The First Sunday of Christmas

As we approach the end of another year it is natural both to look backwards and forwards, to what has been, and what will be. Ideally we would do both in a positive fashion, grateful for what has been, and hopeful for the future. It isn’t as easy as it sounds: the world feels a worried, troubled place with the risks of war and terrorism, political instability, economic insecurity, and unpredictable weather, to name but a few. It isn’t pleasant to dwell on such matters, and it seems that there isn’t that much that you or I can do about them.

As Christians we are called to be people of joy and hope, emotions which are encapsulated in the Feast of Christmas, which we continue to celebrate for either twelve or forty days, leading up to the Epiphany or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Church, unlike the world around us, doesn’t stop celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ for some time yet because it is so important to take some time to think about God has done for us in being born for us. The shops around us have cleared their shelves for Valentine’s Day or Easter Eggs, but we are not so hasty. The awesome truth that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has taken flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that the Son, Jesus Christ has been born for us, should make us pause.

God is not remote, a distant disinterested Creator. He becomes human, and is born like we are. God gets involved, and shares a human life, its joys and its pains, and its end: death. God does this for us. This is grace, an unmerited gift, something we don’t deserve, so that we might know His love. God becomes a human being so that humanity might become divine, so that we might share in the Divine life of love. God loves us, not because we deserve it, or that we have somehow earned our way to Heaven, but so that we can know Him, love Him, and serve Him, in Earth and in Heaven.

God shows his love for us in being born as one of us, sharing our humanity, so that we might share His Divinity. In Jesus Christ we can see and know who and what God is. This is the mystery of the incarnation. It is something we cannot fully understand, in this earthly life at least, but it is something we can begin to experience. We can have hope for the future, in and through Christ, however bad the world around us is. Through Him we can know something of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness. No matter how many mistakes we make, and what ever mess we are in, it is something which God in Christ can deal with. This is not to say that God has a magic wand to wave over our problems, but rather that we see our problems in the broader context of God’s love for us, another way becomes possible, and this is where the Kingdom breaks into our lives.

Our first reading this morning sees the prophet Isaiah proclaiming the hope of the Messiah, hope for the people of Israel, which is fulfilled in the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus, our Saviour. Isaiah trusts God to fulfil His promise, and looks to the future with hope. He sees the future in terms of a wedding – a cause of great joy. It signifies a restored relationship, something Jesus will bring about himself, on the Cross, to heal our wounds through His. This is Good News, and it fills us with joy.

The reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that the Incarnation has changed everything. It is an event in history which happens at the right time, when people are mature enough to understand what is happening. God sends His Son, born of Mary, to redeem us, and to adopt us, to bring us into God’s family, so that we can receive our inheritance, the gift of the Holy Spirit, to fill us with God’s love. We are included, we are adopted. Rather than being disinherited, which is what we deserve, men and women are adopted through Christ. In Jewish law inheritance was about passing property from fathers to sons, Paul shows how Jesus has re-written the rules: men and women are treated equally, and brought into the inheritance of the Kingdom of God’s love. This is great news, a departure from the ways of the past, a sign of radical equality in and through Christ – salvation is God’s free gift, restoring the dignity of humanity.

In Luke’s Gospel we see shepherds who have just been told the most wonderful news: the Messiah, the Saviour is born in Bethlehem. They decide to go and see what God has told them. They make haste, they hurry, they are excited. They see Mary and Jospeh and the baby lying in a manger, a stone trough for animal feed. They see a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, just like the lambs they raise to be sacrifices in the Temple. They see One, who from his birth has been marked out to be the sacrifice on the Cross which will restore Israel, and bring about a true passover. The shepherds see something amazing and they tell people about it – it is Good News. God loves us this much. They go back to their flocks praising God for what they have seen – salvation in their midst, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Mary said “Yes’ to God to bring these things about, now she ‘ponders these things in her heart’ she reflects on what has happened. Having been obedient she turns to God in love and worship and prepares to be obedient to the law of Moses, and the covenant, the agreement which God first made with Abraham, two thousand years previously. Mary and Joseph are obedient to the Law and so their Son is circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21). He receives the sublime name, Jesus, that is to say God is our Saviour.

God saves us. We hear His words in Scripture, and here in the Eucharist we are fed by God and  fed with God, with His Body and Blood, broken and shed for us, that through His death we might have life in Him. So let us come and share in God’s generous gift to us, to heal us, to restore us, and give us hope in Him.

God’s salvation, the saving of humanity, is an act of love and obedience. So as we continue to celebrate Christmas and are filled the joy of the Incarnation, let us also reflect upon the fact that Love and Obedience and Suffering go hand in hand. They are costly, and likewise, for us in our Christian lives, following Christ means embracing love, obedience, and suffering, bearing witness to the truth that God loves all of us, gave his life for us, and asks the same of us.

And so may we begin the New Year full of joy and hope, mindful of the costly Love of God. As we recall the obedience of Mary, may we like the ox and ass in the stable kneel and worship the Lord of Creation, the Word of God Incarnate. Let us be like the shepherds and share our faith with others in what we are, and do, and say. Let us fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord and Saviour, to whom with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed, as is most just and right, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever…

nativitycard

 

Homily for Lent V

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reflects upon who and what he is and what he has come to do (Mt 5:17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” Christ comes to fulfil the law rather than to abolish it, and to inaugurate a new covenant in his blood which will flow from Calvary. This has been pointed to in Scripture: in the first reading this morning the prophet Jeremiah looks forward to a future covenant that will bring faithless sinful Isræl back to the Lord their God. They broke the covenant, they were unfaithful, and though they were married to the Lord their God, here we see not divorce but covenant faithfulness – it’s how God is, this is God’s love in action: self-giving, sacrificial, and costly. Christ fulfils Scripture – it finds its fullness and its true meaning in and through him, the Word of God made Flesh for our sake. God in Christ restores and heals that which was broken through human sinfulness: ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Isræl after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ Ours is a God who forgives our iniquities and forgives our sins through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.
       Jesus Christ is our great high priest: priests offer sacrifice for sin, as on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement where once the people were sprinkled with blood each and every year, whereas under the New Covenant, the covenant of grace rather than law, Christ the mediator of the new covenant sheds his own blood as both priest and victim to reconcile us with God. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, whose name means King of Righteousness, the King of Salem, better known as Jerusalem, brings out bread and wine, which point to the Eucharist, he is a priest of God Most High, before the priesthood of Aaron, the Levitical priesthood, so this is the true worship of Almighty God which points to Christ and finds its fulfilment in and through Him, who suffered for our sins.
In this morning’s Gospel some Greeks go up to Philip and say ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’. They approach a disciple with a Greek name, and though they are not Jews themselves, they try to follow the law and to worship God. They are good people with an innate sense of the religious and they have a simple request: they want to see Jesus. Nearly 2000 years later there are people who will ask exactly the same question. What can be said to them? If they come to Mass on a Sunday morning, they will meet the Lord in Word and Sacrament. But will they also see Jesus in us Christians who are the body of Christ? We too are to be His presence in the world. Everything that we say, or think, or do, can proclaim Christ and his saving love to the world. It is our duty as Christians to try at all times and in every way to model our lives upon Christ’s, and by our sharing in his passion, death, and resurrection, to form our lives so that they may reflect his glory so that the world may believe. Each and every careless word and thoughtless action speaks to the world and says that we are hypocrites, who do not practice what we preach. We are perhaps judged more harshly nowadays than at any time before – ours is a world which does not know or understand forgiveness; but we should nonetheless try with all the strength we can muster to live Christ’s life in the world.
       ‘Now the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified’ Jesus Christ is looking towards his passion and death. God shows the world the fullness of glory, the most profound expression of self-giving love in the events of his passion and death. This is why we celebrate it: week by week and year by year. We prepare ourselves during Lent to walk with Christ to Calvary and beyond. We see how much God loves us, how much God gives himself for us: totally, completely, utterly. If we serve Jesus we must follow him, and where we are he will be too. In the midst of the troubles which beset the church, Christ is with us. When we are afraid or troubled, Christ is with us, he has felt the same feelings as us, and was given the strength to carry on. When the church is written off as an irrelevance, Christ is with us.
       When secularism appears strong, we should remember our Lord’s words: ‘now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown’. The World and the Devil are overcome in Christ’s self giving love, when on the cross he pays the debt which we cannot, he offers us a new way of living a life filled with love, a love so strong as to overcome death, a love which offers us eternal life.
       So then as we continue our journey through Lent our journey to the cross and beyond to the empty tomb of Easter, let us lose our lives in love and service of him who died for us, who bore our sins, who shows us how to live most fully, to be close to God, and filled with his love. Let us encourage one another, strengthen one another, and help each other to live lives which proclaim the truth of God’s saving love. All of us through our baptism share in Christ’s death and resurrection and we should proclaim this truth to the world. This truth, this way, this life, overcomes the world, and turns its selfish values on their head. Together we can love and strengthen and encourage one another to do this together: to be Christ’s body in our love and service of one another, in our proclamation to the world that God loves all humanity and longs, like the father of the Prodigal Son, to embrace us, to welcome us back. And as we do this, growing in love and fellowship we will fulfil the will of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever…