NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was the guest of honour at Bankstown District Uniting Church’s annual Christmas International Service on Sunday 17 December 2017.
The Premier joined more than 460 worshippers, including NSW/ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford, representatives of the Georges River Presbytery, and members of the Uniting Church’s Middle East National Conference.
The Minister at Bankstown Rev. Gaby Kobrossi presided over the Service, which began with the national anthems of Australia and Armenia in honour of Ms Berejiklian’s Armenian heritage.
Musical items were shared by local Tongan, Korean and Syrian groups as well the choirs from Bankstown and St Andrews Longueville UC.
The Premier thanked congregation members for their warm welcome and acknowledged recently arrived Syrian refugees among their midst.
“To those of you who contribute to making this congregation the success that it is – you come from near and far – I want to extend our deepest gratitude for you.”
“I know and feel the Church extends its arms out to everybody and everybody feels welcome here – and that is the most wonderful message we can extend at Christmas time.”
“On behalf of the people of NSW I want to thank each and every one of you, for what you are doing to build and support our multicultural and harmonious community, to really live the life as Christians in acceptance and in supporting one another and extending kindness, and to me that’s what Christmas is all about,” said the Premier.
More than 6,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq have settled near Bankstown since late 2015, when the Australian Government announced an 12,000 additional humanitarian places in response to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Bankstown District Uniting Church has welcomed many newcomers and has been helping them deal with the pressures of resettlement.
Rev. Hansford preached a stirring sermon on the “Unsettling Hope” inherent in the gospel story of Christmas drawing on the Lectionary readings of Isaiah 61:1-4and 8-11 Luke 1:46-55 Mary’s Song of Praise.
“This God is here to turn the world as we know it upside down,” said Rev. Hansford.
“And those who’ve been told they have no name and no faith and no future and no value and no purpose are raised up, and people hear God say to them ‘Yes you have a name and a value and a place.’
“Is this not the gospel?” asked the Moderator.
“At Christmas time how easily we airbrush this story into a sweet and lovely neatly-lit little caption for ourselves. We want to make this story cuddle-able and cute and gorgeous – and there’s nothing cute and gorgeous in this story.”
“This is all about a rigorous, passionate, loving and engaged God saying yes to the world and especially yes to those that have always been told no.”
“The power of this story is not that God makes rough corners smooth. The power of this story is that God chooses to be present in the midst of all the world’s mess as a tiny baby. Not as a doctor or a soldier or a surgeon or a politician or a clergyman. But as a tiny tiny baby – God at risk in the world immediately asking something of us, requiring something of us – for us to act and show grace.”
“As the ones who listened 2000 years ago or the ones who hear it today in Bankstown, that story invites us to participate, to engage, to embrace the child and to tell those who have no place that they have a place and a welcome,” said the Moderator.
This article was first published on the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly website.