The doubt and faith of Abraham

As we reflect on the place of family this Sunday, the liturgy offers us the example of four very different yet faithful people in the Gospel of Luke in Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna. The other readings provide us with the foundational example of faith in Abram and Sarai – who were called to leave behind their land and kin to go to the place where the Lord would lead them (Genesis 12). Although Abram is faithful to the Lord in leaving behind his land, he is not faithful in leaving behind all of his kin. It seems that one of the motivations that Abram has in taking his nephew Lot is as an insurance policy. He and Sarai are already old and past the point of natural childbearing; if the Lord does not come through, then perhaps Abram thinks that at least a nephew is a near substitute. But when Abram arrives in Canaan, he does not find a land of abundance – he finds a land that is in the middle of a famine and they are unable to stay. So after a series of misadventures and deceptions in Egypt, followed by battles in Canaan, Abram finally begins to respond to the original call of the Lord, and asks Lot to go his own way. It is only then that Melchizedek arrives on the scene (Genesis 14) to bless Abram – which prepares the way for Abram to receive the word of the Lord – our first reading today. Even so, as the Lord prepares to make covenant with Abram – now to be known as Abraham – Abram continues to argue and bargain with the Lord. At which point Abram is invited to go outside and consider and count the number of stars in the sky. Although we imagine this scene to take place at night, in fact we are told a few verses later that the sun then begins to set. So it is in broad daylight that Abram is asked this – which helps to explain the “if you can” part – it is not just that there are so many stars to be counted, but it is also that you cannot see the stars in the daylight. It is a beautiful reminder of our need to renew our own faith in the Lord – especially if we have been like Abraham and not always been totally faithful and completely honest with the Lord. There is still hope for all of us!

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am
Feast of the Holy Family (Year B)

God has drawn near in love



I love technology. I love the fact that Google Maps is able to navigate you around traffic snarls – often allowing you to take the exit just before all the traffic has built up on the motorway. So cool! I was in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago for a wedding, and stayed with a mate who is also into tech. He works for the church in youth ministry – which means he doesn’t get paid enough! So on the side he uses the app to be an Uber driver – which uses the tech built into our smart phones to identify the location of the passenger and the closest available driver to be able to respond and pickup the passenger within minutes. The passenger can also choose to select a playlist on her Spotify app and have it synced with the driver’s car stereo so that the music keeps playing when she gets into the car. As impressive as this tech all is however, the main thing that allows all of this to work is an age-old reality: wealth disparity. Companies like Uber rely on the fact that there are enough people who are under-employed to offer their services to those who are able to pay for them – with the company acting as a go-between to collect their 17% fee from the transaction. Which means that the world that Jesus was born into is remarkably similar to our own in this respect. God could have chosen a woman of significance to send the angel Gabriel to – a princess, or wealthy merchant, or at least a Roman citizen – but instead he chose an impoverished young girl from an out-of-the-way village in a dirt-poor region of a Roman occupied Jewish territory. As St Paul reminds us in his letter to Titus today, “it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves”; no, he saved us “for no reason except his own compassion.” (Titus 3:4-5)

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Christmas Day (Dawn Mass; 7min 52sec)

Mary and Gabriel

The scene that is presented in the Gospel today is one of my favourites. We read from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26-38. The angel Gabriel appears to announce the birth of a child and follows the pattern established in the Hebrew Scriptures: the angel says, ‘do not be afraid’; the recipient is called by name and reassured of God’s favour; the birth and name of the child is disclosed and then the future role of the child is revealed.

But the similarity between this scene and the announcement of the birth of John also invites us to closely reflect on the differences. While the announcement of John came as the fulfilment of fervent prayer, the announcement to Mary of the birth of Jesus was completely unanticipated. Even more so, while John would be born to parents who were past the age of child bearing, the miracle of the birth of Jesus would be far greater – he would be born to a virgin. The announcement spirals down and through time from the general to the specific: from God to the region of Galilee to a town called Nazareth to a virgin who is betrothed to a man named Joseph – and finally to Mary.

According to the customs of the time, the marriage would have been arranged by her father. Mary would live at home for a year, then the groom would come to take her to his home and the wedding celebrations would last a week. But legally the marriage was already sealed after the engagement. For example, if Joseph had died before the wedding, Mary would have been treated as a widow.

The birth of this child would not only be extraordinary – but he would be the Son of the Most High God. Although Mary had not had sexual relations with any man, this child would be born by the power of God.

These scenes remind us that God works in the lives of ordinary people like Zechariah and Mary. Gabriel was not sent to the home of a queen or princess, but to the insignificant home of a girl betrothed to a labourer. Her significance lies in her answer: “Let it be done unto me, according to your word.” Let our significance be the same.

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Description is of the Journey radio program reflection: Three versions of the homily available here (including radio)

Advent, Sunday 4. Year B.

Rejoice always and pray constantly

seantmWhen you learn a new language one of the things that you need to become familiar with are the rules of grammar and syntax. But the degree to which you have to continue to remember each of the rules in turn is an indication that you haven’t yet become fluent in the new language. Once you do, the rules can be left behind and you can get on with the job of enjoying the new possibilities. It is a similar situation with the Christian faith. There are necessary rules and frameworks that Paul understood the early church needed to know – and he shared some of them in eight short and simple declarations that form the first part of our second reading today – taken from his earliest letter. They provide ample fruit for our Advent reflections to guide us during these hectic and crazy days.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (I Thessalonians 5:16-24)

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Advent, Sunday 3, Year B

Beginning of good news in the desert

baptistAs we enter the second Sunday in the season of Advent, we come to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. The opening line of his Gospel is somewhat curious – it isn’t immediately obvious if it is meant to be a heading or simply the first line. It richly evokes a number of scripture passages – including the opening line of Genesis (also evoked more clearly in the prologue to the Gospel of John). It declares very strongly and clearly who Jesus is – using and adapting the common political language of the day. Jesus is the Messiah which is good news – he is bringing about a true victory for all who believe in him. Many manuscripts add the additional descriptor that he is the Son of God – although some believe that this is a later scribal addition.

Rather than telling us any of the details about the birth of Jesus, Mark launches straight into the public ministry of Jesus, taking us out into the wilderness (midvar in Hebrew) to be with John the Immerser or John the Baptiser. It is only here, away from the distractions of the big city, that the Word of God (davar in Hebrew) can truly be heard and encountered.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 8am (10 min, 37 sec)

Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
Mark 1:1-8