+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’
Today is the First Sunday of Advent. The beginning of the Church Year. This is the year of Matthew and in our three year cycle this past week has concluded the year of Luke. At the beginning of the year, in a week when we look forward in hope, it is also a good day to give thanks for the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood in the Anglican Church. Women who continually demonstrate the creative power of hope.
This morning also we have listened to the prophecy of Isaiah. The Temple was built on the mountain of the Lord, Mount Moriah, and was highly visible to all the people of Jerusalem. What the temple was for the Israelites, the churches and Cathedrals of today are for Christians. God gave Isaiah the gift of seeing the future. At this time God showed Isaiah what would eventually happen to Jerusalem. Revelation 21 depicts the glorious fulfilment of this prophecy in the new Jerusalem, God made a covenant with his people and will never break it. God’s faithfulness gives us hope for the future. The prophecy describes a wonderful future of peace, when instruments of war will be converted to instruments of farming, when we will be taught God’s laws and will obey them. Although we know that eventually God will remove all sin and the causes of war, conflicts, and other problems, we should not wait for him to act before we begin to obey him. Just as Judah was told to walk in the light: can we walk in God’s light now? Though our eternal reward awaits us we already can enjoy many benefits of obedience now as we apply God’s Word to our lives.
There has been much speculation about the date and time of Christ’ s return. It is good that we don’t know exactly when Christ will return. If we knew the precise date, we might be tempted to be lazy in our work for Christ. Or.. We might plan to keep doing wrong and then turn to God right at the end. Heaven is not our only goal, we have work to do here. And we need to keep on doing it until death or until we see the unmistakable return of our Saviour. Christ’s second coming will be swift and sudden. There will be no opportunity for last minute repentance or bargaining. The choice we have already made will determine our eternal destiny. Jesus’ purpose in telling about his return is not to stimulate predictions and calculations about the date, but to warn us to be prepared and to be hopeful. This means that the only safe choice is to obey God now.
Knowing that God loves us, helps us to remain hopeful for the future and helps us to abide in his love. Jesus does not leave loopholes in the law of love. This means that to follow Christ, we imitate Christ in the way to love, in our attitudes an actions.
Being imitators of Christ has led many to travel the path of discernment to ordination as Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. It is now 30 years since the first women were ordained as Priests in Australia and celebrations throughout this year have given thanks for this special occasion.
1992 in Australia marked the time when the first women were ordained as priests in the Anglican church. Some had been serving as deaconesses for decades, or as stipendiary lay ministers and as deacons since 1986. Women in the priesthood have enriched the communities of faith throughout our country in the Dioceses where they are allowed. The Dioceses of Sydney, Murray, Armidale and North West Australia do not recognize women as priests. And there are many who continue to struggle with this situation. But priestly women have added value to synods, church councils, schools, age care ministry, welfare and advocacy bodies and of course general parish ministry. But this was not without considerable battles fought with a huge amount of courage, and women priested today, even though some have had to fight opposition and misogyny, have much to be thankful for in the lives and work of the early women ordained as priests who were trail blazers.
The first woman to be ordained in the Church of England was Florence Li Tim-Oi on the 25 January 1944.
Florence Li, was born in Hong Kong, and attended Canton Union Theological College to receive her theological education before returning to Hong Kong in 1938. This of course was before Chairman Mao changed the rules. After working for two years in All Saints Church, in Kowloon, helping refugees in Hong Kong who fled mainland China in the midst of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Li was sent by Bishop Ronald Hall to help with refugees in Macau. Six months into her new post, she returned to Hong Kong to be ordained as a deaconess on 22 May 1941 by Bishop Hall.
The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and of parts of China had made it impossible for Anglican priests to get to neutral Macau, where there was no resident Anglican priest. In January 1944, Li travelled through Japanese-occupied territory to the small town of Hsinxing, as yet unoccupied by the Japanese, to meet with Bishop Hall; from there they proceeded to Shaoqing where he regularised her administration of the sacraments by ordaining her as a priest on 25 January 1944. It was to be 30 years before any Anglican church regularised the ordination of women, so unsurprisingly after the way there were protests concerning her ordination; to avoid further controversy she resigned her licence, though not her priest's orders.
Florence Li Tim-Oi later moved to Canada where she was eventually able to exercise her role as a priest. She was appointed an honorary (non-stipendiary) assistant priest in Toronto in 1983, where she spent the remainder of her life.
Florence died in Toronto on 26 February 1992 So today we give thanks for the many who have persevered in following the way of Christ despite protests and opposition and always lived in hope. And as this morning we lit the Advent Candle of Hope, we begin a new year - A year of new beginnings. We remember Saint Paul’s wish for the Christians in Rome, “May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”