The God of new beginnings

Taken from The Irish Times Saturday 9th January 2020 from Thinking Anew by Gordon Linney

As we take one last backward glance at Christmas, mingled with our disappointments is the hope that next year’s festival will literally be “business as usual”.

The year ended has been difficult and remains so for those whose livelihoods have been affected and especially those with families to provide for and mortgages or rents to cover.

Much attention has been given to the needs of those of us who are older, and that is appreciated, but there needs to be a watchfulness for others who are knee deep in anxiety about the future.

We often complain about the hustle and bustle of the traditional Christmas season, with some especially concerned at the commercialisation of what is essentilly a religious festival.

This year reminds us that it is all part of a piece where people find meaning and blessing at different levels.

The onetime Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Robert Runcie knew that when he wrote, “I am frankly rather tired of the tendency of Christians to berate the world for its commercialism and lack of appreciation of what the Feast of Christmas is all about. You know the sort of thing I mean. It’s those sermons and parish magazine articles, read curiously by only the most devout, in which Christmas trees are dismissed as pagan cult objects; it’s the obsessiveness which bans the singing of any carols before Christmas Eve; it’s the encouragement to Christians to challenge the surrounding culture with the ‘real message’ of Christmas. My point is not that we should lose the significance and distinctiveness of the Christian calendar but rejoice at the ‘rumours of God’ which are stirred in the spirits of all people at such times.”

Let there by light’

The Genesis account of creation reminds us of the God of new beginnings who replaces darkness with light. “Then God said; ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

The reading from St Mark’s Gospel chapter one describes the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. It’s another new beginning but note the starting point in this the earliest of the four gospels. There is no reference to a stable, to shepherds or wisemen or any of the other details we tend to focus on at Christmas.

Instead, Mark introduces us to the adult Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us who accompanies us on our life’s journey through “all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy”.

And we are reminded in this season of Epiphany that this is a promise to all people for all time which helps us to face the future with hope, no matter how bleak things may seem right now.

Last August, a large part of Beirut, the capital of Lebanan, was destroyed by a massive explosion which killed 204 people and injured over 7,500. It left over a quarter of a million people homeless.

A local artist, Hayat Nazer, said the damage to her city and loss of life, including friends broke her heart.

Unite and rebuild

However, along with other residents, she joined efforts to clear the debris from the streets and so restore the city.

As she did this, she got an idea to use some of the debris to create a statue that would inspire people to unite and rebuild.

She collected broken glass and twisted materials that belonged to people’s homes before the explosion to create a statue of a woman raising Lebanon’s flag, her hair and dress flowing in the wind, symbolising the city’s hopes of rising from the rubble and a new beginning.

Hayat Nazer reminds us that God uses ordinary people to be signs of his promise of renewal and restoration. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland! (Isaiah 43).

Editor: to all my readers – God bless you and may you notice that he is travelling all the time with you during 2021

A reading from the Sermons of St Peter Chrysologus

He who willed to be born for us, was unwilling that we should be ignorant of him.

The distinguishing marks of the Godhead were always clearly present in the very mystery of the Lord’s incarnation. But today’s feast (Epiphany) especially shows and reveals that God came into a human body so that mortal man, who is continually in confusion and darkness, should not lose through ignorance what he merited to have and possess through grace alone.

He who willed to be born for us, was unwilling that we should be ignorant of him. Hence, he chose this way of revelation so that the great mystery of love would not become the occasion of a great mistake.

Today the Magus, the wise man, finds weeping in a crib him whom he sought for shining in the stars. Today the wise man reveres clearly revealed in swaddling clothes him whom he had long patiently awaited unseen in the heavens.

Today the wise man ponders in profound amazement over what he sees there: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, and him whom the whole universe cannot contain, confined in a tiny body. And immediately on seeing, he professes with mystical gifts that he believes and does not argue: he acknowledges God with frankincense, the King with gold, with myrrh the mortal one destined to die.

So it is that the Gentile, who was last, has become first: for then the belief of the nations began from the faith of the Magi.

Today Christ entered the riverbed of the Jordan, to wash away the world’s sin. John himself bears witness that he came for this: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.’ ‘Today the servant holds the Lord, man holds God, John holds Christ: holds him, as about to receive, not to grant forgiveness..

Today as the prophet says: ‘The Lord’s voice’ is ‘on the waters’. What voice? ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ‘

Today the Holy Spirit floats over the waters in the form of a dove, so that by this sign it might be known that the world’s universal shipwreck has ceased, as the dove had announced to Noah that the world’s flood had subsided. Nor does this dove carry a branch of the old olive, but it pours the whole richness of the olive on the head of the author of the new anointing, in order to fulfill what the prophet foretold: ‘Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the old of gladness above other kings.’

Today Christ gives the beginnings of the signs from heaven, when he changes water into wine. But water was to be changed into the mystery of the blood, so that Christ, from the goblet of his Body, might give pure draughts to those who drink, to fulfill that saying of the prophet: ‘My chalice which inebriates me, how good it is.’

Reader, this is a wonderful reading from the Office of Readings. The Office of Readings contains such treasures. Editor

The Birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace

A reading from a Sermon by pope St. Leo the Great

The infancy which the Son of God did not think beneath his glory, grew over the years to mature manhood. When the triumph of his passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased. However the feast of Christmas renews for us the holy infancy of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. And as we adore the birth of our Saviour we find that we are celebrating our own beginnings.

For the birth of Christ is the origin of the people of Christ, and the birthday of the head is the birthday of the body.

It is true that each of those who are called is allotted a particular place, and that all the children of the Church are separated from each other by intervals of time. However, just as all the faithful together, born of the waters of baptism, are cruified with Christ in his passion, raised with him in his resurrection and given a place with him at the Father’s right hand in his ascension, so to, with him they are born in this his birth.

Throughout the world, everyone of the faithful is reborn in Christ, and leaving the path of his old origins passes by rebirth into a new person. No longer is he reckoned among his human father’s stock but among the seed of the Saviour, who became the Son of man in order that we might have the power to be the children of God.

If he had not come down to us by this humility, no one could have come to him by any merits of his own.

Hence the very greatness of the gift conferred demands of us reverence worthy of its splendour. As the blessed Apostle teachers, ‘we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.’ He can in no other way be rightly worshipped, except by offering him what he himself bestowed on us.

But, in the treasury of the Lord’s generosity what can we find more suitable to honour the present feast than the peace first proclaimed by the angels’ chorus at the Lord’s nativity.

Peace it is that gives birth to the sons of God. Peace is the nurse of love, the mother of unity, the repose of the blessed, and our eternal home. The real work and special blessing of peace is to join to God those whom it sets apart from the world.

Let those then who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God, offer to the Father the oneness of heart of peace-loving children. Let all the members of adoption come together in the first-born of the new creation, who came to do not his own will but the will of him who sent him. The grace of the Father has not adopted as his heirs those who are divided among themselves and at odds with each other, but those who are one in mind and heart. Remodelled according to the one image, they should have a spirit in conformity with it.

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace. As the Apostle says, ‘He is our peace, who made us both one.’ For, whether we be Jew or Gentile, ‘through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father’.

The birthday of Jesus is our birthday too. Happy birthday to us and may we grow into Christ as we live each day on earth and be well and truly united to him when we pass out of this world into the next. Editor