Flowing directly out of the celebration of Christmas this year we have the opportunity to reflect upon not only the holy family of Nazareth, but also our own conceptions and ideas of family. In my case, I know that many of my most basic understandings of family came from comparing the idealised image of family that came from watching perhaps far too many mainly American sitcoms and family dramas as a child – with my experience of family. And it would be fair to say that it seemed that my family rarely measured up to the esteemed heights of the Walton family or the Brady bunch. We never seemed to be able to solve all of our problems within the allotted half-hour or hour, and things sometimes seemed more complicated than ensuring that we all said goodnight to each other would fix. As I have grown older and experienced many more family situations, I have discovered the often-quoted declaration that there are only two kinds of families in the world – the dysfunctional families and the very-dysfunctional families. Thankfully in the scriptures that we are presented with today, we discover that being a holy family and being a dysfunctional family may not be incompatible.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (8min)
Feast of the Holy Family, Year C.
1 Sam 1: 20-28; 1 John 3:1-2; 21-24; Luke 2: 41-52
Video reflection: Gift of Life (LifeWay Media)
There is an extraordinary line in the second reading today – ‘When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any righteous thing that we had done, but because of his mercy.’ (Titus 3:4-5) We have often understood Judaism and its focus on the laws and commandments of Torah which included the 613 mitzvah to be about a religious system that emphasised the keeping of the laws and the rewards that this would merit. But this reading turns that whole emphasis on its head to remind us that to be saved is all about God’s kindness, favour and compassion – not our righteousness. And for this we can be eternally grateful.
Recorded at St Paul’s (7 mins)
Christmas, Midnight Mass (readings of the Dawn Mass)
All the Gospels are anonymous. But when early Christians began collecting them in the second century, they needed a way to distinguish each one from the others. So they gave them titles. The title “According to Matthew” is affixed to this Gospel because church tradition had credited it to Matthew, one of the twelve. It is fitting that Matthew’s Gospel is the first book in the New Testament because it was the favourite Gospel of the early Christians. You see, the first disciples were all Jews; and Matthew sought to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of David, sent by God to rule His kingdom. So Matthew, more than the other Gospel writers, found Jesus’ messiahship in strange and wonderful places where Jews would know to look: in genealogies, titles, numerology, and fulfilled prophecies.
Matthew wants his mainly Jewish audience, as God’s chosen people, to consider how Jesus is the true son of Abraham, the ideal for Israel, even the perfect candidate to be the Anointed One. So he shows how Jesus identified with Israel—even with their spending time in exile in Egypt—and yet, unlike Israel, He did not fall into disobedience. As Matthew tells the story, Jesus has come to fill the Scripture full by His teachings and His example. In this way, Jesus is a new Moses, a new Lawgiver. But again, He is greater than Moses because He gives the law and writes it directly on the hearts of His disciples and of any who care to overhear the message of the kingdom of heaven. According to Matthew, five sermons of Jesus complete the picture of Jesus as Lawgiver. They don’t replace the five books of Torah, but His words refine and complement God’s instruction to the people of the new covenant.
For Matthew, Jesus is more than the Messiah, the fulfiller of prophecies, the true son of Abraham, and the new Moses who brings a new law: He is “God with us” who promises to be with us forever. That means that Jesus is no mere mortal: He is God in the flesh who saves us from our sins. The coming of Jesus into the world fulfills God’s earlier promises to bring about redemption and a new creation. These images of Jesus that Matthew paints so beautifully fired the imaginations of Christians for centuries so that today, when we open our New Testaments, we find Matthew is first in line.
(The Voice Bible translation, Introduction to Gospel of Matthew)
The readings of the Christmas Vigil Mass are rarely used, especially since you usually get the largest congregation of families and children at the earliest Mass. But following on from the series of the Law of Four, I thought that the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew – the whole of chapter 1 – needed to be read. I chose the Voice as an accessible, yet accurate, translation for the first two Masses (5pm and 8pm)
As we have wandered through the stories behind the stories of the gospels and their composition and connection to the church, life and our own histories, it seemed appropriate to think about how the stories that are told about the birth of Jesus would fit within this new understanding. So considering the writings of the New Testament, it is worth looking at how the story of Jesus was built up over time. For example, by the mid-60s, when the Gospel of Mark was being written in the city of Rome, the letters of Paul (presuming that all thirteen are genuine and written in the life-time of Paul – and I have never seen any truly compelling information or argument to doubt that) would all have been complete. What is interesting about these letters is how little they speak about the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, only five pieces of information about Jesus are found in these letters, most of which are fairly obvious and not all that helpful. Namely, Jesus:
- was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) – that is especially insightful
- was Jewish, “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4)
- was a biological descendant of David (Romans 1:3)
- had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5) – or near kin; both are adequate translations
- was crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22) and he died (1 Corinthians 15:3)
When you turn to the Gospels, you find that the first and last Gospels to be written contain very little about the infancy stories / narratives. Mark is completely silent, and John only gives us a single line as part of the beautiful prologue that begins his unique gospel account. In contrast, both Matthew and Luke provide two long chapters filled with information that tell the story of the birth of Jesus in compelling ways for the community that received these gospels.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am
Advent Sunday 4, Year C.
We saw in the first week of this series that one of the places that we see the law of four is in every great story ever told as well as in the story of our own lives – the pattern of (1) Hearing the summons; (2) Enduring the obstacles; (3) Receiving the prize/favour and finally (4) Returning to the community. This pattern runs very deeply within our physical and spiritual DNA, and we can easily understand that this is something is good and God-given. So it should be no small wonder to realise that this pattern is also able to be seen in the order of the Gospels that the tradition of the church has given us to read them. Although the Gospels, as we saw last week, were written in the order of Mark – Matthew – Luke and John, and the Gospels are given us the order of Matthew – Mark – Luke and John in our bibles, the early church has read them in the order of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke – and this order is also expressed in our liturgical cycle of readings. This is because this order captures this cycle of life, addressing the fundamental questions of change; suffering; joy and service that we meet in our lives.
We also see more clearly how this four-fold structure is captured in the new logo that we have adopted as a parish community.
View the slides | Read the explanation of the logo and summary of the journey so far
Recorded at St Paul’s, Albion Park, 9.30am (16 min 30 secs)
Advent, Week 3, Year C.
Video: Christmas Mystery (Dan Stevers)
This week in our Law of Four series, we looked in more detail at the four Gospels, and particularly the connection and relation of the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) – why we call them the Synoptic Gospels, and how over the last 150 years we have developed a better understanding of the way that these gospels are connected. We then looked at the history of the first century of Christianity in light of the question of the composition of the Gospels.
Play MP3 (17 mins)
Download Adobe PDF of the notes.
Sunday 2, Season of Advent.