7th day within the octave of Christmas

1 John 2:18-21; Psalm 95(96):1-2,11-13; John 1:1-18

There was a time when the prologue of the Gospel of St John was read at the end of every mass. This was because it sums up the entire work of redemption, starting with the creation by the power of the word of God, through to the completion of that work in the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. At the mid point of the prologue, is the incarnation, the birth of Christ as a human person like us. It is a masterpiece of balanced, inspiring creative writing with surely no equal elsewhere.

Mark begins his Gospel with the baptism of Jesus - the hinge point at which the old testament is fulfilled by the new, showing a devout jewish community that all they believed in now makes sense as it reaches fulfilment. Luke and Mathew add the infancy narratives with their differences designed for the separate audiences, Jewish and Gentile, that they were writing for. John however goes beyond time and history inviting us to ponder on the mystery of Christ who both was the means of creation as the word of God commanded all into being, and the completion as the word made flesh, that dwelt amongst us.

There may be times when we need to feel comforted by a long term stability in our relationship with God - read Mark and Matthew. There may be times when we want to bring the good news into the western society we live in - read Luke. But when we want to ponder and wrestle with the question about who or what God is, and why all the history happened, then John may provide if not the answers, a way of looking at our unbelief.


The Holy Family

Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6,12-14; Psalm 127(128):1-5; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

For the second time this week we have part of the account for the flight into Egypt from Matthew, and of the evasion of the intent of Herod to search for and to murder the Holy child. Matthew frequently references the Jewish scriptures and here quotes Hoseah 11:1 out of context, saying that Jesus' father took them UP into Egypt. This would certainly have struck his readers as the Jews would instinctively go UP to the Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem - to them Egypt was somewhere evil that they had come up out of. A sentence or two later Matthew references prophecies (note the plural) that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. Except - there is no direct prophesy in the old testament saying this.

What could the purpose of Matthew's 'errors' be? We understand that nothing in Sacred scripture can be in error! Well, to be over-literal in the reading of scripture can itself be an error. Matthew is using these controversial words to point out the nature of Jesus, and the nature of the Messiah. The Messiah was not going to be predictable, nor would he be constrained by mere human wishes. He did not come to restore the ancient covenant, but to establish a new one. There is no inconsistency here, we must learn to wrestle with the words of scripture and seek a deeper meaning than the surface of the words might present.

This is (already) the third time Matthew uses the formula 'that it might be fulfilled'. This technique, used often by Matthew, suggests the importance of realising that God is in charge.

Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop, Martyr

Colossians 1:24-29; Psalm 22(23); Luke 22:24-30

“For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” These were the words St. Thomas is reported to have uttered before his murder. He had been a man of power, accustomed to command. He died as a servant of Christ and a martyr: keeping the  faith and preserving the freedom of the Catholic Church.

Our Gospel also provides a timely reminder that we should never raise ourselves above each other - we are meant to be servants of God, and equal in his sight. If our situation in life gives us power over others - we must use that power wisely and always in the service of the people of God. This is made very clear in the catechism of the church: "Authority acts legitimately when it works for the common good" (CCC 1903). The common good includes the sum total of societal conditions which allow people, either as individuals or as groups to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily" (Gaudium et Spes).

Thomas a'Becket gave his life for this principle refusing to comply with the edicts of a tyrannical King, but placing the law of God above all else in governing his life. We pray that we do not have to give our lives as martyrs in this cause, we remember those many in the world today who are doing so, and pray for the courage to act and say what we should do and give witness to in the face of an often difficult society for Christians to live in. He is rightly a Saint in both the English Church and The Roman Catholic Church.

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs

1 John 1:5-2:2; Psalm 123(124):2-5,7-8; Matthew 2:13-18

The Gospel of St Matthew was written for a Jewish people, who would have been steeped in the books of what we call the Old Testament. They would have immediately recognised the parallel in todays reading between Jesus and Moses. Both were refugees fleeing into the wilderness of Egypt escaping a tyrannical king (Herod, and the Pharaoh). Both of course return once the danger is passed (‘Those who wanted to kill you/the child are dead’ (Exodus 4.19)). Moses went on to found the people of God, after 40 years of an exploration of the relationship between people and God in the desert he leads them into the promised land fulfilling the first covenant. Jesus founds the new people of God, after 30 years growing as a person of the old people of God (Jesus was a temple worshiping Jew and observed all their traditions, e.g. being presented to God and dedicated as a first born son in the Temple of Jerusalem). Jesus completes the new covenant through his death and resurrection.

Today Matthew calls these to mind through two quotes from the Jewish scripture.

I called my son out of Egypt 

is from the Prophet Hosea 11:1 and

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.
is from Jeremiah.
Matthew is thereby presenting Jesus as a new Moses. The parallel returns later when Jesus gives the new law at the sermon on the mountain (Luke's Gospel written for the Gentile peoples has the same sermon given on the plain near Lake Galilee) and finally Jesus in Matthew's gospel sends out his people to the whole world from the mountain - the same mission we are given at the end of every Mass following the presider's blessing when a Deacon (if there is one) says 'go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life'.



St John the Evangelist

1 John 1:1-4; Psalm 96(97):1-2,5-6,11-12; John 20:2-8

With Mary of Magdala, let us rush to tell others of the good news - the greatest ever news - that having died and been consigned to a grave, our Lord has arisen!

The first she met were Peter, and John. John was evidently a younger man as he ran faster to the tomb and got there first. Some of those that we meet with to share the great news will respond quickly, others (perhaps, most) will respond more slowly. We have to take them as they come, and always be open to their arrival, whether urgent and quick to seek the Lord, or perhaps pondering what this good news might mean, and come in at their own pace later on. Note that the disciple who ran to the tomb and got their first, and leaned in and saw the details that he wrote in his gospel, did not go in first. But Simon Peter did, followed by John. John then saw, and believed.

From that day on John, the disciple described as the one beloved of the Lord, eagerly spread the good news - he became an evangelist, and when later he wrote down his good news, his was one of the four selected to form the core of the New Testament. John's Gospel is a delight to read, with much use of imagery and tends to lead us to a knowledge of the mysticism of God, while still being grounded in human reality. God's Heart speaks unto our hearts.

A good way to appreciate it is to have it read to you, and Sir David Suchet has generously enabled this.

St Stephen

Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59; Psalm 30(31):3-4,6,8,16-17; Matthew 10:17-22

Saint Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Christian Church. He was the first Christian martyr. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons, headaches, horses, coffin makers, and masons. He is often represented carrying a pile of rocks or with rocks on his head. Many a Deacon today might feel an affinity to that image! Let us pray today for the deacons who have served our parish over the years, Robin Littlewood (now retired), David McDonald (who later became Fr David, R.I.P) and Frank now Fr Frank, who is Parish Priest to the Forest of Dean Parishes.

Stephen is believed to have been a Greek Jew who converted to Christianity. When the number of disciples increased, there was much confusion over the distribution of alms and the serving of the poor. Stephen's trustworthy character marked him out, and he was chosen as one of the seven deacons who would perform this task.

An excellent and well trusted orator, his preaching style was so effective that many Jews became worried about his success. They accused him of blasphemy and he was made to stand trial. At the supreme Jewish law court, the Sanhedrin, Stephen recounted the many mercies that God had given the children of Israel, and the ungrateful way in which they had repaid Him. He accused them of murdering Jesus, whose coming, he said, had been foretold by Moses. This angered the crowd and he was dragged out onto the streets. He was then stoned to death according to the law at that time, an event witnessed by St Paul. It is believed he died around the year 34AD

He is believed to have been initially buried in a grave to the north of Jerusalem, but this body was exhumed and moved to a new grave outside the Damascus Gate. This is where the stoning is believed to have taken place.


Christmas Eve

II Samuel 7.1-5,8-12,14,16; Psalm 88; Luke 1.67-79

The central declaration of the Creed is that the Everlasting God homo factus est: became man. He set aside alike the joys of heaven and the powers of divinity [Philippians 2.7] to take on human flesh—and not as a garment or disguise that he could dispense with at will; rather, like all human beings he was born to die. [John 10.17-18]

Over the past days we have prayed for him to come, to be born in us. [Galatians 4.19] We have acknowledged him as the Wisdom that undergirds all creation, as the Lord pre-eminent over all earthly rulers, as the King who draws the divergences of earth into a unity by his gracious and beneficent government, as the God who—to our amazement and abashment—has deigned to live with us, east of Eden [Genesis 4.16], and by that absolute sharing of our life and our death to give us life worthy of the name. [John 10.10]

On this day of expectation before our celebration of the feast of his Incarnation, we look to the east to see him as he comes, bringing light to our darkness and bringing to us the Glory of God Himself in human flesh. [John 1.14]

O Emmanuel

Malachi 3.1-4,23-24; Psalm 24; Luke 1.57-66

Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, come and save us, Lord our God.” The new Jerusalem with its restored Temple is filled with God’s glory because God has chosen to live there, to make his home there. [Apocalypse 21.1-3] That new, indestructible city [Hebrews 13.14] is the Church, animated and enlivened by the presence and power of God within it.

For the prophet Isaiah [7.14] Emmanuel is the name of the faithfulness and reliability of Almighty God, a reproach to the pretensions and presumptions of earthly kings. “Devise a plan, it is thwarted; put forward an argument, there is no substance in it, for God is with us” [8.10] the prophet asserted to the mighty Assyrian empire, threatening to invade and conquer Israel. As the Psalmist [45(46).3] put it, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Yet the presence of God is a judgement on all that is ungodly and unjust. “Who shall abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” [Malachi 3.2] “His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.” [Luke 3.17] “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth” Jesus himself warns: “it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword.”[Matthew 10.34]

So, on the cusp of our Christmas celebration, we are confronted with the paradox of Advent: that the God of our longing is the God we have again and again disdained. [John 1.11] “Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today” we pray as we let down the barriers in our hearts and lives to allow him entrance [Psalm 23(24).7]. “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”