Sunday, 6 January 2013

6th January 2013 - Epiphany Day

The feast of Epiphany celebrates the story told in St Matthew's Gospel of oriental Magii, not kings but royal astrologers travelling great distances from a place far to the east of Palestine, possibly Persia in their effort to decode the meaning of a new star which they have observed rising in the heavens. 

They visit Herod's court and give the tyrant's own astrologers and scribes a research task to undertake before advising them to look for something significant in Bethlehem, which the prophet Micah has suggested might be a place for someone of great importance to be born. 

Until this moment they are surprisingly unaware or even unconcerned about the new star to which their attention has been attracted. Perhaps it was not in their interests to raise issues with their despotic paymaster which might have given rise to alarm. 

When Herod did realise something different was happening, "... he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him." The subjects of a tyrant are the first to suffer from their master's anxieties, and on this occasion, consequences are brutal and terrifying, with the murder of innocent children following.

They had arrived at the court of Herod and being wise, they soon got the measure of a political situation about which they could have known little in advance of their long journey. They left no gifts, attempted to forge no diplomatic relationship with people in power. To return home, they went by a route avoiding Jerusalem, and further contact with Herod, his advisers and his troops.

For the Magii, their mission is accomplished when they find Mary, Joseph and the new born Jesus, now to be found in a house, rather than a stable. Nobody knows how many of them came, but three gifts were offered in homage, representing all the cultural and spiritual wealth they possessed. They are welcomed and their gifts received with humble wonder.

The story represents the recognition of the wider world beyond Palestine that something of cosmic significance happened with the birth of Jesus, something which will over time lead people of every 'tribe tongue people and nation' to turn to him and pay him homage because of the reign of divine love, truth and goodness which he comes to bring for the sake of all humankind. The coming of the Magii marks beginning of the world turning to God through Jesus, and the end of the beginning of of His Advent.

To the immortal, invisible, only wise God be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever, Amen

Saturday, 5 January 2013

5th January 2013

If we reckon days Jewish fashion as starting in the evening, Christmas Eve begins the festive season and this is the twelfth but not the last day of Christmastide. It is another day to reflect upon the mystery of incarnation, before the celebration of the Epiphany, which concludes Christmas festivities, begins tonight on the thirteenth night. Thirteen is one of those significant numbers, like seven and forty, all of which symbolise completion in numerlogical typology.

In very few places do the festivies of Christmas last a full thirteen days any more. Once New Year is reached, holidays finish and regular working patterns resume, with a further brief break in some countries to celebrate Epiphany. Yet, duties can be resumed refreshed and inspired by time spent with family and friends, time spent reflecting on life's true value, dreaming of a different future and making plans, time spent a little closer to the mysteries which give life meaning.

It is a time to remember how Jesus the Son of God, though infinitely rich, became poor for our sakes in solidarity with the disinherited and impoverished people of this world, that they might be uplifted by knowledge of his love for them.

Just as it is possible for God to be so much closer to us than we can be aware of, we poor narrow sighted human beings may hardly be aware of our true selves and what our Creator and Redeemer has made us capable of becoming in relation to Himself. St John writes: "Beloved we are God's children now. It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is."

This assertion is a source of great hope and comfort, not only in the face of death, but also at any and every moment of failure, crisis and challenge that confronts us in life itself. It is a word of life for those moments when we may feel least capable of coping with what we know we must engage with. It is a word of light in the darkness of uncertainty and becoming, when we feel most alone, yet not alone because of Emmanuel - 'God with us'.

Friday, 4 January 2013

4th January 2013

The eleventh day of Christmas is another without additional commemorations, an occasion simply to reflect on the meaning of God, so far above and beyond human comprehension, and at the same time within the intimate depths of ourselves, closer to us than we are to ourselves. In the both the infintely vast and in the infinitely tiny, God is present, yet can be completely un-noticed and disregarded by humans.

When God takes human nature and joins us on our journey through life in the person of Jesus, God comes in a way we can reckon with and understand. Jesus can still be un-noticed and disregarded, or turned into something which he is not in our interpretation of the reality of encounter with him, but to do so is a matter of choice which ultimately we are accountable for.

Jesus doesn't impose his existence on us, demand recognition. He invited us, by his actions and teaching to think about who he is and who we are, what our life is for and if it is worth living it well. As we learn to read existence from his perspective, to have 'the mind of Christ', we discover depths of reality richer and deeper than we may have thought possible. 

Even the greatest thinkers and searchers after truth, people capable of forging the highest ideals to live by, through their experience and through pure reasoning, find new light shed on their quest by coming to know Him. Reflecting on his story awakens a sense of his presence, and through his presence, a new sense of meaning to all existence.

This is the mystery of the life giving Word made flesh for our sakes.

3rd January 2013 - The Most Holy Name of Jesus

In the Franciscan calendar of special community observances, the tenth day of Christmas is the day dedicated to the Most Holy Name of Jesus. "At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow". In the old Sarum Calendar this observance was made on 7th August, but was not universally kept in the Latin Roman Church. It links back to the story from Luke's Gospel of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus traditionally commemorated on January 1st, but goes further in recalling the way Scripture states that "whoseover calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

God's name represents both God's power and presence. To call upon God's name is to enter into a personal relationship with Him and draws us above and beyond ourselves. To call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ our saviour is a way of expression our loving devotion to God through Jesus.

As contemplative prayer developed in the primitive monastic communities of the second and third centuries of the Christian era, calling upon the name of Jesus in humility and simplicity of heart was discovered to be the best way to 'pray without ceasing' as St Paul had recommended. Saint Benedict, father of Western Monasticism urged his followers to give priority to making their prayers 'brief and pure'. 

This way of prayer was at the heart of Franciscan religious life and mission a thousand years later, when friars went all over Europe, preaching the Gospel, using words only when strictly necessary. They taught the people they evangelised to pray using the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

Although the Eastern Churches have no equivalent commemoration, contemplative prayer, called 'the prayer of quiet', invoking the Most Holy Name of Jesus, is at the core of their spiritual tradition for all baptized Christians not just those inspired by the witness of monasticism.

The name of Jesus is a complete reminder of his story, his teachings, all that He has done for us and what it means for our lives. When we can't properly express ourselves in words of prayer we can rest assured that the name of the Word of life given for us God with us in the Name of Jesus will hold us close to Himself, and never let go of us.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

2nd January 2013

The ninth day of Christmas commemorates St Basil the Great of Caesarea, and St Gregory the Theologian of Nanzianzen, two of the greatest fathers of fourth century Eastern Orthodox family of churches.

Both men were monks, born in the same year 330, and are acknowleged as great teachers of the spiritual life. Basil created a monastic rule and a version of the Liturgy devised by St John Chrysostom which bears Basil's name and is still used on occasions in the Eastern Churches today. He became Bishop of Caesarea. Gregory became Bishop of Constantinople, but because of the intolerable divisions in his diocese he returned to his birthplace and died there.

Both men gave their lives to explaining through their writings the meaning of Christ's incarnation for human beings in relationship to God, and how divine grace can transform human lives until they partake of the divine life. The key to being total open to this change in character for frail mortal sinful human beings is surrender through inner prayer of quiet contemplation and honest knowledge of self.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

1st January 2013

The octave day of Christmas is the first day of the secular New Year. On this day the modern Roman calendar honours Mary under the title 'Mother of God' formally given to her at the Council of Ephesus in 451, in recognising the union of divine and human natures in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Anglican calendar celebrates this day of Christmas by recalling the circumcision and naming of Jesus by his parents, giving him 'the name which is above all names' - by its very meaning 'God saves'. The name in Hebrew is Yeshua (Joshua in English, isa in Arabic). It is translated into New testament Greek as 'ie-sous', from whence Jesus comes into European languages. January 3rd in the Franciscan Divine Office is the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

The rite of circumcision, whilst not uncommon in many cultures around the world, was one which had a special meaning for the people of Israel as a mark of male identity, performed as soon after birth as possible - a physical testimony of the covenant between Hebrew people and God. Jewish women are not circumcised. Scripture at the outset calls them to 'be fruitful and multiply' in this they are blessed and keep covenant with God. Virginity and sterility in Jewish culture are considered a curse. Identity in the family is inherited through the mother who, in the home, is guardian of Jewish teachings and traditions. Honouring Mary as Mother of God not only celebrates her vital spiritual role in the mystery of salvation, and it recognises the specific rootedness of the Saviour in world culture and history.

Jesus is not named by his father as was customary, but receives the name given to his mother by the angel Gabriel before she consents to his conception. By his birth into a Jewish family he receives his unique social and cultural identity. His name provided God's angelic messenger reflects his divine origin as the eternal Word - 'of the Father's love begotten'. These are revealed as one when he is circumcised, eight days after his birth.

By this we are reminded to pay attention to the times and circumstances we find ourselves in, and to seek God's meaning and purpose within them, this day and every day, seeking to discern God's presence through Jesus - God with us always.