Written by Stephen Cox
I came across this piece of advice for those visiting Australia. It goes like this. “There are some traps for the unsuspecting traveller. Do not under any circumstances suggest that Australian beer is imperfect or no where near as good as the beer back home. Do not wear a Hawaiian shirt. Religion and politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don’t care too much about either) but sport is a minefield. The only correct answer to ‘So, howdya’ like our country, eh?’ is ‘Best (insert your own swear word here) country in the world!’”(1).
Tomorrow our nation celebrates its national day.
On 26th January 1788, the first fleet of ships sailed into Sydney with 11 ships carrying convicts to serve their time in this penal colony. Initially, the Australia Day celebrations were an emancipation dinner with those who had ‘done their time’ and their families could celebrate their freedom, and new opportunity. Then it became a celebration of how far we have come, the growth of trade, especially of wool exported to England. It became a celebration of wealth. In 1888, the centenary anniversary caused other states to look for meaning beyond what was essentially a NSW anniversary.
There are those, especially our indigenous people, who see this day as marking the invasion of their land when white people came and took away from them what was their home. There are those from other countries around the world in more recent times for whom the arrival of the British in this land has little relevance to them.
So what are we to make of Australia Day? What will you be celebrating?
For those who call Australia home, regardless of their view of what happened 227 years ago and the history that is behind this day, Australia Day is an opportunity to give thanks for the land we live in. It has been said, “Alone of all the races on earth, Australians seem to be free from the ‘Grass is Greener on the other side of the fence’ syndrome, and roundly proclaim that Australia is, in fact, the other side of that fence”.
Tomorrow is a day where we can be thankful and rejoice in what God has given us
We are reminded of the wonderful freedom we have in this land. We take this for granted most of the time, but when we hear about the oppressive governments in other countries and the suffering handed out in the name of justice, we are made aware of the freedom we have – the freedom to choose who will rule us and the liberty to live without fear of war and the turmoil and pain that conflict brings.
It’s not that we are a nation that is deeply religious or even conscious of the hand that God has played in the formation of our country to make it what it is today. In fact, God has been full of grace and extremely patient with us even though as nation we fail to acknowledge that this is not our land but it is God’s and he has given it to us to care for and to enjoy.
Australia Day gives us a good chance in church and in private to pray for the welfare of the first Australians, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. Without going too far into the politics of it, Australia Day is not altogether a positive day for all of them, and so it seems like a good time to be reminded to pray for improvements in the social and spiritual circumstances of indigenous Australians.
Yes, this is ‘Gods own country’. We are truly blessed; God grant that we as a nation and as individual Australians may be a blessing to others. We can truly be a blessing to our fellow Australians by pointing them to Jesus. We haven’t been brought into a relationship with God and given faith so that we can selfishly keep it for ourselves. We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. We have been called to show others the way, to point to Jesus. We have been called to be agents of the Holy Spirit to help others know what Jesus can do for them.
Of course, Australia is a great place, but it is not our home. Recent events in our family have me longing for a better place. I was reminded of this as my family listened to the audio book of C.S Lewis’ ‘The Horse and His Boy’.
The Horse and His Boy was the fifth of the Narnia books as C.S. Lewis wrote them. It is the story of an adventure that took place while the Pevensie’s; Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund, were kings and queens of Narnia. Shasta is a Narnian boy who has been raised as the son of a fisherman in Calormen. When he hears that his “father” is going to sell him into slavery, to a wealthy Calormen noble (called a Taarkaan), he confers with the Taarkaan’s horse who is a captured talking horse from Narnia. The two decide to run away and head north for their homeland of Narnia. C. S. Lewis wrote the story to convey a certain sense of un-belonging on the part of the fugitives who head north to Narnia. For Lewis it conveyed the same sense of un-belonging we all have in this world. “We were made for something greater”, he would say, “but it takes a journey to discover what that is.”
Australia is our country. For a little while.
To live in one place and long for another is good training: we learn to long for heaven. To live in a place and love it is a another kind of training: it gives us a foretaste of what is to come. Because, however at home we feel here, this isn’t our homeland. We belong to a better country. In Jesus, we have finally found the way home. This is described in the book of Hebrews:
‘All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.’
Hebrews 11:13 – 15.
As you enjoy the day off tomorrow, let’s celebrate and give thanks to God for the blessing of Australia, and may we keep longing for a better place, our true home in heaven with Christ.
(1) Jeremy Lee 1999, The confusing country