Saturday, January 14, 2017

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)


Dieric Bouts, Ecce Agnus Dei

We perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised that Sheep and Lambs feature so frequently in Scripture and particularly in the teaching of Jesus. 


Already in the Old Testament we hear of the ram which is caught in the thicket and which is sacrificed in the place of Isaac. It is the blood of the lamb which is smeared on the lintels of the houses of the Hebrews so that they are protected from the Angel of Death, and are able to escape from slavery in Egypt. We hear the prophet Ezekiel compare God and his people to the sheep and a shepherd. 


And in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, references to sheep and lambs abound. The Shepherds are keeping watch over the sheep when Jesus is born. Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd who took great risks to rescue the lost sheep. The crowds who come to hear Jesus are described as being “like sheep without a shepherd”.


It is only natural, perhaps that we have all these examples, and more, because, after all, this was a land and a culture which was sustained by farming and the keeping of livestock. Just as Scriptures mentions vines and vineyards, sowing seeds and gather grain, so we would expect to sheep and shepherds to be frequent images and examples. 


But there is more to it than just this. The shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks by night, because the ewes were lambing. As the Lambs were being born, so Jesus himself was born. Years later, while other Lambs were being sacrificed in the temple for the Passover, Jesus was being sacrificed on the cross. St Paul tells us that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us”. And in today’s Gospel - from St John, a Gospel which has no story of shepherds and mangers and angels and kings - after 28 verses of preparation and anticipation, Jesus makes his very first appearance, and the Baptist proclaims instantly “Behold, the Lamb of God”. Into this Gospel too, the Lamb is born. 


Why a lamb? Well, because a lamb is newly born, and innocent, and pure. Because it is the blood of the Lamb which saves the people from slavery, from injustice, from captivity. Because lambs were destined for sacrifice. As Christ is destined for sacrifice. 


And so we are reminded of this time and time again during the Mass. Christ is “Lord God, Lamb of God, son of Father”. He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and then, just as he comes to dwell amongst us, just as he is born again on the altar, just before we  receive his life into ours, we are told: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him him who takes away the sins of the world!”




Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4 : Homily / Sermon

The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23)


Posting Christmas CardsDespite the rise of twitter and Skype and email and FaceTime we still send and receive Christmas Cards. I got mine from the Archbishop the other day. It has got his signature on, but it looks as if it is printed. 

Cards can convey love, and affection, respect and courtesy, though all too often we send them because we have to, and we receive some from people we barely know or might even have forgotten. Cards may be important, and still popular, but they can also be very routine, and even empty of any real feelings.

Much better than the card, of course, is the actual visit - when we go and see someone in order to exchange greetings. And instead of an address, written on an envelope, we meet face to face, and address one another by name.

In today’s Gospel we hear of a meeting - well, too meetings. The angel meets Joseph in a dream and tells him of another meeting, when the angel had met Mary, and gave her the great commission from God.

And here too, names are important. In today’s Gospel two of the names of Our Lord are set before us. Jesus - which means God saves, and Emmanuel - which means God-with-us.
And it is the names which tells us what Christ’s coming is all about. He saves us by being with us.

We might reasonably ask the question, why did God come and live amongst us as Jesus. Why did he take flesh? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die for us? Could not God have just acted, just waved his hands like a magic wand and put all sins and sufferings right?

Perhaps. But that would be doing things at a distance, almost disinterestedly, rather like sending a card with a polite greeting to someone we are not really close to. It would be an act of courtesy, but it requires little effort.

But God does more than send a card. He comes to visit. And God does more than visit. He comes to dwell amongst us. He becomes one of us, and shares our joys and sorrows, our cares and our concerns. He takes our sins upon himself. And that is how he saves us.

And today Mary and Joseph stand before us. She was chosen by God to carry Christ and bear him into the world. Joseph is included in the same mission.. They are not like some postman who carries a card, passing on a message or a greeting. They are humanity. Mary, especially, is us - the one who receives this great gift on our behalf, the one who welcomes this wonderful saving visitor.

And he is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He has come to meet us. He knocks at the door. And all we need do is open the door and let him in.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Advent 3 : Homily / Sermon

‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ (Matthew 11:3)

Kris Kringle

In the film, Miracle on 34th Street, we meet the character of Kris Kringle, a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus. The film revolves around the question of whether the character is the real Santa Claus, and indeed, whether Santa Claus exists at all. 

The original film, made in 1947 and which featured a very young Natalie Wood, leaves that question tantalising unanswered, though leads the watcher to think carefully about the old man’s identity. Other remakes of the film, such as the much more recent 1994 version starring Richard Attenborough, try and answer the question for us. 

Here, in today’s Gospel, there is another, and not altogether dissimilar question. The followers of John the Baptist come to ask a burning question: who is this man, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come? 

They were not the first to ask the question, and certainly would not be the last. 

The question is asked when Jesus heals the paralysed man and forgives his sins: Who is he who forgives sins? It is asked by the disciples when Jesus stills the storm: Who is this that the wind and waves obey him? It is asked by Jesus himself at Caesarea Philippi: Who do people say that I am? And when he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks Who are you looking for? 

And it is asked of him at his trial: Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God? 

And it has been asked in the centuries since: is he a great prophet, or a political revolutionary, or a religious reformer? Is he just an ordinary man? Did he even exist? Or is he King of King and Lord of Lords? Every question has been asked, and every possible question has been given. 

Even the famous atheist author, Philip Pullman, wrote about “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ”. 

So when Jesus is asked the question, how does he answer?

Well, he does not try to persuade … at least not in words. He says, [look at the evidence, he says,] “What do you see?”

Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor

[Or in another place, he put the whole thing much more plainly … By their fruits shall you know them. 

St Francis said something similar to his followers Preach the Gospel … use words if necessary … ]

It is by example, by acts of mercy, by the experience of his love in action that God is known 

[… As we will hear in just a few days now “The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us”

It is the flesh that we know who he is. In his actions that we know his love. ]

And it is through our actions, the quality of our life, our compassion, our mercy, our forgiveness, our generosity, our love that God’s own compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and love is known, and experienced, and recognised in this cold and often heartless world.