children the truth that God loves them.

I am encouraged by the adoption of Safe Church policies across the Church.

I give thanks for the Feed My Lambs initiatives to end child poverty in Canada, of Church sponsored breakfast programs, and after school snacks and homework clubs hosted by numerous parishes.

I am glad of Church supported summer camps for kids who live in poverty and summer camps for the children of refugee families settling in Canada.

I take heart in the Anglican Foundation of Canada’s Kids Helping Kids program, and the many ministries under the auspices of Hope Bear; the Foundation’s support in Hope Air – a service that provides free travel for children from remote northern communities requiring medical treatment in large metropolitan centres; and the Foundation’s love for children in palliative care.  One of the facilities it supports is Canuck Place in Vancouver.  There, they say, “We cannot add days to a child’s life, but we can add life to their days”.

I am ever grateful for church wide support for Help Lines for children or teens in crisis.

I am pleased to see that The General Synod is funding staff positions dedicated to suicide intervention programs in Indigenous Communities throughout Canada.

I think of our Church’s commitment to anti-racism training. It really has to begin with our children. I think too of the many efforts  to respond with integrity to the Calls to Action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in particular today, to the ones addressing Child Welfare including significant gaps in funding for health care and education. They in fact are the first of the 94 Calls.

I rejoice in the amazing work and impact of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund programs for Food Security and Maternal Newborn and Child Health, particularly in Rwanda, Mozambique, Burundi, Tanzania, and Bangladesh.

I am mindful of our Church’s support for the internationally renowned Kids4Peace program offering opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian children to vacation together and to forge friendships across the politic that separates them.

I cite the International Anglican Women’s Network programs for confronting gender based violence under the banner “Precious in God’s Eyes”.

I cite the Communion-wide initiative through the Anglican Alliance to rid the world of the evil of trafficking people for the sex trade.  Some countries are designated as source countries, some as transfer, and some as destination, and some are all three.  Canada is one of them.  In every country children and young women who are poor are most vulnerable to be trafficked.  In Canada it is Indigenous children and young women who are at highest risk.  Given this sad reality I am pleased that our Church launched a website and is producing materials to help us know the signs that people are being trafficked, to name them and address them.  We have launched this initiative in partnership with the Canadian Centre To End Human Trafficking, our Full Communion partner the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and Kairos.  We are joining hearts and hands with all others united in the work associated with the great Freedom Prayer.  It reads in part as follows.

“God of freedom,
Who leads us into life…

Where chains restrain God’s chosen children
Where humans trade in kin and skin
May our words pass on your promise
Of a land where liberty is sweet

God of freedom,
Who leads us into life…

Give us faith to face the Pharaohs
Who line their pockets from this plague
Send us as salvation’s sponsors
Willing servants; slaves to love

God of freedom,
Who leads us into life,
Deliver us from every evil:
And make of us
Deliverers of others.”

Friends, I name all these ministries not to parade or boast about them, but rather to say I believe they are all in the spirit of “the moral obligation” that informs the World Council of Churches Commitments to Children.  The Council has requested that each member Church adopt them and make them their own.  I intend to place them before the Council of General Synod of our Church and I commend them to every diocese in the hope of a strong endorsement by every parish throughout our Church.

Like every New Year’s Day, this cathedral church reverberates with our carols of praise rejoicing in the birth of the Christ Child and his naming.

On this New Year’s Day, it will also reverberate with the renewal of our baptismal vows.  As we come to that sacred moment, I ask you, one and all, to be especially mindful of our commitments to the children of the world.  As the call from the World Council of Churches reads, “Children’s needs to be nurtured and protected, as well as heard and respected, should call forth the best in us.”

To turn our energies to that call is to delight the heart of him whose Naming and Nurturing, whose increase in wisdom, stature, and favour with God and humankind we remember on this 8th day of Christmas, Jesus our Lord.

To him be the glory in the way we sing and the way we serve. Amen.

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