Friday, December 24, 2010
It's all about shepherds and angels.
Of course it isn't at all - it's all about the birth of Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.
But if you want to understand this, if you want to get past the lofty phrases, the flamboyant language, the song and praise, if you want to grasp what it going on - then you have to realise that it really is about shepherds and angels.
The shepherds - men and boys, working the night shift, watching in their fields, protecting their flocks from wolf and predator, risking their lives - they are the first to hear this good news. They are not kings or politicians. They are not wealthy or famous. They are not scholars or well educated. They are ordinary blokes. Sitting round the fire, singing songs, telling jokes, doing a hard and dangerous job, struggling to makes ends meet. They are the men on the rigs, the miners at the coal face, dockers and drivers, soldiers on night patrol in Helmand, police on dangerous streets. They are straightforward, rough and ready, not easily fooled or taken in. Salt of the earth.
And their involvement in this wondrous tale underlines for us the poverty and simplicity of this birth. A refugee couple seeking asylum in the cattle shed. Homeless and without medical care. A child born in danger and soon to be at risk from a wicked King.
And the angels? If the shepherds are the salt of earth, they are the glory of the heavens. They transform a simple squalid scene into a celebration of the Saviour's birth. They reveal the truth of his majesty, the greatness of his power, the extent of his impact upon human history and human lives. They bring heaven to earth, so that this ordinary birth is now proclaimed, extoled and praised all over the world. We sing today, because the angels sang on that cold and inhospitable night.
So, in this meeting of the shepherds and the angels, the earthly and divine are joined and united. God comes down to earth - so that we might be raised up to heaven.
Christmas is all about hospitality.
It is about welcoming family and friends into our homes. It is about going to visit them. It is about sharing meals together. It about parties. It is also about visiting cemeteries. It is about making and renewing our connections with people. It about generosity, an open door. It is about hospitality.
And if this is true in our lives, it is also true in our Scripture.
We hear the tale of the young couple seeking a place to stay the night. We hear of a hospitable innkeeper. We hear of shepherds rushing and wise men trekking to visit the makeshift home.
And we hear some striking words. In St John’s Gospel, we are told - The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us. And alongside that we should read words in Matthew’s Gospel too, where Joseph is told “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home”.
The command to Joseph is also a command to us. And it is a command not only to welcome the Mother, but also the Son.
Christ comes and dwells amongst us not just to give us a cause for celebration. Our hospitality extends also to him. And for ever.
He dwells amongst us - do we keep our doors closed, or invite him in? We have that choice - but how much greater are the blessings if we truly welcome him! Into our homes. Into our daily lives. Into our hearts. As our comfort and our hope. As our guide and our friend. As our constant companion.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
People often say to me "I suppose this is your busy time of year". Could be. Though I'd rather be a priest than a postman.
Now the postman really is busy. And most of us are sending many cards and receiving many. Some of them come from people barely remembered - who were "Don and Julia"? We might need to look at the postmark to remember. And sometimes our own cards go astray, because we addresses or names wrong. And if we receive cards with slight inaccuracies in our names, then we feel as if it were meant for someone else. There's a lot in a name.
In todays Gospel two of the names of Jesus are explained to us. The first of course is the most familiar - the name Jesus itself, which is the Greek version of the name Joshua, which means "God saves" or "God will saves us". The second is perhaps less familiar but heard often in Advent - Emmanuel - "God is with us".
Putting these two names together, tells us what this time of year, and what our belief in Christ 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 rather like sending the card to the distant friend or relative who we care about a little, but, well, are not really close to. Its a simple 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 the blessed virgin stands before us. Chosen by him to carry him and bear him into the world. She is not some postman who carries a card. She is humanity, she is us - the ones who receive this great gift, this wonderful visitor.
He is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He has come to meet us. He knocks at the door. And we must open and let him in.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Something extra-ordinary is about to happen, indeed it is already happening. That is the message in today’s readings. God is coming to save you, says the prophet Isaiah. The Judge is already waiting at the gates, says the apostle James in the second reading. And in this Gospel: John the Baptist is great, Jesus says, the greatest of all the prophets: yet he is just the beginning of the kingdom of God.
This a note of anticipation, of excitement, and just a little foreboding too. This is a word of eager expectation, a realisation that something extra-ordinary - literally extra-ordinary - is amongst us.
And at this time of year we know the excitement of the children, their eagerness for Christmas, the countdown to the celebration marked in calendar and candle. We know the buzz of frivolity and generosity which sparks the good will in this season of goodwill.
But often we fail to capture the real excitement, not just for presents and parties, for the the Presence of Christ in our midst. This is what the Scripture speaks of. An anticipation for the coming of he who is judge and saviour and Lord.
Of course, when St James wrote perhaps many actually thought that the coming of Christ at the end of time was very close, while now we understand Christ’s presence amongst us especially in the Church, in the sacraments, and in his people.
But that should not dull our anticipation. No, it should heighten it! He will come at the end of time: but he already amongst us now! He is here. He is with us. In the Sacrament, in our Worship, in all those who need his love - the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor. And in them his love, and his grace are his presents and his Presence amongst us!
What wonderful gifts!
Saturday, December 04, 2010