Friday, December 25, 2020

Light and Hope

 Throughout Advent each week we have reflected on the readings from the Sunday mass using a combination of words to be our guide. In Week 1 we chose creation and awakening, Week 2 we considered consolation and beginning, Week 3 proclamation and prophecy and for Week 4 we reflected on continuity and annunciation. As we now celebrate the great feast of the incarnation we can truly sum up all of those thoughts and images that these last four week have evoked and meld them together to provide us with a true summation of what is what we believe our faith in Jesus Christ offers: Light and Hope.

We have over the last nine months lived through a terrible time. Our lives and the pattern of our living have been radically changed. People have suffered so many hardships from loss of job and livelihood to loss of loved ones and the probability is that even with the roll out of the vaccine, our present situation will remain for some time to come. Isolation and loneliness, depravation and hardship will not be easily overcome. How do we use this feast of the incarnation to bring light and hope into our lives and into the lives of those around us? It is not an easy question to answer and yet for our faith to have relevance and meaning in and for our communities, we must look to provide both the practical and the spiritual tools to enable people to carry and to ultimately overcome the burdens which so many are having to bear.

Light and hope may on the surface seem unlikely candidates for the task, and without applying them in a really active way, then yes I would agree. But we know that light and hope walk hand in hand when they are put to work. We know that light and hope when made to compliment each other, actually enhance the qualities that they both convey into something much more. Light and hope can be the two sides of a coin that when tossed always responds with something positive so that whichever way it falls we win. So our attitude to what lies ahead must be shaped by our taking hold of the light and enabling it to shine forwards in hope of the better future we pray for. 

The Christmas story takes light and hope and fashions them into a message that truly resonates in these difficult days. Not in a fanciful or superficial way but by placing them into the very midst of our concerns and fears and in doing so it reveals an essential quality about ourselves as human beings.  That in the depth of our hardship we have been provided with an assurance that each of us is personally loved, uniquely and individually and that the child in the manger is the personification of this love. It is this quintessential reality which shines forth from the crib and nestles in each of our hearts, to enkindle our hope so that we grow in love, to share it and to make it the motivation for what we do. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that this light and hope is made visible.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...a light that the darkness could not overcome...the Word was made flesh and lived among...full of grace and truth...from his fulness we have received love in return for love. 

This love is our light and are hope. Let us start putting it to work.

Happy Christmas


Friday, December 18, 2020

Continuity and Annunciation

With the Fourth Sunday of Advent we have now entered the countdown to Christmas. The pre-octave began on the 17 December and the gospel readings at mass for these seven days to the 24 December will wend their way through the familiar story which Matthew and Luke unfold for us. All our preparation has been leading us to this climax which the incarnation signifies. Our two words for this week - continuity and annunciation - align our thoughts with a sense of history and the past, alongside an anticipation of the future and of what is to come.

The reaching back into the past is palpable, and both Matthew and Luke in their gospels make this connection. The first reading from Samuel relates the story of King David and of his desire to provide a worthy and dignified home for the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel in which the tablets of stone inscribed with the words of the decalogue were stored. Nathan the prophet tells David that God himself will make of him a house. A house that will be one which will stand in perpetuity, and that David and his lineage will become the father of a great dynasty by which the faithful love of God for his people will endure for ever. 

In their telling of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, the central emphasis of the message delivered to Joseph in Matthew and to Mary in Luke is that the child who is to be born, will be of Davidic lineage. Indeed, Gabriel spells this our clearly in his words to Mary - the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David…and his reign will have no end. The reality of this moment for us all is momentous.

Understanding the continuity of what we proclaim, that the message of love that flows from the encounter between heaven and earth in the exchange between Mary and the angel, is essential. Mary's response to the angel, made in freedom and trust, establishes the point at which the reconciling event in the history of humanity is affirmed. The love of God for his people enunciated by words inscribed in stone within the Ark of the Covenant is now to become the spoken word made flesh carried by Mary. Such is the magnitude of this moment that Luke once more frames Mary's response in her Magnificat as in continuity with the Song of Hannah in the Old Testament. It is a deep and powerful connection of the action of God in time, towards our human condition.  

Let us pick up on this continuity and continue to announce it with boldness for generations to come.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Proclamation and Prophecy

These are our two words which inform our understanding of this weeks readings. It is of course ‘Gaudete’ Sunday, the moment in Advent when the vestments turn rose and our thoughts are lifted towards the vision of the great and momentous events that are about to unfold. Events which demand of themselves an outpouring of joy that is exemplified by our desire to proclaim the message of Christ’s coming as part of the prophetic mission which have all been given.mission.

The passage from Isaiah is taken from the closing chapters of his book. It describes a moment of joy in that the exile is over and the people are returning home. There can be no doubt that this proclamation, this prophetic vision is one which overwhelms Isaiah. He cannot restrain himself as the words seem to tumble out as if a great dam has been breached and his words, like water cascade forth.  The joy, the sheer exuberance are palpable and he acknowledges that it is the spirit of the Lord which is the springboard and fountain head of all that he proclaims. What an amazing experience it must have been for him, feeling the presence of God so close he was literally unable to contain his joy at what he was feeling. 

The mood in the gospel is perhaps not quite as abundant as in Isaiah, but it does nevertheless contain within its message the call to us all, to take up the challenge of what it means to act and live the prophetic life. John the Baptists is being questioned - you may say is being interrogated in a not all together friendly way, and yet he is resolved to be steadfast in his convictions. He knows who he is and he knows that his role is to proclaim the one who is to come. This is what gives him his mission and he accepts it with total belief.  

So we have our mission, our task. Each one of us, through our baptism is given the gifts which our own anointing with the Spirits endows us. Proclamation and Prophecy are not mere add-ons to our faith but are the very life blood of our living the Christian way. The path we have chosen to walk is one which follows Jesus’ way. It is a path of great expectant joy even though we know that it will be hard and contain may unexpected and unprepared for challenges. But these are overcome because we know the end to which our faith leads us. This is why we live with the joy of the gospel in our hearts. It is why we must sense that same feeling that Isaiah felt and why we must nurture the same convictions that St John the Baptist had. They are the means through which our witness becomes a joyful and prophetic proclamation.

Have a happy, joyous Gaudete!!  

Monday, December 7, 2020

2nd Sunday of Advent : Consolation and Beginning

These are our two words for this second week of Advent. In the First Reading from todays Mass, the prophet Isaiah cries out with a heartfelt plea from God Console my people, console them – speak to the heart of Jerusalem”. They are words which I am sure find a resonance with so many families today who in the midst of this terrible pandemic, are feeling bereft at the loss of a loved one. In these very trying times we need these words to speak to the heart of every city, in every community, so all people can be consoled and feel the value of every life as one to be treasured. In the time of Isaiah back in the 6th century BC, when these words were first written, Jerusalem has been overwhelmed and the city destroyed, the people taken and led off in exile to Babylon. Such was their desperation that Isaiah the prophet, understood and proclaimed in this moment of desolation, that the message needed to be heard was one of hope for the future, a future which itself would grow out of a consoling love expressed and exhibited from the outset of the disaster that had befallen the city and its people. It is with soaring poetry and visionary imagination that Isaiah evokes the voice of God which cries out: Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord” so that in preparation for this moment, consolation will be an active and transparent reality in the shepherding and feeding of the flock .

They are words which echo down the ages, and they are heard once more by another people, another com- munity who are being overwhelmed and persecuted. As their consolation, they read and hear these words written down for their time : The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The opening lines of Marks gospel, our gospel text for today, were written for a small group of Christians in the Imperial Capital of Rome, who were being sought out and tormented for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. As consolation, Mark quotes the passage from Isaiah as the very text which he feels will help them to face up to the traumas they are going through. A text that Mark now sees as having been fulfilled by the coming of Christ, through his passion and resurrection. It is a compelling way to begin his gospel message of joy and good news. A pathway which evokes a hope of a new exodus that is about to begin.

As we journey through Advent, our hope likewise is enwrapped in this expectation. The message of the gospel and the call of Isaiah still speak to our time and to our situation as we face and deal with this pan- demic. How are we to face up to the task? Remember how Isaiah phrased it: He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading them to rest... It is personified in the one whom John the Baptist speaks of. The one who will baptise us with the Holy Spirit, and in the name of that Holy Spirit teach us to perform such loving acts of consolation within our commu- nities. Let them be the fuel that kindles the flames of love to inspire us this Advent. Let it be a beginning

Deacon Anthony