So many of our Christmas traditions are based on the barest threads of details. For example, in the gospel of Luke, although we are given very complete information about the announcement of the birth of first John and then Jesus, and the details of their parents and travels, when it actually comes to the moment of the birth of Jesus, Luke covers the event in just two lines. Because of our developing fascination with the birth of Jesus, those two lines have been parsed and prodded in order to provide material for artwork, plays, sculptures, carols, movies and homilies. For example, the only thing that suggests that Mary gave birth in anything other than a normal house is the fact that she places the child Jesus in a manger / feeding trough, because there is no room in the ‘inn’ (katalumati in Greek). And although ‘inn’ is a valid way of translating this word, it is certainly not the only way, nor perhaps the best way. For example, when describing the upper room where the disciples gather for the last supper, in Luke 22:11, it is the same word that is used. Yet centuries of tradition have now placed their heavy burden upon this interpretation, even though the word could simply be translated as ‘house’. I like this simpler translation, because it still speaks of the rough and impoverished conditions of the birth of Jesus, without completely separating it from Matthew’s account (which has the parents of Jesus living in a house at the time of his birth). But it also speaks of the normalcy of the relationship that Jesus has come to have with us – a relationship of friendship and joy, grace and wonder.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8pm Vigil (8 mins)
Christmas, Mass during the night. Luke 2:1-20
We come to the final transcendental this week as we encounter Beauty. Over the weeks of Advent we have journeyed through these ideas that are present in every single thing, indeed in being itself – ‘Omni ens est unum, bonum, verum et pulchrum’ – that all being is one, good, true and beautiful.
“The quality of something that brings pleasure or delight to the senses, or satisfaction and meaning to the mind through its appearance, value, usefulness, or desirability. This quality is exhibited by God and instilled in creation.” Mangum, D. et al. eds., 2014. Lexham Theological Wordbook.
The word for beauty that is commonly used in the Hebrew bible is used primarily for a description of human beauty and it is androgynous – referring equally to masculine or feminine beauty. Beauty is also the easiest experience to help us to connect to God. When we have that moment of encountering a beautiful scene in nature, or a work of art, literature, music or another person we are often left breathless. That moment will often lead us to ponder upon the wonder of God and help us to have that sense of connection with all creation – which is one of the surest indicators that we are in the presence in that moment of one of the transcendentals.
Like in the other realities that we have explored during these weeks, there are as many failures in the experience of beauty as there are concerning unity, goodness and truth. There is a fickleness in the societal experience of beauty, and yet we are so deeply formed by trends and fashions that rarely last more than a season or two. Images of beauty that adorn the covers of too many magazines are contrived and manipulated to remove all signs of true humanity which are found in the flaws and blemishes and wrinkles that help to define our true beauty.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (14mins)
Matthew 1:18-24; Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7
When John the precursor asks the question of Jesus – are you the long-anticipated Messiah – or are we to wait for someone else? – he taps into the long tradition of the prophets and holy people of Israel who had longed for a new David to set them free from all of their oppressors – but with an emphasis on their political and economic freedom. Yet Jesus is content to point to the reality of his ministry which he knows is fulfilling a very significant strand of prophecy, such as we read in Isaiah 35 – our first reading today. Even if this is not the kind of fulfillment that John, perhaps representing the Essene tradition was looking for, this was enough to present the truth of the claim that Jesus was making.
During these days of Advent, as we ponder the bedrock fundamentals of our experience as humans encountering the divine, we arrive on this third Sunday (also called Gaudete Sunday, when rose-coloured vestments are worn) in this series considering the four transcendentals: that all being is one, good, true and beautiful. So this week we are pondering what it means for something to be true, how we work it out, how God speaks to us and challenges us in this, and how to go deeper and further then a simple black-and-white understanding of truth.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (14mins)
Advent Sunday 3, Year A. Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11
All being is one, good, true and beautiful (Omne ens est unum, bonum, verum et pulchrum)
The word Good is very commonly used in the scriptures (more than 500 times), but it can mean one of ten things:
- pleasing / agreeable;
- advantageous / profitable;
- fitting / appropriate;
- abundant / full-measure;
- generous / benevolent;
- sound / free from defects;
- excellent / unobjectionable;
- morally upright / righteous;
- just (justice)
Unlike the Greek view of an ideal ‘good’, the Hebrew Bible focuses on concrete and dynamic examples of what God has done and is doing in the lives of God’s people.
God is good (tob Hebrew / agathos Greek)
God is morally perfect & gloriously generous
The works of God are good; the commandments of God are good; all the things of God are good.
God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good (Gen 1:31)
Note, this is about good – not perfect. Good is changing and growing; good allows flaws and imperfections along the journey towards goodness. Perfection is a concept that comes from the Greek understanding – but it is finished and complete and consequently it is boring. We are called to join the Lord in the continuing work of creation – which allows space to get things wrong.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am Mass (16 mins including audio of Identity)