Speak Lord: Keep us safe

dsc00476-magi

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

Matthew 2:1-12

Sunday is the feast of the Epiphany. This year, the feast falls on the last but one day of the Christmas Season. (The season itself ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated this year on Monday 9th January).

The feast celebrates the coming of the Magi, an episode told by Matthew and which symbolises the revelation of the Incarnation to the Gentiles. The particular story of evangelisation beyond Israel and its people begins here.

It is a story of events already stained and soiled by the murderous intent of king Herod – who was of Jewish stock from his mother’s side and raised as a Jew. but whose life style betrays the promise of that heritage.

The problem of evil and resistance to God’s gift of his Son, his life and his love, is set to the fore of the Christmas story. The gifts of the Magi acknowledge God’s power and glory manifest in the child, and anticipate his Passion.

The Magi, as Joseph and his family, are kept safe by the promptings of God disclosed in the whispers of dreams.

  • Where do you find you best hear the voice of God addressed to you
  • Where do you best hear his calls to keep you safe?

Visit of the Magi, St Peter the Apostle, Leamington Spa. (C) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: our delight

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Today a saviour has been born to us: he is Christ the Lord.

O sing a new song to the Lord,
sing to the Lord all the earth.
O sing to the Lord, bless his name.

Today a saviour has been born to us: he is Christ the Lord.

Proclaim his help day by day,
tell among the nations his glory
and his wonders among all the peoples.

Today a saviour has been born to us: he is Christ the Lord.

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad,
let the sea and all within it thunder praise,
let the land and all it bears rejoice,
all the trees of the wood shout for joy
at the presence of the Lord for he comes,
he comes to rule the earth.

Today a saviour has been born to us: he is Christ the Lord.

With justice he will rule the world,
he will judge the peoples with his truth.

Today a saviour has been born to us: he is Christ the Lord.

Psalm 95:1-3,11-13

In just a few hours time, as sunsets, Christmas Day begins and the Church begins her celebrations of Christ’s birth, and at Mass tonight sings the psalm above.

The Christmas feast loom large in our lives. It bears all sorts of significances for us, carries all sorts of memories and associations.

  • For what, tonight, will you rejoice and give thanks?.
  • What will you mourn?
  • And for what will you hope and pray?

Christ child. St Catherine’s church, Bethlehem. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: welcome…

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Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.

The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,
the world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;
on the waters he made it firm.

Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things.

Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.

He shall receive blessings from the Lord
and reward from the God who saves him.
Such are the men who seek him,
seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.

Psalm 23:1-6

The Responsorial Psalm at Mass tomorrow, the 4th Sunday of Advent, is a psalm that was perhaps first used to remember David’s bringing the ark of the covenant into the temple; to pray God into the Temple. The song celebrates divine presence, and urges us to holiness.

Christians sing this psalm in our preparation for Christmas, for celebrating the Lord’s entry into a union with us through our human nature, in us a fallen nature, but in him with all its potential achieved. We celebrate not a Temple of stones to which people go to worship but a Temple that is community of living stones – where worship is given, above all, through our daily faithful living enfleshing the love of God for us and all.

The door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, famously, is mostly bricked in – by tradition to stop people riding in on horseback. We now have to stoop to enter the church, where God humbled himself to enter into irrevocable union with humankind.

May we enter: for the Lord of glory welcomes us…

Entrance to Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: that we might find you.

Arles Nativity

The Gospel reading for Sunday – the second Sunday of Christmas, and the feast of the Epiphany – comes from Matthew and tells of the wise men’s search for, and finding, of the infant king of the Jews.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’

When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

Matthew 2:1-12

Wise men travelled from the East, following a star, to know and honour Jesus.

  • What helps lead us closer to him?
  • What helps us to know him?

Detail showing the Nativity and wise men from Sarcophagus in collection of the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Learning to be a child of God

Jesus in the Temple, Apparitions Hill

Perhaps our thoughts are very much focussed on the celebration of Christmas Day, but the season of Christmas begins also, and its first Sunday is close at hand.

The first Sunday of Christmas is kept as a feast of the Holy Family.

The Gospel on Sunday comes from Luke’s Gospel, and the Babe of Bethlehem is growing up:

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

Luke 2:41-52

It is only Luke, and only in this story, who tells us anything of Jesus’ early years and Mark tells us nothing at all of the time before that public life. The focus of the Gospels is on the events and teaching of his public ministry.

And yet childhood, spiritual childhood, is a prominent theme in that ministry, highlighted (even) in Mark. The spirituality of childhood is focussed on directness, and simplicity and dependence, on qualities that engender love, trust, service.

Christmas comes to draw us into a deeper sharing in those qualities. God becomes a child to restore us to our better selves.

Image of the child Jesus in the Temple. Hill of Apparitions, Medjugorje. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: The call to pilgrimage

Bethlehem icon

After the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass on Sunday the Church prayed:

Having received this pledge of eternal redemption,
we pray, almighty God,
that, as the feast day of our salvation draws ever nearer,
so we may press forward all the more eagerly
to the worthy celebration of the mystery of your Son’s Nativity.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Prayer after Communion

The icon above, stands above the traditional place of Jesus birth, in a cave beneath the 6th C Justinian basilica built to replace the earlier Constantinian basilica which was lost to fire. The basilica and its cave are among the most ancient Christian places of pilgrimage.

It depicts saints and angels who are connected with Bethlehem and who journeyed there in devotion to Jesus Christ, in thanksgiving for God’s taking flesh for our salvation.

Sunday’s prayer engages with the matter of our pilgrimage in life, asking that we ourselves might press forward, journeying not to a holy place, but to a holy state in life.

  • What would make our celebration more worthy? How might we achieve that?
  • How might we more deeply integrate that quality into our daily life?

Icon, Bethlehem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Promised newness.

The Wall

The first reading on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, spoke of Bethlehem as source for the leadership that would reunite the children of God. Micah speaks of Israel re-united, Isaiah of the human family.

In our days for all that we are preparing to celebrate the birth of that leader some 2000 years ago, the human family is proving might resistant to being reunited, re-formed, reconciled. Again and again its various members show themselves to be at odds with each other, and traduce the better values of revealed religion (and philosophical/cultural humanism at its best).

We need to grow and change. The prophesy still stands: God waits for our response.

The Lord says this:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
the least of the clans of Judah,
out of you will be born for me
the one who is to rule over Israel;
his origin goes back to the distant past,
to the days of old.
The Lord is therefore going to abandon them
till the time when she who is to give birth gives birth.
Then the remnant of his brothers will come back
to the sons of Israel.
He will stand and feed his flock
with the power of the Lord,
with the majesty of the name of his God.
They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power
to the ends of the land.
He himself will be peace.

Micah 5:1-4

  • What reconciliation is needed in your self and your family and friends? How might you work for it, as a Christmas gift to your circle?
  • What reconciliation is needed in your broader community? How might you work for it, as a Christmas gift to society?
  • What reconciliation is needed in the Church? How might you play your part in order that all might better respond to Jesus’ call that we might be one?

The Wall. Israel. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: The promise of newness and peace

Evangelist in Grey GoncharovaThe first reading at Mass today prepares us for the Gospel reading of the Visitation, and for the celebration of Christmas. This is the season of the Joyful Mysteries!

The Lord says this:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
the least of the clans of Judah,
out of you will be born for me
the one who is to rule over Israel;
his origin goes back to the distant past,
to the days of old.
The Lord is therefore going to abandon them
till the time when she who is to give birth gives birth.
Then the remnant of his brothers will come back
to the sons of Israel.
He will stand and feed his flock
with the power of the Lord,
with the majesty of the name of his God.
They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power
to the ends of the land.
He himself will be peace.

Micah 5:1-4

Micah speaks of a time for being lost and a time for being found, a time of sterility and alienation and a time of restoration and fruitfulness.

The time of newness is amply realised in Mary and Elizabeth.

It is also something offered to us all. We too are invited to give ourselves over to the ‘work’ of bearing the fruitfulness of God’s grace in our bodies, in our lives and our relationships with others.

And in our openness to his will for us, the world is refashioned and achieves its potential. The rest and peace of God’s shalom is once more to be enjoyed in this world.

Evangelist in Grey. Natalia Goncharova. Russian Museum. St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: This matters… it really matters.

Altar Bethlehem

The Collect on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, acknowledged the joy of the Sunday, Gaudete Sunday. It also reminded that this joy is not a frivolous joy: it is joy generated by the gift of life, hard won for us by Christ.

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Rejoicing and solemnity do not always go together well. But in our best Christmas carols the wonder and joy at the birth of Christ is tempered by the memory of the sacrifice that he offers. A sacrifice we welcome, but a sacrifice won at such agony by the loving Lord.

  • What place does reality have in your preparation for Christmas? Your looking forward to the New Year?
  • Bring your hopes and fears to the Lord in prayer.

Altar over the place of the Nativity. Bethlehem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: First fruits of the Kingdom

Bethlehem mosiacThe responsorial psalm on Sunday last, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of fruits of God’s love.

In the psalm we rejoice in the goodness that is offered to us for our flourishing.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free,

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
Zion’s God, from age to age.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

Psalm 145:6-10

The goodness of God is not measured in things – though surely the hungry will be grateful for bread! It is demonstrated in actions – feeding, setting free, restoring sight, raising up, protection and so on. It is love, love in action.

The same action is called for from us – living lives of love: love being our first nature, should we only be able to access it. The Lord’s love for us helps set us free, helps heal us of our blocks, scars and fears.

  • How has love changed you?
  • How might you love to enrich the lives of those around you today?
  • And tomorrow?

Mosiac from the ancient Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.