Sermon - 2nd Sunday of Christmas.

Posted on the 3rd Jan 2021 in the category Resources



3 January 2021 - Sermon given at St James, Hanslope 

Lectionary: Sirach 24.1-2, 8-12; Ephesians 1.3-6, 15-18; John 1.1-18

 

Sermon

 

Dear friends: once again we have heard the profound and universal opening of the Gospel of St John. Why? Don’t we know it well enough by now? It’s as if we are being pressed to look deeper at it. We’re not being allowed to rush away from Christmas, into the New Year (as if that means anything to a Christian mind), or into the next disaster scenario that is being pumped out on the news. We’re being made to peer, to ponder, and to puzzle our way through a great mystery. Something that’s simply too big for our minds to grasp all at once. A meaning and a truth so big we can only ever get our arms round bits of it now and then.

 

1

But what the Church is asking us to do this morning, keeping us gazing at the Mother and her Divine Child, is good. Being made to stick with Christmas when the world has rushed on to the next thrilling distraction is good! Thinking on the Word becoming human flesh, being born from a virgin womb, is good! And St Augustine gives us a hint as to why.

He distinguished between two ways of celebrating an event in the story of Jesus Christ. We can do it either as as a mystery (the Latin word he uses is ‘sacramento’), or as a simple commemoration, like you would a birthday, the end of a war, or a great tragedy. To celebrate an anniversary like that, he said, we only need to mark a particular day with a solemn ceremony of some sort, on a particular day, and remember. To celebrate a mystery, though, that is a different ball-game. ‘Not only is the event commemorated, but the remembering is done a different way’ he says, ‘so that it’s significance for us is understood and received in our hearts as well as our minds.’ [Letter 55.1-2]

 

Governments and shopping malls make the mistake of thinking that Christmas is a celebration of the first sort. We’ve seen the proof! When you have to you can cancel that kind of anniversary; even bits of the Church seem to have been thinking that Christmas was cancellable in that way! But the Church knows that Christmas is a celebration of the second sort: a mystery that needs to be understood in terms of its significance for us. St Leo the Great (a contemporary of Augustine) hits the nail on the head, “Just as we have been crucified with him in his passion, been raised with him in his resurrection (which we’ll hear a good deal about later in this service) so too have we been born along with him in his Nativity.” [Leo the Great, Homily on the Feast of the Incarnation, 6.2]

 

2

What I want to highlight this morning then, is the fact that although God’s eternal wisdom and purpose is never less than for the whole creation (not just for a bit of it, or for people like us, or even just for people at all), he has consistently chosen to reveal that wise purpose through specific places and circumstances, through a particular race and people, and through actual individuals. We all owe our existence to the one Creator’s ageless plan; but the reality and the truth about him has been revealed to the world in specific, individual human lives. Individuals throughout the old testament, individuals in the circle around Mary; in Joseph; in Mary herself with such amazing consequences; and of course in the one man Jesus Christ, the one who showed us that, out of love for the whole world, God’s love for humanity extends all the way to giving up his Beloved Son to death. What it all shows us is that God wants to unite us to him, and guarantee our freedom from sin and death in a lasting love affair between the Creator and us his creatures.

 

And this is precisely what St Paul says in our second reading. He’s writing about God’s ageless plan for all creation; and then he suddenly says that he wants the Christians in Ephesus to understand what has been revealed ‘so that you may know the hope to which he has called you’, and the riches believers will inherit, and the immeasurable power available to them (Eph 1.18b-19). This is what Christians are trying to do Christmas: trying to get our heads and our arms around the hope to which he has called us! called specifically us, and the will of God for us, a hope specifically for us, which in turn will reveal God’s life and truth to others.

 

3

Which brings us to a moment concentrating on our candidates for baptism and confirmation, not to embarrass them, or to pile expectations on their personal experience today. Rather in order to remind ourselves, through them, that God continues to reveal himself, and his universal plan, through the lives of individuals, families, communities, times and places: in people in and around this community, people like us and people not very ‘like us’ at all, and he does it by bringing Jesus to birth in each one of us, and changing each of us to be like him.

 

4

There is a big bold question about Christmas that returns generation after generation among believers and in the thinking of the Church’s pastors and teachers. ‘What possible good does it do me, what difference does it make, that Jesus Christ was born of Mary once in Bethlehem, if he is not born by faith in my heart as well?’ [That’s pretty much what Origen asks, for example, in his Sermon 22. There are many more examples one could find.] Echoing this ancient question, in his Christmas message of 1962, then-pope St John XXIII, prayed these words:

 

O eternal Word of the Father, Son of God and Son of Mary, renew again today in the secret recesses of our hearts the wonderful marvel of your birth.

 

Jesus is not only born ‘for’ us, but must also be born ‘in’ us in our hearts and minds and flesh and wills. This truth is at the heart of all Jesus’s words and actions, and if we had more time we could explore it better as one of the great themes of the NT, and historic Church teaching. But we haven’t; and so if you want to see the back of this sermon you’ll just have to trust me on that one! Suffice to say that every action in this Mass is based on it that idea: our gathering, our listening to the scriptures – listening even to this sermon! – the baptisms, confirmations and the Eucharist which will follow.

 

5

The Holy Spirit invites us, this morning, if I can pick up some more words from St Augustine, to ‘return to our hearts’ [see Confessions 4.19] and in them to celebrate a more intimate and true Christmas, one that begins to make more real in your life (whether you are a new or an older believer, a lay person or a priest or a bishop) the Christmas we celebrate in rituals and tradition; one that celebrates the mystery not just the anniversary.

 

God’s Will—from the very beginning—was for his Word to grow in us. Mary assures us that that is God’s Will and Way. Jesus himself desires to be born in our hearts. It’s as if he is walking among us, going door to door, knocking, like that night in Bethlehem, in search of a heart in which he can be born spiritually.

 

If you are devout, dissatisfied with life, spurred on by inspiration, or want to put aside old faults and habits, you can conceive Christ as the Virgin Mary did. But it has to grow as flesh and blood—your flesh and blood, your thoughts and plans, your habits and service toward others—or that conception will miscarry.

 

Worse still, turning away from Christ and preferring sin or unbelief will bring any growth to an end. Such things cause, as it were, a kind of spiritual abortion, one of the countless postponements of God’s Will that litter all our lives, and are one of the main reasons so few people become saints.

 

If, like the Virgin Mary, or indeed St Joseph, you do decide to embrace the mystery, to change your lifestyle, and live by new priorities, you will of course face temptation. Either, ‘This is all too hard; you’ll never be able to do it; it will harm your reputation.’ Or ‘You deceive no one; you are a hypocrite; forget it, just be like the rest of us’. To all these temptations for the growth of Christ in us it is necessary only to respond in faith, like Mary, like Jesus, ‘Our Father: thy will be done on earth’, now, in me, for your glory, ‘as it is in heaven’.

 

Prayer

 

We fly to Thy protection,

O Holy Mother of God;

Do not reject our prayers

in our necessities,

but always deliver us 

from all dangers,

O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.

 

original Greek, 3rd century

 


Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, 3 January 2021



2021 Liturgical Calendar

Posted on the 1st Jan 2021 in the category Resources



Dear Friends

 

This Calendar sets out how I shall be celebrating the coming liturgical year, day by day.  I have been prompted to compile it because many of you have said during the pandemic that you valued the addition of a monthly calendar and daily Gospel references to the Pastoral Letters, and the sense it gives of being a daily praying community. This document (which when printed double-sided makes a small booklet to be kept with your Bible or Breviary) is intended, then, as a tool – first to help support your daily prayers, and hopefully to create a praying community alongside my prayer for you as bishop.

 

Marking the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph being declared patron of the universal church, in early December Pope Francis proclaimed a year-long celebration (from 8 Dec 2020 to 8 Dec 2021) dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.  As a foundation, I invite you to use this prayer which Pope Francis has written, either daily, or at least each Wednesday, a traditional day of prayer with St Joseph.

 

 

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary: 

to you God entrusted his only Son;

in you Mary placed her trust;

and with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life. Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.

 

 

 

+ Jonathan

Christmas 2020


2021 Liturgical Calendar



Daily Reflection - 25th December

Posted on the 25th Dec 2020 in the category Resources



Christmas Day

Sharing the Mystery of Christmas

 

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

 

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

 

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done to me according to Thy word.

 

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

 

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

 

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

 

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

 

Let us pray:

 

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that as we have known the Incarnation of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, by the message of an angel, so by His Cross and Passion we may be brought to the glory of His Resurrection; through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Read this verse – Luke 2: 8-14  [or the Dawn Gospel: Luke 2: 15-20]

 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

 


After a short meditation, say this prayer:

 

Child of Bethlehem, grant that we may share with all our hearts in this profound mystery of Christmas. Put into our hearts this peace for which we sometimes seek so desperately and which you alone can give us. Help us know one another better, and live as brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. Amen.   (Pope St John XXIII)

 


Christmas Day Reflection



Christmas Day Sermon 2020

Posted on the 25th Dec 2020 in the category Resources



Now I am one of you.

 

There is a beautiful detail in St Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus (Lk 2.7) where it is said that Mary ‘wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger’. It is the moment that every parent longs for throughout any pregnancy: seeing the face of the one who has been so intimate a part of their lives and yet until now hidden. Truth be known at every birth parents long for it and fear it. It is a moment of truth. It will be a face that will be with you a lifetime. And what mother would wrap their new-born, and recline them in even the poorest bed, without first lifting the child and taking a long and wondering look into that face, hoping for those tightly closed eyes to open? Mary was the first to see the face that would address the whole world with the word and love of God. In that moment before he was laid in the crib ‘she saw him who was the manifestation of the living God!’ (Guardini, The Rosary). Α divine mystery hidden at the heart of what is most common and concerns everyman: being born, wrapped for protection, and nursed at a mother’s breast. Mary’s knowing gaze was possible because of her faith. Because she believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. Because faith recognizes the presence of God in everyday life, especially in helplessness and vulnerability.

 

And tonight in every virus-torn nation on earth, and those few that might be free of it—among the rich, among the poorest, in hospitals, prisons and refugee camps—men and women are celebrating this birth. This Feast is always what it has always been: a great sign of the love of God in the midst of the often painful and always precarious conditions of our lives.

 

We are living through a restless and worried time when it is hard to believe in the love of God for the world. What we believe and what we experience don’t seem to fit together, and many even Christian believers are siding with the confusion and anxiety. But the face of the Incarnate God which was first revealed to Mary that night calls for our faith and trust instead, for which we need to use our hearts rather than our minds. We will need to be ready for our ideas of God, and of love, to be changed if we want to grow in faith.

 

Perhaps some of you know the astounding story of St Damian the Leper (1840-89), a Belgian priest who became a pastor and missionary isolated in a major leper colony in Hawaii in the late 19th century, before there was a known cure. One day, inadvertently putting his leg into scalding water he had no sensation, and he knew (after 11 years of priestly ministry among the lepers who lived in an atrocious condition) he too had become a leper. He is said to have begun his next sermon, ‘Now I am one of you’, and for the remaining four years of his life he addressed them, ‘we lepers’. That is not just inspiring, especially in the time of a virus which touches us all. But it is a parable of the incarnation. Jesus the Son of God, with his uplifted face, addresses us as he did his virgin mother, ‘We humans: now I am one of you.’ How could it be otherwise if God is indeed love and mercy itself?

 

Not everyone in the New Testament saw that face, and perhaps you remember Jesus’s words to Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’? But one who did see him, through eyes of faith and often through tears, St Peter, says this to us—and I leave it with you as a motto to hold onto, daily, in the coming months while we learn the unity and compassion that only God’s charity brings: ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him … you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and heavy with glory, obtaining already the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls’ (1 Pet 1.8).


Christmas Day Homily 2020



Advent Daily Reflection - Thursday 24th December

Posted on the 24th Dec 2020 in the category Resources



Christmas Eve

Jesus, our Peace

 

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

 

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

 

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done to me according to Thy word.

 

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

 

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

 

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

 

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

 

Let us pray:

 

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that as we have known the Incarnation of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, by the message of an angel, so by His Cross and Passion we may be brought to the glory of His Resurrection; through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Read this verse – Titus 3: 4-7  [or the Gospel of the day: Luke 1: 67-79]

 

But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 


After a short meditation, say this prayer:

 

O JESUS, help me to accept, with total openness of spirit, you who for love made yourself my brother. You came to bring to the world the gift of peace, which is the precious gift of Christmas. You are my true peace. You knock at my heart to grant me peace—peace of the soul. May I dedicate myself each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Amen.   (Pope Francis)


Advent Daily Reflection (24th December)



 

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