On the 26 January 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip, led the First Fleet through Sydney Heads, landing at Sydney Cove, and raised the Union Jack, symbolising British occupation of the eastern seaboard of Australia. That a British Government considered it prudent to establish a new ‘nation’ on the basis of a penal colony, and occupy the land with scant regard for her existing peoples, made for an interesting foundation for a nation. It is no wonder there remains elements of dysfunction in this great country with such a short history.
Australia Day is a relatively new phenomenon. It is less than 80 years since all States used the title Australia Day to refer to 26 January, and 20 years since it became a national public holiday. It has become a day to celebrate our freedom, our achievements and our great diversity and unique position in the world. But what makes a nation stand tall in the world? Surely it is to do with how we perceive ourselves – our self-confidence as a nation, and how other countries of the world regard us.
There is no doubt that our current image of ourselves has changed in recent decades. The larrikin, egalitarian, carefree, sport-loving Aussie poking fun at the POMS with gladies and Fosters, and who once glorified in his isolationism, now wants to be regarded as a world player contributing to the health, welfare, peace and security of the world’s peoples. And in these areas we ‘punch above our weight’. We can be justifiably proud of our work in Middle East Area of Operations, including Afghanistan and the Pacific and Timor, and through various agencies like Anglican Board of Missions, Church Missionary Society, AusAID, and the Fred Hollows Foundation.
We need to be on guard that our sense of achievement and pride in our nation does not have us lapsing into nationalism – a sense of superiority. For we still have our issues to confront. Education and health of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; our celebrated drinking culture; living as a multi-ethnic nation, and the issue of our contribution to the solution of the world’s growing refugee situation, to name a few. Jesus warned us: ‘To whom much has been given much is expected’, and Australia is a land of great providence and opportunity, and we need to maintain and further our position in the world, with an attitude of generosity and care for those less fortunate.
Last year I attended a regional Australian Citizenship Ceremony, and the thing that struck me was the joy and the sense significant achievement that was expressed by the new Australian citizens, with many speaking of the sense of freedom which they now felt. Interestingly, the early Australia Day celebrations were in the form of an Emancipist festival, complete with dinners and regatta. In 1837 Australia Day Dinner, a certain VIP who had his roots to the gentry and mother England, declined his invitation, as a show of disapproval at the new national identity he saw emerging. I believe our national identity is still being shaped, and if we want our Christian values to influence both the government and the people that they with us, might be conformed to the image of Christ then it pays us all to be involved. As Christians we are called to be the ‘salt and light’ that will ensure this nation continues to ‘punch above its weight’ and have a voice of influence in the world.
On Australia Day 2014, may we live up to the prophetic declaration, of us being a part of the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, and by our lives and example bring glory to God’s name.
Some Australia Day Bible Readings and Prayers.
Here are some suggested Bible Readings for Australia Day
Deuteronomy 8:5-14 (Do not forget God in Prosperity)
Psalm 125 (Our security is in the Lord our God)
Hebrews 11:8-16 (Living by Faith and looking beyond what we currently enjoy)
Matthew 5:1-12 (The ethics of the Kingdom of God)
And here is a suggested prayer and a blessing from A Prayer Book for Australia.
Bounteous God, We give thanks for this ancient and beautiful land,
A land of despair and hope,
A land of wealth and abundant harvests,
A land of fire, drought and flood.
We pray that your Spirit may continue to move in this land
and bring forgiveness, reconciliation, and an end to all injustice;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God, bless Australia
Guard our people
Guide our leaders
And give us peace;
For Jesus Christ’s sake.
Bishop Ian Lambert is the Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force.
Bishop Ian commenced as Bishop to the Australian Defence Force in July 2013. Previously, Ian was Rector of Bateman’s Bay and an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn.