Saturday before Epiphany

I John 5.5-13; Psalm 147; Luke 3.23,31-34,36,38

St Matthew’s Gospel begins with a carefully-crafted genealogy of Jesus in forty-two generations, back to the patriarch Abraham.  This Gospel was almost undoubtedly written by an observant Jew (it is very unlikely to have been the work of Matthew, the disciple of Jesus) who presents Jesus to fellow Jews as the fulfilment of the prophecies of Messiah.

St Luke also offers a genealogy of 76 names, beginning with Joseph, Jesus’ foster-father (Luke uses the circumlocution ‘Jesus … being the son, as it was thought, of Joseph….’) and going all the way back to Adam.  However dubious we may be about some of the names included, Luke’s point is clear: if the author of this Gospel was indeed Luke, the companion of St Paul [Philemon vs 24], and if indeed he was a Gentile [Colossians 4.11,14], it seems clear that he wants to present a Jesus whose coming to earth represented good news to all earth’s peoples, to all those descended from Adam.  His genealogy, as St Leo the Great (c 400-61) declared, shows that ‘both the first and the last Adam share the same nature’. [cf I Corinthians 15.45-49] 

12th Day of Christmas

I John 3.11-21; Psalm 99; John 1.43-51

Jesus and his disciples often spoke in bold, dramatic contrasts and used exaggerated figures of speech for emphasis.  He insists that a true disciple of his must ‘hate’ his own father and mother [Luke 14.26] and teaches that anger is akin to murder, lustful thoughts tantamount to adultery. [Matthew 5.21-11; 27-28] He calls for tearing out offending eyes and amputating aberrant limbs [Matthew 5.29-30], commands which, if interpreted literalistically and obeyed punctiliously, would leave congregations of Christian people looking very different indeed.

The exaggerated speech is used to drive home the paramountcy of teachings that we might otherwise treat casually.  St John picks up his Teacher’s point: ‘to hate your brother is to be a murderer’ he insists.  By brother, of course, he means not just siblings who share the same parents, but children of the same heavenly Father [John 1.12-13], disciples of the same Lord. [Matthew 12.50] The real and active love for a brother (or sister) whom we see makes possible our entrance into the presence of the unseen God. [I John 4.20] As the poet Laurence Housman (1865-1959) put it, ‘How can we love thee, holy, hidden being, if we love not the world which thou hast made?  O give us brother love for better seeing thy Word-made-flesh and in a manger laid.’

11th Day of Christmas

I John 3.7-10; Psalm 97; John 1.35-42

The eleven pipers piping that tradition says are to arrive on this day as a gift from one’s true love may or may not find a welcome reception in your home!  Perhaps they represent the eleven “faithful” disciples who, after a fashion, remained loyal to their Lord down to the crucifixion and beyond it. [cf Matthew 26.56; John 6.70-71]

Several of those who first followed Jesus had been previously disciples of John the Baptist.  Jesus shared John the Baptist’s eschatological anticipation—the sense that the time in which they lived was pregnant with the imminence of a dramatic intervention of God into the affairs of human beings. [Luke 3.7] John’s response to this expectation was a lifestyle of extreme asceticism and separation from ordinary human life. [Luke 1.80; Matthew 3.4] Jesus, though he certainly sought times of retreat and intimate communion with his heavenly Father
[Mark 1.35], seems to have participated avidly in earthly, human interactions.  He compares himself to John the Baptist: ‘John the Baptist comes, not eating bread, not drinking wine, and you say “He is possessed.”  The Son of Man comes, eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”’ [Luke 7.33]  Jesus presents himself to us as our True Love, inviting us to follow him and so to become his faithful disciples.

10th Day of Christmas

I John 2.29—3.6; Psalm 97; John 1.29-34

The Gospel according to St John does not narrate the Baptism of Christ (as the other three Gospels do: cf Matthew 3.13-17; Mark 1.9-11; Luke 3.21-22).  Instead, this Gospel describes John the Baptist musing at an indeterminate later time about his experience of baptising Jesus.  ‘Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God’ the baptiser declares.

Clearly there were conflicts between the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus. [cf Luke 3.15-18; Luke 7.18-23; Matthew 11.2-6; John 1.6-8; John 3.22-33; Mark 2.18-22] Certainly it was important to the proclamation of the Gospel to set John the Baptist and Jesus into relationship with each other; John the Evangelist does this in two ways.  First, he emphasises that the first disciples of Jesus (Andrew and Peter) had first been disciples of John the Baptist.  Second, he has John the Baptist himself testify of Jesus that ‘he must increase, and I must decrease’.  [John 3.30]  

9th Day of Christmas

I John 2.22-28; Psalm 97; John 1.19-28

For the last four days of the Christmas season we read from the 1st chapter of St John’s Gospel and from St John’s first epistle.  It is impossible to say whether these two writings come from the same hand, though tradition has attributed them both to John the Son of Zebedee
[cf Matthew 4.21], one of the first disciples called by Jesus.

Tradition has it that after the day of Pentecost John removed himself from the other disciples, establishing a community perhaps in Ephesus.  Ephesus had been made capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor by Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C.  From that time the city entered into a period of prosperity.  It was certainly the largest city in Asia Minor (‘little Asia’, roughly modern-day Turkey) and was a very important commercial centre. The Greek historian Strabo declared that Ephesus was second in importance only to Rome itself.  

There are three epistles attributed to St John in the New Testament.  They may or may not have been written by the same person, who calls himself simply ‘the Elder’ (in Greek, presbyter, the word from which the English word priest is derived) in II and III John.  Today’s reading reminds that these letters, whoever wrote them, are polemic in character.  They call readers away from the teachings of an enemy called ‘the liar’ and ‘the Antichrist’ who is said to be trying to lead others astray from the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God.

Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Numbers 6.22-27; Ps 66; Galatians 4.4-7; Lk 2.16-21

Like every Jewish boy, Jesus received his name on the eighth day of his life, when he was also circumcised and united to the covenant God anciently made with Abraham and his seed forever. [Genesis 17.1-14]  As the mother of Jesus, Mary would have seen to the fulfilment of this religious obligation.

But she is more than the mother of a human child.  As Elizabeth proclaimed [Luke 1.43] she is the mother of Our Lord, the mother of God.  The Council of Ephesus decreed in 431 that Mary is Theotokos—the bearer, the mother, of the Eternal Word of God [John 1.14].  In the Creed we confess that Jesus is homoousios (consubstantial, that is, of the same substance) with God the Father.  Accordingly his Mother receives the title of Mother of God.  In a breath-taking act of donation Jesus declared her the mother of his Beloved Disciple [John 19.26-27] and by extension, mother of all his disciples.  As that disciple made place for her in his home, so we are invited to celebrate her presence in our homes and lives.