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Steve Bevis reflects on what he's learnt from the young Aboriginal people in Alice Springs who gather together at 'The Meeting Place'.

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Steve Bevis is the Senior Minister at Alice Springs Uniting Church, with a deep heart for how churches work with marginal communities. He is also a singer, guitarist and song-writer.

Today's reading is Isaiah 40:1-11

In an old Besser block hall, with an unreliable evaporative cooler struggling against the heat of the desert sun, young feet walk off the streets and onto grimy tiles. Inside this grotty drop-in space they feel safe, and are respected. Neither of those things can be taken for granted in their daily experience. These are the young people at the centre of the recent Royal Commission into Youth and Children in Detention in the Northern Territory. The grief and trauma of their lives are like valleys they can’t escape. Hope seems like an unattainable mountain-top experience. The path to that place seems so difficult most don’t even bother to think about it, let alone try. Yet, somehow, hope has to begin in the valley.

I’ve seen hope awaken. It is a beautiful thing to witness. And when hope emerges from the heart of despair it truly is an unexpected beauty.

One morning, I was showing two visitors around the church precinct which also forms the town centre of Alice Springs, our iconic outback town. They were interested in checking us out, hearing our story and possibly joining our church community. I walked them over to see our drop-in, known as ‘The Meeting Place’. As we went to unlock the doors and enter the building a couple of young people who attend the drop-in came up: “Can we come in?,” they asked. “Well, we don’t have any volunteers around at the moment so I can’t open the drop-in right now,“ I replied. “That’s ok, can we have a glass of water, we’ll go after that.” “Sure,” I said, thinking I probably could manage to get them to leave – once kids are in they like to stay! Just as I opened the door my two young friends pushed through and, to my surprise, took over proceedings. Turning to the visitors they said: “Welcome! This is The Meeting Place. This our place. Do you want a glass of water?”

Here were some of the most marginalized young people in the country offering welcome and hospitality to strangers. In a place they knew was theirs. Such unexpected beauty! This is the Glory of God revealed: the beauty of broken young lives transformed, walking a straight path, their inner beauty, strengths, and capacities coming to light.

God reshapes the world from the bottom up; from the hearts and places that need healing. Out of that reshaping comes all kinds of beauty. In that old hall, despite the general grottiness, one of the walls has been transformed by a large mural. It is a thing of beauty painted by the young people themselves, with the help of the skills of community members willing to share their gifts. It is a proud statement of Aboriginal presence. Over the ochre and beside the Aboriginal flag are painted the words ‘Apmere’ and ‘Ngurra’: Arrernte and Pitjatjantjara words for ‘home.’ That is what the young people call this old church hall. With their beautiful painting and words truly the Kingdom breaks in. The dawn of advent is present. An unexpected beauty shines.

The whole town knows about this ‘Meeting Place’, debates the wisdom of supporting Aboriginal teenagers who are usually seen as ‘the problem’, cheers it on, wants to partner with us. But we, who have heard the words,

‘Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid’

We will stand with the poor, expecting the coming of God, and praising him for the unexpected beauty his presence awakens.

Look for him.

Daily Reading Isaiah 40:1-11

God’s People Are Comforted

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.

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Unexpected Beauty: An Advent series from Common Grace