Fr. Damian concludes our incredible Maranatha journey by starting us off on a journey of our own. As the Magi bow down before Jesus, how do we learn from their time of discovery?
Over the past 41 days we’ve heard reflections from the clergy and congregation. You can find all the reflections at http://www.maranathathorpe.org and that site will remain live for the foreseeable future.
We’ve appreciated all those who have commented on this new online venture for St. Mary’s. We’d like to thank all who contributed reflections – David Howard, Jane Carter, Susi Thornton, Jane Lowe, Zac and Lara Winn-Smith, Andrew Falconer and the clergy team. Maranatha!Amen
Hello and happy new year to you all! I’m Jane Lowe and today is the Eve of Epiphany: the penultimate day of the Christmas season, and also of our Maranatha series from St. Mary’s Church Thorpe. Welcome!
In today’s Gospel reading, Luke introduces us to some new concepts that we – and Jesus’ parents for that matter — have to get our heads around. For the very first time in the story of Jesus’ life, Luke shows us not a baby but an adolescent, or budding teenager in today’s terms. A young man who does two things for the first time: He acts independently of, or perhaps even in defiance of his parents, and he speaks for himself. Can you imagine? Well, yes I’m sure you can if you have ever had teenage children, or been a teenager yourself for that matter.
Here is Luke’s story, as it appears in Chapter 2, verses 41 to 52 of the New Testament:
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.
Now, I can tell you that if I had been Jesus’ mother and had found him after three days of frantically searching, I think I would have used a bit harsher language, something like “What were you THINKING?? You scared us to death”! But I reckon Mary was able to remain relatively calm because God presented her with one of those spiritual “a ha” moments, a sudden and great revelation or realisation, an epiphany of her own. And that was that her “baby” Jesus was indeed, as promised all those years before, God’s own chosen Son, and she and Joseph were merely his earthly guardians and caretakers.
Wow! That’s quite a lesson for any parents to learn, isn’t it? That their beloved child doesn’t really belong to them, but to God. But, of course, eventually we know it’s true. As parents, we know that at some point we must “let go” of our children, in order to let them really grow and develop, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Just as Jesus must eventually move from Mary and Joseph’s home to his Father’s home, so we all, as Christians, are called to leave our comfort zones, often letting go of what is safe and familiar, and move on to a bigger place spiritually, to our Father’s place.
Leaving home does not necessarily mean leaving our physical or geographical home, though sometimes it might. It does mean examining and re-prioritising the values, beliefs and relationships that establish our identity and give our life meaning and significance. It means letting go of an identity that is limited to our biological family, community, job, or social, economic or ethnic group, and trusting that who we are is who we are in God. We may be leaving our own individual comfort zones, but we will be joining our Father’s house, where a place at the banquet table of life is always set for us.
I’d like to close with the words of Khalil Gibran, from a piece entitled “On Children”:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
The Holy Innocents are the children who were slaughtered at the orders of King Herod, in the hope that by killing every boy born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus, he would succeed in killing the new-born King of the Jews.
There was nothing about those baby boys that made them deserve death. Look at any one of them, and you can see that he had no chance to do anything, or be anyone, or become anyone. He had done nothing. He had done nothing bad, he had done nothing good. He was born, and then he died, and that was all there was to him. So passive are these babies that some people find it hard to understand how they can share the title of “martyr” with people like St Stephen (the day before yesterday), who insisted on preaching the truth until his hearers stoned him for it, or St Thomas Becket (tomorrow), who insisted on living the truth until his king had him killed because of it. These children did not insist on anything except their mothers’ milk; and unlike Stephen and Thomas, there was no voluntary act of theirs that we can see as making the difference between being martyred and not being martyred.
So in our rational human terms these children are a puzzle, and that is one reason why God has inspired the Church to celebrate this very feast – to show us how inadequate our seemingly rational, worldly-wise thoughts are. As he reminds us again and again throughout salvation history, his thoughts are not our thoughts. Babies may not rank high on the scale as far as our human calculus is concerned; but then neither do sparrows, and yet God has told us that God sees and counts every one of those.
The Holy Innocents can stand, therefore, for the “unimportant” and “unnecessary” pawns, child and adult alike, that permeate the whole of human history, the ones who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they “don’t really matter”; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette… or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God’s eyes (that is, according to the true value of things), no-one is unimportant, no-one is unnecessary, no-one “doesn’t really matter.” However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.
On a more personal level, the honour given to the Holy Innocents reminds us that if we suffer or even die for God’s sake, it has value even if we have little or no say in it ourselves. Honouring them effectively honours also the martyrdom of the people these children could have become, and their children’s children as well; and at the same time we can remember the contemporary and continuing massacre of those who die before
Refugee (Malcolm Guite)
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’
And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.
And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’
What does this passage show us?
We know that the Holy Family were refugees and life for refugees is never a comfortable and secure life….we wonder what it was like for them, were they able to meet up and have dealings with/ be looked out for by Egyptians ? We live in a world with so many refugees stuck in unsavoury camps, struggling to move into safer countries, prepared to die to get to the country of their choice. When we think of them, do we remember Jesus as a refugee and his words “what you do unto others, you do unto me.”
My family have to give thanks to those who helped us as we had to flee from Austria in 1939, those who had given information where you could get visas, gets papers stamped, a family in Finsbury Park who gave us a room. A huge struggle and trauma for my parents told not to speak German in the house. A time of not knowing what was happening to those loved ones they had left behind. But we were spared from terrors others suffered, dying, becoming slaves.
We remember that Egypt was cited in the Old Testament as a place where the people of Israel had become slaves. God used Moses as his instrument to free them and show his Love and his Power. The people Moses led out of Egypt did not fulfil God’s wishes for them, they wavered in their Faith. Was Matthew in his Gospel suggesting that Jesus coming out of Egypt was there to grow and to fulfil God’s wishes for his people like Moses? Are we able to follow Jesus, to make Love the over riding action towards God and others and not fail Him? the glamour of the crib still lights us up outside and inside St. Mary’s but soon we must acknowledge the hard work we must do to keep building our understanding of the Incarnation, honouring God’s Gift to us – Himself on earth, guiding us to the Reality of Spirit, Reverence for all beings, Reincarnation – the straight path of Faith. Richard Rohr reminds us daily in his writings that contemplation of the Divine needs also to lead to action in the World, to allow God’s Will to be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven. What is our part in this? Do we do enough?
Joseph did enough. He led his family to safety. We have heard from others about Joseph’s deeds in protecting Mary and, guided by the Angel and his dreams, keeping her secure. Joseph a caring father, wanting to keep Jesus safe; a man who obeys God and believes in his messengers, the angels. We must give Joseph thanks for what he did and for providing for them through his work as a carpenter. It was tough for him travelling long distances with a wife and baby, his best laid plans were scuppered because of the cruelty of Herod’s son. He had to re-route the map to keep safe and keep as far from Bethlehem as he could, returning perhaps unwillingly, to his hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. The reason for this may be one thing I learnt from this study – that Nazareth was a place that was badly thought of; “a place for people who were “despised and rejected ” In the new Testament Nathaneal stated “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? So early on, Jesus is associated with an area that is looked down upon. Prophecy of old told of Nazareth and this was now fulfilled when Jesus is referred to as a Nazarene.
how many of us have presumptions about people and where they come from? It is easy to lump people together rather than seeing them as individuals, each with something to offer, as Jesus taught us. This hurt is shown to us through the Black Lives Matter movement, people’s wounds are being shared. We are seeing how the covid virus is rampant in areas of poverty and overcrowding bringing this plight to public gaze. Will the homeless put up in temporary shelters because of covid, be pushed back out onto the streets?
This passage of Scripture brings us many things to pray for – for Fathers and their important role and we pray for all children who do not have a caring father but may they know that they can turn to You, O Lord.
For those struggling because they have no work and are bowed down with worries.
Our beloved Father,
look down with mercy on all refugees.
Remember your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
having to flee to Egypt when he was a baby, with his mother Mary and with Joseph.
His return journey was not straightforward but
You guided them.
Help us to be aware of the fears, anxiety, pain, sorrow, difficulties and uncertainty all refugees suffer
as they try to make a home and try to fit in……
for all worried about their livelihood and their health,
Inspire us to remember that we all belong to the same human family whatever colour, creed, status we are in the world.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.
Welcome to Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus. For over thirty days we have been reflecting on the mysteries of Advent and Christmas, Jesus amongst us.
So, how was your Christmas? Over the last few months it was increasingly clear that Christmas 2020 would be different and we’d all have to make decisions, follow guidelines and manage our expectations for the festive period. I think the clergy and leadership teams at St. Mary’s have done their best to provide an Advent and Christmas experience accessible regardless of whether you’re in church, at home or self-isolating.
In today’s Maranatha!, we see the three Kings, or Wise Men, finally reach the stable where Jesus is laying in the manger. I have asked Tony Groves to read for us.
Did you notice anything about that reading? It starts off – “and going into the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother”. I’m standing here by the outdoor crib and you can see how we depict the nativity – Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, looking a bit cold if I’m honest, the Wise Men and the Shepherds. This scene is so familiar and, I imagine most of us recognise it as a romantic interpretation of what happened – the influence of St. Francis of Assisi. As you’d expect, things didn’t necessarily happen in that way. Indeed it’s more likely that it was months or even two years after Jesus’s birth before the maji bowed down before him.
The Kings, or Wise Men, are possibly the most romantic characters in the incarnation story. We only hear about them through Matthew’s Gospel and know very little about them. Were they really Kings? Were they astronomers or thinkers? Where were they from?
And with those questions you can spend a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon reading all about how different Catholic and Orthodox traditions view them, their kingdoms on India, Saudi Arabia and Iran; how Gaspar in India later met with St. Thomas when the disciples were sent out to proclaim the good news. As I say, a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting afternoon of reading resulting in even greater romance for these characters but no real clarity.
I think the more interesting question is why Matthew records this in in Gospel. To understand that we need to remember who the Gospel was written for. Matthew was writing for a fledling Jewish Christian community – a community where that Jewish heritage was important and a lived experience but with growing recognition that Jesus is the Messiah and a fundamental change in our relationship with God has taken place.
The story of the Kings is Matthew providing even more evidence that the birth of Christ was foretold in the prophets of old: Isaiah 60:1–6, which refers to “kings coming to the brightness of your dawn” bearing “gold and frankincense”.And Psalm 72:11, “May all kings fall down before him”.
The story also hints at what is to come. Those gifts – Gold for a King, Frankincense for a Priest, Myrhh for death to come.
As the story unfolds we see that it leads to the massacre of the Innocents – something history tells us was very much in the paranoid personality of King Herod. Herod famously ordered innocent members of every family to be killed so that the whole country would share in mourning when he died. We may have questions about political leadership today and that certainly puts things into context.
But for me the story of the Kings goes beyond that. It is the story of how the first Gentiles came to know and worship God through Jesus. Remember, even Matthew is writing for an existing Jewish community – evangelism, spreading the word, was not fundamental to their faith – and yet from his very birth we see non-Jews, Gentiles, outsiders, the forgotten, the powerful and mighty all responding and bowing before him.
Christ draws everyone in, he is there for everyone. He’s not confined to a stable, or a pretty Surrey medieval church, he is the light that shines in the darkness for everyone.
Give the king by justice O God and thy righteousness to the Royal Son!
May he judge thy people with righteousness and the poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people and the hills in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the Isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is there blood in his sight. Long may he live, may gold of Sheba be given to him! Bless it be his glorious name for ever; may his glory fill the whole Earth!
Reflection: We know from Luke and Matthew the effect of the birth on the representatives of ordinary Jewish folk and on the Wise Men. How might the movement of the birth of the Word-made-flesh have seemed or been recalled, say, by Joseph? After all, it was a new beginning; things had changed. It was evidence of a new creation.
“Now I, Joseph, was walking, yet I walked not. I looked up into the air and gazed in amazement.
And I looked up onto the pole of heaven and saw it standing still, and saw that the birds of heaven were without motion.
And I looked upon the Earth and I saw a bowl set, and workmen lying beside it with their hands in the bowl: and those who were chewing, chewed not, and those who were lifting the food, lifted not, and those who put it into their mouths, but it not thereto.
But the faces of all of them were looking upward.
And behold, there were sheep being driven, and they went not forward but stood still. And the Shepherd lifted his hand to urge them with his staff, and his hand remained there.
And I looked upon the stream of the river, and saw the mouths of the kids upon the water and they drank not.
…. And all of a sudden, all things moved onwards in their natural course.”
Occasionally, very occasionally, we can get such moments to when time itself, the sacrosanct ticking of Nature’s clock, seems to stop briefly, bringing a stark and intensely sharp focus to some event or memory.
Some years ago, I was privileged to be part of a UK scientist team visiting CERN in Geneva the week before the Atlas machine on the underground particle accelerator ring was turned on for experiments to begin.
After the introduction, I asked the lead physicist “What are you looking for?”.
He said “To recreate what we can of the Big Bang, so we go back to a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang itself in our experiments.”
“Why not all the way back?”, I asked.
“Because,” he said, “that is the realm of theology.”
In terms of the current understanding of physics, the Big Bang cannot be explained because it is an infinitely high pulse of energy delivered in an infinitesimally short interval of time. This is a physical impossibility for humans to create … that is why it is the realm of theology.
Verses from Psalm 72
Give the King thy judgements O God. And the righteousness unto the King’s Son.
Then shall he judge thy people according unto right. And defend the poor.
The mountains also shall bring peace. And the little hills righteousness unto the people.