Although each of the five stories that St Matthew tells in the beginning of his Gospel about the birth of Jesus ends with a statement such as “this occurred so that words spoken by the prophet may be fulfilled,” the final line of the Gospel tonight, that Jesus “will be called a Nazarene” does not actually occur anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures; the town of Nazareth (or Nazara or Nazaret) is likewise not found anywhere in the Old Testament. Which present scholars across the centuries with a dilemma. Some have suggested that Matthew has access to a prophetic book or writing which did not actually get included in the canon of the Christian scriptures – a canon that was not settled at the time of the writing of the Gospels. Nevertheless, it is clear that Matthew saw in the birth of Jesus this powerful sign of the fulfillment of the scriptures, and there is something about the person of Joseph that particularly captures him. Even though the Gospels record no words that Joseph spoke, there is enough spoken about him to create at least a partial character study of this righteous and just man of God, who became the adopted father of Jesus and the protector of the holy family.
Recorded at St Paul’s (7’00”)
Feast of the Holy Family, Year A.
In the middle of the year I was travelling through South America with a group of young pilgrims from the Diocese towards World Youth Day. While everything on the trip started off really well, by the time we arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the weather had really turned against us and the rain started pouring down. Many events were affected by the rain, but the main casualty was the venue for the final Vigil and Mass which was flooded out so badly that alligators began to roam freely over this area of reclaimed swamp. Probably not the most ideal venue for a sleep-out with several million young people. Alas, the famous Copacabana Beach had to be used instead! In reaction, when Pope Francis welcomed the young people, he did not complain or lament about the weather and its consequences. Instead he said “I expect a messy World Youth Day. But I want things messy and stirred up in the congregations. I want you to take to the streets. I want the church to take to the streets.” When you look at the nativity scene with these messy eyes, many things begin to reveal themselves.
Recorded at Midnight Mass, St Paul’s Camden (8’45”)
Christmas – Midnight
Earlier in the evening, I made a time lapse video of the outdoor Vigil Mass (while I celebrated Mass at St Mary’s in Leppington!):
As Christians, we can take for granted the possibility of knowing Jesus, the son of God, as a human baby. In fact this is an absolutely radical idea. If you were a Jew living in the years before the birth of Jesus, there would be many things that you could know about God. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is a creator, who brings order out of chaos. This God begins to reveal something of himself through the visions and appearances (usually described as being through the mediation of a messenger or angel) whereby he calls certain people into relationship with himself through covenants. He is known as God almighty, as the all-powerful one. To Abraham he is the one who calls him to leave his own country to journey to a land that he will show him. To Moses he reveals his divine name as ‘I am who I am.’ Very helpful. He begins to extend the covenant relationship from an individual, to a family, to a tribe and finally to a whole nation and people. But all through this journey, God remains somewhat functional. He is so holy and so utterly other, that the people generally are afraid of God. If God ever appears, it seems that the first thing that needs to be said is “do not be afraid!” Moses tries to experience the glory of God one day, but he is rebuffed by God, who offers him only to be placed in the cleft of a nearby rocky-cliff and to be covered by the hand of God while the glory of the Lord passes by. Only after God has passed by will God remove his hand so that Moses is able to see the place where God was. Read the story in Exodus 33.
It is little wonder that King Ahaz in our first reading, while feigning piety, will rebuff the Lord’s invitation to ask a sign of the Lord. He knows that no one is able to see the face of God and live. Perhaps this is an appropriate response of such a wicked King, who we discover in I Kings 16 did not follow in the ways of his father King David. Ahaz engaged in human sacrifice – even of his own son – and set up a pagan altar in the temple. Perhaps he also doesn’t think that he needs a sign from the Lord, since he has just entered into a deal with the Assyrians which included offering them sacred treasures from temple to help him in his fight with Syria. Nevertheless, the prophet Isaiah receives a sign that is in part fulfilled with the birth of the son of Ahaz, Hezekiah, but which St Matthew knows is only more perfectly fulfilled with the birth of the true Messiah, the new Joshua/Yeshua who allows the people to finally be in relationship – not with only a concept or an object any longer, but finally with a person.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm (10’16”)
Advent, Sunday 4, Year A
Pillar of Fire by night, by James Murnane (which I purchased last week)
If you took a poll among first century Jews about their expectations of what the Messiah would be like, and what he (a female Messiah would not feature) would do – there would be many and varied replies. Many would look at the many and varied prophecies that are contained within the Hebrew scriptures and somehow attempt to form a job description. The great variety in that description would be revealed by the poll. Some would point to the great 9th century BCE prophetic figure of Elijah, who helped to cleanse Israel during a period of great moral decay. Others would go with the perennially popular 10th century BCE figure of shepherd King David. Most would say that the messiah would bring judgement to the nation of Israel, before raising an army to overthrow the oppressive overlords of the Roman occupiers, and taking his place as the new rightful king.
So it is little wonder that John the Baptist – languishing in a gaol after denouncing King Herod – wants to know what kind of messiah Jesus is going to be. As the weeks turn into months and years after his baptism in the Jordan, it is becoming clearer that Jesus is not acting as a Zealot (contra Reza Aslan*), but instead fulfilling a very different messianic ideal. It has only been in more recent years that texts found in Qumran – the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls – notably the Messianic Apocalpyse found in 4Q521 have brought to life the popularity of a very different hope. This hope is captured powerfully in the first reading today – from Isaiah 35.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’27”)
Advent, Sunday 3, Year A.
The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are: Isaiah 35.1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5.7-10; and Matthew 11.2-11
* I read the book by Aslan, Zealot, this week. As Fr Robert Barron comments on the book, Aslan misses the full reality of the historical Jesus by adopting the strange debunking and demythologising methodology. There are so many factual errors in the poorly argued book, and Aslan gets himself into weird academic knots by trying to argue his position – accepting some texts and rejecting others with no stated basis for either position.
The King is coming. Make way for the King! So it’s time to get ready – for God is the king and he’s on his way back.
The trouble then – and the trouble now – is that the people weren’t at all ready for the king to come back. If you knew that the king was about to turn up on your doorstep for a visit, you may well wish to give your home a once-over and finish that spring-clean.
John the Baptist prepares the way for the coming kingdom by calling us to repent – to turn away from anything that is getting in the way of the homecoming of God.
As we continue through this season of Advent we can’t fully understand Jesus without first listening to the great Advent figure of John the Baptist. We meet him in Matthew chapter 3 as the figure preparing the way for the coming king by calling the people to repent.
The wild man John calls us to understand what we really prepare for when Christ comes. God is doing something new. I mean really new. Something that is the most wonderful thing that any of us could ever imagine.
But when most of us think about Christmas we maybe only think about the new stuff that we will get as presents this year. John calls us not to settle for something so small, something so useless as just more junk to clutter our lives.
What the king is bringing is new life and freedom. He brings justice and joy to the world. But we need to get ready for this by clearing the road, and burning any rubbish that blocks the pathway.
We can receive so much more than new clothes, new gadgets or a gift card. We can receive healing for our family relationships, or broken lives to be restored. Don’t settle for something so small, when the pathway to Jesus can be made straight through repentance and humility.
Journey Radio Program
Advent, Sunday 2, Year A
- I am away this weekend attending the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Melbourne.
- Post #300
The first image that we are presented with on this first Sunday in the season of Advent and the new Year of Matthew is from chapter 2 of the Prophet Isaiah. All the nations are streaming up to Mount Zion – but rather than the historical reality of the armies of the surrounding nations laying siege upon the city of Jerusalem, the vision that Isaiah receives is of the nations bringing their spears and swords but allowing these instruments of war to be transformed into instruments of productivity and creativity. It is a reminder for us during this crazy time of the year to also allow time to make this journey to the mountain of the Lord, and to make sabbath time to rest in the Lord. A good way to test if we are finding time in our lives for the things that really matter is to consider if we are doing things that share in things that delight, connect or allow us to worship.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’36”)
Advent, Sunday 1, Year A