A message from Fr. Chris as we celebrate Christmas...
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On Wednesday 20th December at 6.30pm, St Cross will hold a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The purpose of this service is to draw out the message of Christmas through the gradual revelation of God’s redemptive plan for the world as it is testified to throughout the Bible. The following Christmas reflection is based on the traditional readings taken from this service which are traditionally recited in the ‘old’ language of the King James version of the Bible. Those readings are taken from:
Genesis 3: 8–15; 17–19 Genesis 22: 15–18 Isaiah 9: 2; 6–7 Isaiah 11: 1–3a; 4a; 6–9 Luke 1: 26–35; 38 Luke 2: 1; 3–7 Luke 2: 8–16 Matthew 2: 1–12 Gospel of John 1: 1–14
The first lesson picks up where Adam and Eve receive God’s judgement upon them for disobeying him. Adam now must work hard and struggle in taking care of the land for food. Eve will have pain in giving birth to her children and they are both banished from the beautiful Garden of Eden where they have been happy and known God’s presence. This is the story of how sin and evil came into the world, how it damages and destroys it why human life is as it is today instead of being a perfect world, a paradise. The point of starting the readings with this one about Adam and Eve is to prepare us to understand that God sent his own Son Jesus into the world to undo the separation between human beings and God brought about by sin. Through Jesus there is a way back to a perfect relationship with God.
In the second reading we hear about the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. In contrast to Adam, Abraham is faithful to God in all things and he is even prepared to sacrifice the son he had waited so long for. In providing a ram for the sacrifice God honors the faith of Abraham and he is promised the very things which were lost in Eden. This reading is chosen because it foreshadows what God will do in sending Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice for evil and sin so that human beings can again be in right relationship with God, each other and creation.
In the third reading, the prophet Isaiah foretells of what was implied in the second reading, God’s redemptive plan through the coming into the world of a son.
As in the previous reading, the fourth reading, taken from the prophet Isaiah imagines God’s son as having all of the gifts of the Spirit needed to restore to the world the justice, equality and peace which were lost at the Fall. This passage is chosen as a description of the world Jesus makes possible, if we believe in him and live according to God’s will.
Having prepared us to hear about Jesus’ birth, the fifth reading describes how the Virgin Mary was chosen to be Jesus’ mother. Mary asks how this is supposed to happen since she is a virgin, but the angel says that God will make it possible. Mary must still agree, however. Mary obeys what God asks of her and she names the child Jesus. We hear also in this reading how Jesus is to be given the ‘throne of David’. Through Mary, Jesus is a direct descendent of King David and this gives him the right to ascend the throne of the Kingdom of God and rule God’s kingdom forever.
The sixth lesson tells us about the actual birth of Jesus. St Luke sets the birth in the middle of a census, explaining how Jesus ended up being born in Bethlehem, the City of David. Joseph takes his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem to comply with the Roman Emperor’s ruling and during this process Mary goes into labour and gives birth to Jesus. Because of the large numbers of people coming to the town obeying the order, the inns are full and so Mary must give birth in a stable and Jesus is wrapped up and placed to sleep in a feeding trough for the animals. The Son of God is born, not to riches and honour, but into poverty and squalor.
Lesson seven tells us that the shepherds are the first to hear about the birth of God’s son. They are eager to embrace the good news and they hurry to find Jesus and they glorify and praise God. In choosing the Bethlehem shepherds to receive the glorious angelic announcement of the birth of Christ, we learn that the birth of Christ is good news for ordinary people. And again we can see a foreshadowing of Jesus' sacrificial death as it was the Bethlehem shepherds who raised the sheep offered as sacrifices at Passover.
Lesson eight is taken from the gospel of Matthew. Here we are told about a different group of people who hear the good news of Jesus’ birth. These are wise men, probably foreign star-watchers, who looked for signs in the night sky. They were following a star in the night sky which they understood to be a sign of the birth of a king. Worried for his own position, Herod is upset by this news, and on the pretext of wanting to worship the new king himself, he enquires as to where this ‘king’ is to be born. The wise men, like the shepherds, find Jesus, and offer him symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh, which stand for kingship, holiness and sacrifice. When the holy family leave, they are warned that they should not go back to Herod and so they go home by another route. The nine lessons end with the most beautiful and difficult of all the readings about the coming of Jesus into the world. This time the passage comes from the opening of St John’s gospel. St John does not tell us about Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Instead we are given a kind of God’s eye view of the ‘Incarnation’, of God becoming a human being in the person of Jesus. We are told that Jesus was with God through all eternity and that He is the one with the creative power of God which brought everything in the universe into being. John also tells us that Jesus is the light of God, lighting up the truth and getting rid of the darkness of ignorance and wrongdoing. But despite this there are those who do not recognise and believe this. Those who do believe and become his disciples, find a way to be reconciled with God and ‘born again’ as children of God. This passage then summarizes the gospel, the good news of who Jesus is, and it does so in a way that asks us to decide what we too believe about who Jesus is.
Taken together, the readings offer us a vision of what God has done to save his people; a story about how God asks a particular woman to be part of his plan to bring salvation to the world; a story about a birth, not into riches, but poverty; witnesses who find a baby in a manger; a background of fear and suspicion that the child is a usurper and will bring revolution; and finally, a promise that those who know Jesus and live alongside him, are completely sure beyond doubt that Jesus was God born as a human being, come to save his people in person, will be brought to eternal life with God, as God intended from the beginning.
We will celebrate the First Mass of Christmas at 8pm on Christmas Eve and our Christmas Day Service will begin at the earlier time of 10am. I wish you all a blessed and peaceful Christmas, Fr Chris