And so, we come closer to the centre of the mystery of Christ, The Word of Life. Soon and very soon, we shall celebrate the great Feast of the Incarnation – Christ Mass – the Feast of the Eucharist of Christ himself. The Word made flesh – The Word of Life which John says ‘was from the beginning’ – being revealed within history.
Perhaps the most powerful story in scripture of this Word of Life at work is the account of the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus stands outside the tomb and cries out ‘Lazarus, Come Forth!’ Lazarus is summoned by the Word of Life from the non existence of death, to Life in its fullness.
As a favourite writer of mine likes to say, God in Christ did not die to make bad men good, he died to make dead men live!
So this Word, which Is Christ Jesus, is The Word of Life in the most profound sense . . . and in our Gospel Reading, again we observe this Word at work in calling forth life. We see it, and of course part of the tradition of the church is devotional art and ikons.
In ancient ikons and in the tradition of the Syriac Church, Mary is depicted as conceiving Christ, through her ear. This is a visual metaphor for what is happening.
So Mary’s response to Gabriel, ‘let it be to me, according to your word’, is much more than a simple, if breath taking obedience – rather it is the speaking forth of what is happening. It is according to the Word, the Word of Life, finding its place within her, that she will become the very bearer of God.
This is the How of the very creation. The Spirit hovers over the face of the Deep, The Word comes, Life springs forth. So the Word enters Mary and the Word of Life springs forth!
And so, as Gabriel greets Mary who has become a bearer of the Word that gives life, the heavenly Word is passed on as Mary greets Elizabeth – and there is Life! Mary comes to her cousin Elizabeth who is carrying John the Baptist
‘And it happened that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting . . . ‘And it happened . . .’ the Greek word is egeneto – the word from which we get Genesis – the Beginning – Creation language!
The baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ We can perhaps see here the coming to Life of the child in her womb, John the Baptist when addressed by The Word of Life
So, The Spirit born Word comes to Mary to be borne by her, and now Her greeting, full as she is of the Life of God, brings Life! And the language is so very physical.
How sad that our translation removes this beautiful picture from our gaze – ‘as I heard the sound of your greeting’. For Elizabeth says ‘Behold! As the sound of your greeting entered my ears . . .’
‘As the sound of your greeting entered my ears . . .’ We are called to use our imagination to See, to Behold this Word passing into the ear of Elizabeth. as you received the spoken Word of God’s messenger, the one carrying the Word from God . . . there is something tangible about this Word, it is carried, it enters the ear – the ear which the Psalmist says in the most physical of language ‘you have dug for me’ . . . God has carefully crafted us with ears to hear – the Word of Life – this is why we should if at all possible NOT look at the screen with the reading on it, I understand that this is good for the hard of hearing, but listen – Allow the Word to enter your ear – to come into you, to bring Life. ’As the sound of your greeting entered my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy!’ How often I wonder have we known our heart leap for joy as the Word enters our ear, created for this very purpose.
And how full of bliss is the one who has faith . . . I find a recent translation of this so helpful in some regards if a bit odd on the ear, for to be full of bliss is to have been filled. Something has entered into us , has filled us 🙂
This is the nature of The Word of Life – when we hear it, when it enters into us – it produces Life in fullness. We become Full of Life, Full of Grace!
For a Word is not mere sound, or rather sound is not just sound – it is the very passage of the Life of God. This is why I think it most helpful that we Listen. That we Hear the Word. Even when we read scripture alone – read aloud – Listen to the Word
The Word written, is always one step removed from the Word spoken. The Word is to be Heard. The Creation vibrates with the Energy of Life itself – to be received into us. Life coming to find a home within us in Jesus Christ
Mary of course has already allowed the Word to take root in her – as she is addressed by Gabriel we hear, “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” – Mary as we shall hear over the next few days – powers things in her heart – she allows these words to go deep into her very being
As we prepare once more to Hear the Angelic announcement – may our ears be open and our hearts prepared for this Word of life to come into our hearts, to find a home amongst us and within us.
Life in our household is always very full on at this time of year. I try to avoid the word ‘busy’ which can seem puffed full of self importance. ‘Busy’ people are of course ‘ the people who really count!’ However this year we find ourselves more than usually working every hour that the Good God provides for us as we prepare not only for Christmas, but also for a wedding.
Both of course are hugely important, both have their traditions which MUST be observed. So it is for example that tomorrow morning, I will risk early indigestion eating home baked fruit toast with lashings of butter, washed down with orange juice. Weddings too come with ‘observances’ central to which are ‘the vows’. I was somewhat alarmed some years ago when asked ‘in my professional capacity’ ‘why we cannot make up our own vows?’ To which the simplest answer at least back in England was ‘Church law does not allow it’ – here it is a little less clear, so perhaps the more helpful ‘because the morning after you’re married, if asked to write down your vows you’d probably not be able to remember them and might want to change them’
In marriage, the man and the woman make their vows ‘in the sight of Almighty God and the presence of the congregation, and this is made clear in the vows which end ‘According to God’s Holy Law’. So, the other evening I was asked by one about to be married, ’What does that mean? “According to God’s Holy Law”’
Of course we have a tendency in this day and age to think of ‘God’s Holy Law’ in terms of what might often seem like ‘an arbitrary set of rules’, but I do not think that this is either right, nor helpful. Rather God’s Holy Law is a Revelation of God in Jesus, and the shape of form of our existence within the Creation.
To put it another way, God’s Holy Law is the Revelation of ‘The Grain of the Universe’ – in other words when we follow it we reveal something of the Nature of What Is, The Creation, and thereby also the mind of the Creator, the Mind of God.
And so to Mary. Mary it must be said, and may the Good God have mercy upon us, has become a most uncomfortable figure for so many in the modern world. Good Protestants that we are, even if we believe the words of the Creed regarding her Virginity, we tend to think that the veneration of Mary especially within the Catholic Church is overdone!! I know that that was most definitely my own perception and after all, I Knew! I had taught in a working class Catholic High School as a very Correct Protestant, and all the excesses I was so sure were true, behold, there they were . . . there’s none so blind as those who think they can see!
My – mainly Catholic – colleagues, knew of my discomfort and would use every opportunity to tease me, not least when during some building work my immediate superior had an 8 foot high statue of The Queen of Heaven, which had to be temporarily re-sited, temporarily re-sited beside the desk in my office “where our Lady can keep an eye on you, Eric”.
Of course, if I was a Really good Protestant, I might have had more pause for thought in my self righteous judgement of Catholicism with all its nonsense, after all who was it who said “the Veneration of Mary is inscribed deep in the human heart”, but Martin Luther himself.
And well we should venerate Mary. As my spiritual director told me, when I confessed to me a troubling sense of her presence and Significance, ‘Well Eric, She Is the Mother of God’
Holy Mary, Mother of God . . . and of course we may well take a moment to ponder. One of the deepest losses of our ‘busy’ lives is that we skim over the surface of things. That we pay little or no attention to those questions which arise from the deep wells of our Existence. Last week I asked the question ‘Where are you from?’. Like the question ‘How are you?’ – it has become little more than a marker, no more than a seeking after ‘a fact’ – but How Are You? Where are you From? These are questions which take us deep if we will but let them. And there we find buried clues which point us towards The Grain of The Universe, God’s Holy Law, not least that of Motherhood . . .
One thing which every human living has in common from generation to generation, back into the depths of our lives, From The Beginning, What IS a Human, What Makes us Human? ; is that we are all ‘born of Woman’. Adam, facing life outside of the Garden, sees well the necessity of Motherhood, naming his wife Eve ‘for she was the mother of all living’ . . . True Life – eating, breathing, weeping, rejoicing, smiling, burping life even 🙂 being Born into the world of a woman
That life of which Mothers are the source – is more than ‘just’ giving ‘physical’ birth. I lose count of the number of folk who have told me that they learned their faith from their mothers, that their mothers were the ones who would teach them to pray – Motherhood is the source of Life in its Deepest Fullest Sense, From the Beginning . . . and so it is that in human terms the fulness of the Life of God comes into the world through Mary, The ‘woman, clothed with the Sun’ Revelation 12:1 – who “The Holy Spirit will come upon, and the power of the Most High will overshadow” Creating Life in its fulness in Christ Jesus
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary says ‘Yes’ to the very deepest wellspring of Existence. Her Yes to God is the vehicle for Revealing of The Light of the World, The Truth of Existence. By her ‘Let it be with me’ Mary reveals to us in her flesh ‘God’s Holy Law’, the very Grain of The Universe by her consent to be the Mother of the One who sustains all things by his powerful word, The Very Creator of the World, born of Woman
As we prepare our hearts, let us not be busy. Let us not be important. Let us be open and Receptive. As Mary Our Mother has taught us, The Very Truth of our Existence is revealed in simple obedience. Our Yes to God is the Wellspring of Life
Let us not be proud but learn from her, our True Mother in Faith. Let is be with me, according to your Word . . . according to God’s Holy Law
Sermon for Advent 3 – Year B – 2017
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
‘Where are you from?’ This is a question which most of us are asked at one time or another, not least if you have a ‘foreign’ accent! The other day Sarah and I were in a local shop and the owner, who was obviously English asked us this question and we took great delight in replying ‘Roslyn’ 🙂
Of course it is in a sense a not entirely truthful answer, perhaps we ought to have said, from England, but then the more you think about it, the more we realise that ‘where are you from?’ is a very deep question – a question that ought to give us pause. Like the polite enquiry, ‘how are you?’, it requires a deeper more significant answer than we often give it . . .
Of course in a sense here in New Zealand we might be aware of a sense that there is a deeper answer, for Tangata Whenua introduce themselves in deep terms of who they are in terms of where they come from, my mountain, my river, my waka, my iwi, my whanau – a sense of ‘coming from’ or having our roots in a much bigger story than ‘where I live at the moment’, a sense of coming out from a river of human history that has a source in the deep past – a way of self understanding that is almost diametrically opposed to our Modern way of understanding, where a little like the Prodigal Son our roots are something we put little store by, where we come from is a place we are trying to get away from, to forget our Home, our Source – trying to ‘make a life for ourselves . . .’ Where are you from?
Advent, a season of preparation to receive one who is coming to us – but from Where . . . ?
When Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate, who is growing increasingly panicked by the crowd but also by the silence of this Galilean prophet, he asks in his anxiety, ‘Where are you from?’ It is as if he sees something in Jesus which suggests that Jesus is ‘not from around here’ . . . and so it is with the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord whom we remember on this 3rd Sunday of the season. John, John the Baptist we are introduced to him as one sent ahead . . . but from where??
Mark in his gospel, a gospel which as Bishop Steven said last week is abrupt – it pulls us up – it lacks the niceties of the other gospels – Mark introduces John thus ‘John . . . appeared in the wilderness . . .’ Just like that! It’s as if he just pops into existence – where are you from John?
But our own John, the Evangelist gives us an answer to that question ‘There was a man, sent from God, whose name was John . . .’ This question, where are you from which is so significant to our identity is one which John answers unequivocally for his namesake – John the Forerunner is ‘sent from God’ He comes from God
A couple of weeks ago I asked if we realised where we were? If we had a sense of our place in the Creation – how we fitted in – how our existence was woven into the life of the trees and the birds. Certainly on the whole, to be a Modern person is to have lost that sense. Just in the way we move around so freely, the very idea of Home is one which is disappearing from our senses. Home of course is one way of answering the question ‘Where are you from?’ – but where is Home?
Jesus comes to ‘bring us home’ To bring us to our sense, to reveal to us who we really are, and John who bears witness to Jesus, like Jesus comes from God. John isn’t sent ‘by’ God, he is sent ‘from God’
This reminds me so strongly of a story I told just a few weeks ago of an elderly lady who was dying and who was asked by her doctor, ‘where are you from?’ To which she replied without a moments hesitation ‘From God’ – and being baptised and knowing her faith well she might have used the words which described Jesus, ‘knowing that he had come from God and was going back to God.
The ministry of John the baptist is marked by a remarkable freedom – he wears strange clothes, he eats strange food, he lives in strange places. When asked who he is, He proclaims without fear that he is ‘just’ the voice of one who cries in the wilderness – or put another way, he is the mouthpiece of God himself – that the Life in Him is the very Life of God bearing witness to that Life coming into the world in Jesus Christ – a Life that comes from somewhere else – Where are you from??
We can ourselves only bear witness to that Life of Jesus, to the Good News, if we ourselves have that same life in us, or put another way, if we know from where we have come from. If like the old lady we know we have come from God and are going to God – if our Life suggests we are from somewhere else . . . to know as Jesus says that we have been ‘born from above’
As we shall hear once more this coming week – to whoever believed in his name Jesus gives the power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. . . .
To be Christian is not as the wider world puts it, to belong to a certain religious group – no, it is to be one who has been brought home, to know who we are, and where we are and where we are from, to where we are going – it is to hear the words of Scripture as God our Father speaking to us, and to know his life flowing through us – it is to know that in this sacrament of the Eucharist, God feeds us with His Life in Christ
Home – a place of rich stories, a place of wonderful meals, a place buried deep in our human memory. As this season of the year awakens so very many memories, may we Know deep within ourselves the answer to the question . . .
Where are you from?
And so, ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.’
The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope and a Light to the Gentiles.
This set of reflections juxtaposes each of the Antiphons with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.
In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Magnificat Antiphon, O Immanuel
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Immanuel, our King and Lawgiver,
The One Expected of the nations, and their Saviour,
Come and save us, O Lord our God
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer: Liturgical Press)
Today we come to the last Vespers before the feast of the Incarnation. The Antiphon, O Emmanuel, is the briefest, and yet the most breathtaking in its scope. In holding together those things which in our human frailty we cannot begin to conceive of as other than antithetical, more so even than ‘King’ and ‘Shepherd’
In this simple Antiphon, all the Antiphons coallesce and find a home as the Hope of the Nations comes to us.
Jesus in his ministry amongst the Pharisees creates the same indigestible possibilities. ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’
Almighty and eternal God With Us – the Judge who comes to Save us – who commands ‘unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, you will have no life within you.
Advent, primarily is about Faith. Faith makes us Expectant. Faith is the midwife of Hope. Faith causes us to Watch, to Wait, to Listen, to Strain our senses to catch the first rays of the rising dawn. By Faith we acclaim Christ as King of the Nations, the Lord of All. By Faith we Know him to be The Way to the heart of the Father, the Wisdom which at once describes and IS all of Creation in its plenteous goodness.
And by faith we now come to the Great Feast – where we feed on him in our hearts by faith. It is when we assent to these apparent impossibilities that our eyes are opened and we See and are healed.
Sermon for Advent 4 – Year A 2013
‘Chosen – Righteous Joseph’
School, on the whole is not good for the soul. Often as I took parties of youngsters onto the hills of Northern England I would reflect on how much more humane were our encounters away from the classroom. Schooldays we were told were the happiest days of our lives. Many, indeed in all probability most, would beg to differ.
Amongst the many humiliations of my early schooldays, one endured by countless youngsters over the ages was the weekly football. (I have two left feet, dances find me lurking in the kitchen or indeed the bar, trying to escape the horror of the invitation to dance and the inevitable disappointment of my partner.) But probably worse than the humiliation of playing Football, of endless freezing cold afternoons in the bulk buy nylon Wolverhampton Wanderers strip – the details are etched in my mind, as with an iron tool upon lead – worse than all of that was the ritual of picking the team.
Week by week the two best footballers would take turns to choose their team. Some of my gifted classmates would jump up and down saying ‘pick me, pick me!!’ and find themselves as the glamour boys, the strikers, then there were the not outstanding, but not incompetent ones who would pack the midfield, then finally the scrapings. Week in week out, without fail. Being chosen carried nothing glamourous – I was amongst the ‘no choice’ candidates – to occupy the Defence. Picked for standing around doing nothing if your team was doing well, and being shouted at by the rest of the team when, as was inevitable, the Good players ran past you as if you weren’t there and scored a hatful of goals. The PSychotherapy has been expensive and only partially successful!
Of course, the idea of being chosen usually carries with it a certain kudos. Being chosen to be head boy or head girl at school, Being chosen first for a sports team. You are Wanted – You are special, and ‘the chosen ones’ at my High school – the First XV rugby team wore their chosenness as many do – corridors cleared ahead of them – we were taught to live in fear, an almost Holy Awe of these chosen ones, who did not wear their election lightly, but KNEW they were Special.
Being chosen is also an integral part of the story of our Common Life and faith. Last week we rehearsed the story of ‘God’s Chosen people’, the Jews, as we built up our Jesse Tree, but this is chosenness of a different order. (Indeed although my spellchecker does not recognise ‘chosenness’, if your Google it – every hit is a reference to the Jewish people).
A Substantial part of the story of Israel, was the constant stream of humiliations visited upon them when they forgot that their being chosen did NOT mean that they could behave like the first XV. The focus of their faith was not that they were chosen, it was the one who had chosen them. Not WE have been called by God, but ‘we have been called by GOD’ Called not to be full of themselves, rather to be empty of themselves, and quite literally full of God, as revealed by the Temple in the midst of them. A chosenness which was not a vehicle for self regard, a cause for pride – a chosenness which required Absolute attentiveness to God, expressed in Faith Full Obedience.
Now there is One way of telling this story which goes like this. God Created the world full of goodness, chose Israel and they screwed it up, they weren’t up to it – therefore God had to put into effect Plan B. Jesus as it were as an afterthought – a second try, and indeed we might then look around us and hope that God has a plan C. But like joining the dots, its always possible if you have enough dots to draw whatever you like. So whilst there are elements of truth in the story that so many tell, it is wrong in two key elements.
Firstly that Israel was Chosen to be the bearer of the very Life of God, in the Word made Flesh – in Jesus Christ. That was Always the plan, that God himself would dwell amongst his people, and that through them All the nations of the world would be blessed.
That was what the faith of the Patriarchs in particular Abraham, ‘the father of many nations’.
And the ‘Jesus was God’s plan B story’ is also told wrongly, because it says ‘Everything had gone to the dogs – there were NONE who were righteous, none whose attention was still on God and his promise.
Yet the story of the people of Israel is throughout the story of a faithful remnant, even though the people as a whole go astray. As Advent moves to its climax, the hopes and fears of all the years are coming into sharp focus in two of these remnant of faithful Israel. Mary, who without realising why ‘has found favour with God’ – When our attention is on God, even the fact that we are attentive to him is hidden from us, and , oh yes Joseph . . . also chosen . . . like Mary, like faithful Israel, chosen for obedience.
Joseph is overlooked from the earliest years of our Christian walk. ‘I’m going to be Mary in the nativity!!’ is a far more joyous cry in households, than ‘I’m going to be Joseph’ – so peripheral in our imaginations to the Incarnation is Joseph, that it’s not much above being picked to be a sheep . . . ‘Mary. . . and of course angels :-)’ – ‘Joseph and the sheep’. [I’m not for a moment suggesting there are certain gender imbalances which need to be addressed here . . . ;-)]
In Year A we focus on Matthew’s gospel and thus the account of the birth of Jesus is told through the story of Joseph – not his perspective mind you. We get little or no insight into the workings of Josephs mind. I remember once seeing a wonderful stage play which was in effect an extended dramatic monologue of Joseph in his carpenters shop musing on being ‘chosen’ in this way. We like to do this – to put ourselves in Joseph’s place – but really when we do this we are dragging Joseph into ours. We project how we would feel onto him. None of us know how Joseph would have felt. And such flights of fancy distract us from what Matthew tells us.
Joseph we are told discovering that Mary is pregnant ‘being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to disgrace, planned to dismiss her privately’ – Joseph ‘being a righteous man’ . . . Sadly and I think to our almost infinite loss, the word righteous as an adjective for a man or woman, has become horribly devalued. Because of our focus on Jesus and his encounter with the Pharisees – because of our own experiences of some people with whom we rub shoulders, because of a failure to understand properly what it means to be a sinner, or a saint, indeed to totally misunderstand the Work which Jesus comes to accomplish, we do not think the word Righteous can be a truthful life giving adjectival modifier of ‘Woman’ or ‘Man’. And it has slipped from our speech. If we read someone was a ‘Righteous man’, we tend to think they are at best unutterably dull, or at worst a hypocrite – usually a combination of the two. But this is not the witness of Scripture. Indeed if we have been attentive to our Advent readings we read of ‘A righteous branch to spring up for David’ – Jeremiah’s version of the Jesse Tree.
Joseph is a righteous man – that is he is of the type described in Psalm 1 – to be righteous is to be attentive to and obedient to God Happy is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. – These are the ones who are marked as Righteous in the Scriptures. There is nothing of Self Righteousness in them – they are not absorbed in how they appear to others, they are absorbed in and absorb like Water from a stream, the Life of God. In a Very important sense they are the chosen – Called AND chosen – responsive to the Call of God – He is the focus of their faith.
One of the deepest mysteries of our faith is how God puts himself into our hands – he is in a strange sense reliant on those he has called. And this is VERY important for how we understand Jesus. Jesus is both utterly divine AND utterly human. It is all too easy to imagine Jesus as a ‘special case’ in his humanity – as if his humanly obvious righteousness, his life of prayer and fasting and obedience to what God says to him, is entirely a one off. But to do that is to as it were see his human life as nothing more than a veil for his divinity. It is as if we say – Jesus can only be attentive to the Father Because of his divinity. It is to say that it is Not human. But precisely because Jesus IS fully human, that Righteousness we see in him is not only divine but humanly transmitted, through Mary and to the external observer, through Joseph as well. The Righteousness of Jesus is utterly divine, but also though MAry and indeed Joseph, utterly human. The scriptures take with full seriousness our human nature and how our life towards God is transmitted humanly as well as through the waters of rebirth.
And Because Joseph is righteous, he is receptive to what God wishes to say. Faith revealed in obedience. The Christian life, the life of the Righteous, is a life of faithful obedience to what God is saying.
Of course Joseph at first tries to protect Mary – from the shame but then attentive, righteous Joseph is spoken to by an angel through a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ Joseph, son of David – Joseph is announced as part of that Righteous branch of David that Jeremiah spoke of, the faithful Remnant. And he is given work to do ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife’ You Watch over her – and a tremendous privilege – and you will name him ‘Jeshua’ – which literally means God Saves. And BECAUSE he IS righteous, because He is Attentive and desires Only to do what God desires of Him, He Is Obedient.
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, . . . and he named him Jesus.
Exemplifying the obedience that comes through faith of which Paul speaks as he introduces the Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Obedient One, The Righteous One. And this is why as we draw ever so close to the birth of Christ, we rejoice and give thanks for Joseph and Mary – who are chosen for faithful obedience, and pray for the grace to be similarly God attentive, and obedient to what He requires of us – to his eternal glory. Amen
The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope and a Light to the Gentiles.
This set of reflections juxtaposes each of the Antiphons with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.
In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Magnificat Antiphon, O Radix Jesse
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of humankind,
before you kings shall keep silence,
and to you all nations shall have recourse.
Come save us and do not delay.
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer: Liturgical Press)
One of the wonderful traditions of Advent is that of the Jesse tree. Like the Evangelists we too rehearse the Ancestral line of Jesus, patiently day by day and hour by hour rehearsing the story of his long awaited Coming.
But here, perhaps more clearly we might see that Advent has a different meaning for us. For we now await the One who has come as the fulfilment of the hope of Israel, and by Grace are found amongst those ‘least in the Kingdom of heaven’ [Matthew 11:11]
As the Life of God waited patiently in the world, down through so many generations, so in Christ this line of Kings reaches fulfilment. The fulfilment of the Hope of Israel, the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.
But who, to our astonishment and perplexity, like a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies . . . to bear seed . . . how many fold?
He becomes the source of Life for all who believe in his name and the work He calls us to is that of ‘believing in him’ – the work of patient trust – of Abiding in Him, as He Abides in us. He calls us to the Waiting of Contemplation, like that of a farmer watching his crops.
This too us may well seem rather passive – like those who hear the word of Jesus telling them that ‘the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent’ – we have little time for contemplation. But thus we are easily uprooted from the vine, for we are then ‘free’ to be pulled hither and thither, this way and that. Prey to every Siren voice, we lose sight of the ‘dwelling place’ he has prepared for us in the throne room of His very heart.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Over many years, the Word patiently waited, until the time was right. Down through the ages, through the line of Jesse, He Abided in his people. We too now are invited to Abide in Him, to in Contemplation behold His Face, that of the Father’s only begotten, and thus be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope, and a Light to the Gentiles.
In this set of reflections each of the seven Antiphons is juxtaposed with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.
In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Antiphon,
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and reaching from the beginning to end,
you ordered all things mightily and sweetly.
Come, and teach us the way of prudence.
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer; Liturgical Press)
‘Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
To be Christian is, as it were, to live in a state of contemplation – that is that our attention is, like that of Mary upon him, in amidst ‘the many things’ He fills our vision and thus we can only ‘see’ the world through Christ.
Advent offers us the gift of renewing that contemplation, of abandoning distractions. It is a reminder from the Church, to which we are ‘members’ through baptism, of the counsel of the writer to the Hebrews: that is, to ‘lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’
It is a commonplace that our age excels in distractions. Like the circuses of old, Distraction has become our way of life, so much so that we believe we are attentive not at all distracted. In so many ways we are surrounded by multiple media of distraction, each cleverly tuned to our attentive weakness. And when we are so entranced, so captivated – when ‘Distraction’ has become for us our way of being in the World . . .
At the root of much, if not all of our distraction is the Ancient distraction of Knowledge. Knowledge which promises that which we desire above all things, control of our own lives, that we ‘might be like God’. And so the alluring appeal of, for example, these words from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia ‘Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge’.There are few if any of us, who can say in truth that we do not find the allure of such a situation somewhat attractive, that is, Distracting. For if together we knew everything, then we would all be ‘one people, . . . [having] one language; and this [would] only the beginning of what [we could] do; nothing that [we] propose to do [would] be impossible for [us]’ Gen 11:6
Thomas, Jesus’ disciple blindly grasps for this knowledge. ‘Lord. We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Where is the map? What does the Way look like? Where are you going? Tell us these things and we shall be satisfied. And so he desires knowledge, apart from Jesus. Like so many of us today, understanding ‘faith’ in terms of ‘beliefs’ to which we may or may not assent, that we know for ourselves. Like the rich young man Jesus encounters, seeking an answer to the question ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Seeking to retain control through appropriate knowledge. Tell me and then I can go my own way.
Jesus in his answer to the young man, and in his answer to Thomas, shatters all our attempts to create eternal life on our own terms, to ‘make a life for ourselves’. ‘I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life’
And here there is a double move, from facts to relationship, and from impersonal to personal knowing. Not that eternal life is to know facts personally, but it is to Know The Person. The One in whom all things hold together, and by and through and for whom all things exist.The One who ‘came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from the beginning to end, who ordered all things mightily and sweetly.’
This double move is that from Knowledge to Wisdom. From the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which leads us away from the Goodness of Life, to the Tree of Life, and the One who resides there.
St Paul says Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God.
Ancient Wisdom – which danced before the Lord before the beginning of Creation – in his Flesh reconciling all things to God.
‘Now this is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’
To be Christian is to live in a state of contemplation. He fills our vision and thus we can only ‘see’ the world through Christ.
Let us abandon distractions.
May the Wisdom of God be The the object of our Contemplation, both through this Advent, and to His Appearing
Advent 2 2014
2 Peter 3
Waiting for the redemption of our bodies
As you can’t fail to have noticed this morning, we are celebrating ‘the best Good News since 1814’ – which raises to questions, one general one – what IS the Good News?? If a friend asked you, What is that sign on the Church drive all about? What would you say?? And secondly – waht is Anything does the Good News have to do with our bodies???
I was recently reading an article by a man who had lived through the 1930s in England. His family had been coal miners and to say his existence was harsh would be putting it fairly but perhaps also mildly. Children all sharing the same bed – a lavatory outside the house shared with several other families – poor and sometimes non-existent food – and of course disease, taking children in infancy and leading to life expentancies much much shorter than those we have come to take for granted.
When we consider the collapse of participation in the life of the church, particularly since the 1960s, one factor that I rarely hear mention of is how comfortable our lives are nowadays. After all, IF the big theological problem is ‘Why does an all loving God permit suffering?’ surely when we suffer far far far less than even our parents generations – and we do – then church should be packed with folk giving thanks to God? Surely??
And of course church has itself become less demanding and more comfortable, as well . . . and herein might be part of the issue. Back in England many many churches went through the business of ‘re-ordering the church’, at least when financial circumstances were better. By and large that meant making the building more ‘comfortable’. The installation of better heating and of course that perennial bane of a Vicar’s life – the removal of pews to be replaced with ‘comfortable’ chairs . . . but of course does not Isaiah 40 verse 1 say ‘Comfort ye, O Comfort ye my people . . .’ 🙂
Not long before coming here I chaired a Diocesan committee which had both the Archdeacons on it. One evening we met at one of their houses, and as the second Archdeacon came into the room he said to his colleague ‘Ah! that must be your prayer chair!!’ He was pointing at one of these.
And he was right! How did he know?? Except for the assumption that one must be comfortable to pray . . . Imagine being sat on that or indeed your own favourite comfortable chair – losing all sense of your body, its aches and pains – almost for a moment leaving the material realm and entering into the pure realm of the Spirit . . .
This turn is one of the most ancient heresies of the Church that of Gnosticism, a retreat into the realm of pure Spirit – the denial of our bodies. Which is fundamentally a denial of the heart of our faith. Our bodies are the very realm of our Life as Christians. And as we shall see the Heart of the Good News.
This Gnostic turn is seen in what happens when we pray – together as a body. When I was young it was unthinkable that one might not kneel to pray. In other words without naming it – we were bringing all of who we were before God, and in material terms almost all of who we are is our bodies. Kneeling is of course very Anglican – Other traditions stand to pray. Again very physical and perhaps more demanding. Until very very recently, not to adopt some bodily posture in prayer would be thought most odd. Why leave so much of yourself behind when you pray?
Our Faith is at its heart Embodied. Physical and Spiritual irrevocably woven together – put another way, it is Sacramental. And thus it cannot be disembodied. Only those who think that there are two realms, one of the Spirit an one of the body could imagine otherwise. Our bodies matter – they are the Realm of the working out of our salvation – as St Paul reminds us ‘‘do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.’ What we do with our bodies is of ultimate significance. they are no mere shells for our ‘selves’ We are our bodies, perhaps more than we are minds in that we might lose our minds yet still live, yet we have no life apart from our bodies
Thus the central outworking of our faith – Worship and Prayer must fully involve the body for us to be present – we eat bread – we drink wine – we are baptised by our bodies being immersed in water – we annoint the body with oil after baptism, for healing and in preparation for death. We stand we kneel, we turn to face the Gospel – for in this Jesus is speaking – As we enter the Holy of Holies at the Eucharist we change our dress. We HEAR the word with our ears, we respond in speech with our mouths – we SING and action which brings so much more of us bodily into the picture – the body resonates literally with the praise of God. We confess our sins OUT LOUD. This too is why marriage is a Sacrement, because it is Known in the BOdy, the two become one flesh
One of the disciplines of faith I have been teaching our Baptism class has been to read the Bible out Loud even when you are alone. One of the marks of our disembodied existance has been ‘reading in your head’ . St Augistine once found the Saintly Bishop Ambrose ‘reading without moving his lips’ and thought it so odd that he mentioned it in his writings and tried to explain this Strange behaviour. But as anyone who has ever read out loud and paid attention will note – it is a very different practise. the words are embodied they resnote – all of who we are in involved rather than the very very limited part of our neural pathways involved in reading in our head – ie to read in your head is barely to read at all – indeed such practices as research shows largely shut us down. In this increasingly virtual, unreal world there is a very real sense in which we need to get out of our heads in worship. Not in the Gnostic sense of contemporary charismatic worship wherein people are enjoined to lose sense of their bodies – this is no different to praying in the comfy chair. no we get out of our heads to get our faith into our bodies.
Today as we move through Advent in this the bicentennial year of the announcement of the Good News in these lands we remember Samuel Marsden. Here on Friday, the children from Kaikorai School re-enacted that story as a means of telling the story of Christ’s birth amongst us. Earlier this year with the other members of General Synod I was privileged to visit Oihi Bay. What struck me forcibly was the sense of exposure – of the harshness of what life must have been like for Marsden and his family. Few if any of us know what it is to live in dependence of the hospitality of others. Imagine literally coming ashore in acute dependence for your physical needs, your bodily need for safety, your bodily need for shelter, your bodily need for food and water. As we have lost sense of these needs, so our apprehension of who we are has shrivelled to a point where for all we say the Self is writ large in contemporary society, we have in effect made ourselves disappear, and where is The Good News in that? Perhaps in no small part we have lost any sense of our faith, of what the Good News is, precisely because of this bodily denial?
So John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
The people left the comfort of home to meet this strange figure in the wilderness and to be immersed in the water of the baptism of repentance
one cannot help but be struck by the sheer physicality of john the Baptist. There he is in the wilderness, the place always of God’s salvation, the place of physical dependence upon God, the place where the LORD provdes the manna, the daily bread. And dressed in what he could find – camels hair – perhaps an echoe of those skins that the LORD provided for our first parents, Adam and Eve. Living on a diet of what he could forage . . .
Mark wastes no time in announcing the content of the Good News. Mark Chpater 1 and verse 1 – The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Good News comes to us in a body, that of Jesus. The eternal word of God of which Isaiah spoke becomes FLESH. Born in humility, having family, having nowhere to lay his head, being hungry and thirsty, whipped and scourged, brutally nailed through sinew and bone to a rough wooden cross – the Sphere of our Salvation hope is indisputably the body of Jesus. As St Paul puts it when he is asked what is the message he preaches, ‘it is Jesus Christ and him crucified . . .’ The Good News is known in a body, and in that body God in Christ reconciles the world to himself. And through faith, God raises Jesus from the dead, not as a ‘spirit’ but as a living breathing, fish eating, walking talking living breathing human.
Both Isaiah and Peter speak of the transitory nature of our lives – But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. The physicality of our lives laid bare
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever. And therein lies our Great Hope – for all the frailty of our bodies, our great hope is that in the eternal Word bodily raised from the dead, we too are raised. That Christ’s triumph over death was no mere ‘vague ongoing existence’ as so many of the comfortable ‘modern’ Christians would like to think. That beyond the vagaries of mere beliefs, even our bodies are caught up in the Salvation purposes of God. So we prepare by Worshipping in our bodies, by Praying in our bodies, by fasting in our bodies, by baptising bodily,
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God . . . the word rendered comfort means better Strengthen!! Get ready – prepare yourself, body and soul for the coming of the one who Saves us, Soul and Body