02Jan Second Sunday after Christmas

Sir 24:1-2,8-12. Lyrical praise of the wisdom which God has revealed to men. This was most fully revealed in Christ, Wisdom incarnate, or the Word made flesh, as today’s Gospel tells.

Eph 1:3-6,15-18. We are God’s adopted children, belonging to him as the adoption through his only Son, Jesus. We should try to grow in our understanding of this dignity.

Jn 1:1-18: If the eternal Son of God has become man for our sakes, we ourselves must become more fully human, and treat others with a spirit of grace and truth.

Theme:

Sometimes wisdom comes in inverse proportion to our financial wealth. The more our standard of living improves, it seems, the less we practice the virtues of kindness and hospitality. But these virtues are not an optional extra for whoever values our Christian identity. Perhaps, now that as a nation we have fallen on leaner times, we might again take Jesus more fully as our guide to living, and to offering a loving, helping hand towards other people.

Intercessions (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:
That our hospitality may not be limited to social acquaintances only.
That we may always welcome guests and strangers into our homes.
That we may in some practical ways share our bread with the world’s hungry.
That the goodness and love of Christ may shine out through us, his followers and friends.

Come Into The Parlour (Liam Swords)

“If you’re Irish, come into the parlour, / There’s a welcome here for you. / If your name is Timothy or Pat, / As long as you come from Ireland / There’s a welcome on the mat.”

This Irish-American come-all-ye underlines the tradition of welcome associated with the Irish. It has deep roots in our Gaelic past. Céad Mile Failte (a hundred thousand welcomes) was our’traditional greeting. Hospitality was the queen of the virtues in Gaelic society. The Annals of the Four Masters record the obituaries of Gaelic chieftains and ecclesiastics. By our standards now, many of them were corrupt and unsavoury. Yet, the Annals describe them in glowing terms as men renowned for their hospitality. The lives of the early Irish saints highlight those incidents which show their hospitableness, especially for the poor and needy. We know little more about St Brigid other than her extraordinary concern to provide food and shelter for the deprived. One charming legend links her to the Holy family in Bethlehem. It recounts how the dour innkeeper turned away Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary, who then took shelter in his outhouse. Mary’s time had come and Joseph ran back to the inn, pleading for someone to help deliver the baby. No one would come except the innkeeper’s daughter who was severely handicapped. She was blind and had no hands. But she came gladly. When the child was born, she was the first to hold him in her arms, miraculously restored: the first one these once sightless eyes were to see was the Saviour of the world. Legends such as these earned for her the title, Mary of the Gael.)
Such stories are no longer handed down from generation to generation, but some customs evoking our ancestors” high regard for hospitality still survive in some rural parts. There are places where a lighted candle is placed in the window at Christmas time, offering hospitality to the Holy Family.

With the urbanisation of modern society, that custom and the virtue of hospitality it symbolises, are well on the way to extinction. High-rise flats with their burglar-proof locks, alarm systems, Judas-windows and door codes, are hardly intended to encourage the casual visitor. We do throw the occasional party or give the odd dinner for a few intimate friends, but it is a far cry from setting an extra place at our table for the hungry stranger. Our standard of living may have risen considerably but the same cannot be said for the quality of our lives.
Hospitality is not an optional extra for the Christian. It is the very language in which the story of our salvation is couched. It is in these terms that the gospel describes the rejection of Christ. “He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him.” Whatever else the Christmas crib illustrates – most of them are so pretty, only the eyes of faith could unlock their secret – it is that there was “no room in the inn” for the Son of God. Our faith is an invitation to an eternal banquet in our Father’s house. Our hospitality here will determine our fate later. “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”

A Word We Can Touch (Martin Hogan)

We are familiar with the saying: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me. Like a lot of proverbial sayings, this one expresses a truth, but by no means the whole truth. We know from experience that words can be very harmful. Somebody’s reputation can be unjustly undermined because somebody else puts out a story about this person. The story may have some truth in it, but it is likely to be only one of many stories that could be told about the person, and, if it becomes the dominant story, an injustice is done to that person. I remember once seeing a collection of old posters that were commonly displayed in Britain during the Second World War. One of them read, “Careless talk costs lives.” That poster expresses a truth which applies as much to peace time as to war time. Careless talk can cost lives, not necessarily in the sense that it results in people being shot, but in the sense that it can seriously damage or even destroy a person’s reputation. Careless talk can be damaging in other ways. We are all aware from our experience how words spoken in anger can damage a relationship. Words can be either harmful or life-giving. The proverb, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never arm me” does not seem to take seriously enough the power of language, a power that can be for good or for ill.

The gospel reading from the gospel of John could be understood as a hymn to the power of language, God’s language. It begins, “In the beginning was the Word.” That Word that God spoke in the beginning became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here was now a Word that could not only be heard, but could be seen and touched as well. The words we speak reveal who we are only to a limited extent. There is always much more to us than is revealed in our words. However, the Word God spoke in the beginning revealed God fully, and when this Word became flesh in Jesus, he became the fullest revelation of God that was possible in human form. God said all that could be said about who he was in the person of his Son. To look on Jesus is to look on God. As Jesus says to Philip, later on in John’s gospel, “he who sees me sees the Father.” God has spoken to us in a language we can understand, the language of a human life. This Word who is Jesus is full of the life of God, radiant with the light of God. He calls on us to receive from his fullness, grace upon grace. He does not force his fullness upon people. At one point in John’s gospel he turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter on that occasion spoke for us all when he said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus had the words of eternal life because he himself was the Word of life.

The words people speak to us do not always do us good. The words we hear from various quarters do not always leave us blessed. On the contrary, they can leave us damaged and diminished. The Word God spoke to us in his Son has greatly blessed and enriched us. St. Paul recognizes this in the second reading today when he sings, “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.” Having been blessed by God’s Word in this way, we are called to bless others by the words we speak, by the lives we live. We are called to keep on receiving from the fullness that is always being given to us in Christ, so that we can enrich others from that fullness. As was said of John the Baptist in today’s gospel reading, we are to be witnesses who speak for the light.

Today we might give thanks for the times when we have spoken for the light, when the words we spoke or wrote gave life and strength to someone, or brought some light into a situation of darkness or cover-up. These were the times when our words had something of the quality of the Word that God spoke in the beginning and that became flesh in the person of Jesus. Parents have a wonderful opportunity to speak such words to their children, as have spouses to each other, and those unmarried to people close to them. All of us in different ways have the potential to speak words that make a difference for the better, that leave people more alive and enlightened. We can speak and live in a way that is experienced by others as good news. As we begin a new year we might resolve to speak words that have something of the life-giving quality of God’s Word, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.

How do we answer? (John Walsh)

St Luke, in chapter nine of his gospel, has a curious reference to Christ. “Now it happened,” he says, “that as he was praying alone, his disciples were with him.” How could he be alone, you might ask, if the disciples were with him? It could perhaps mean that he was praying out of hearing, but not out of sight, of the disciples, or more likely that for once he was away from the throngs of people who pursued him everywhere seeking favours from him. And one good reason for this latter was the locality in which he then was, the vicinity of a northern town called Banyas, a Greek name meaning the town of Pan. It was a place shunned by all strict Jews, because for centuries it had been a centre of pagan worship of the fertility god Pan, and also the spot where Herod’s son Philip had built the city of Caesarea Philippi around a great white marble temple dedicated by his father to the godhead of Caesar Augustus. This was regarded by the Jews as being idolatry. The fact that Jesus came here at all shows the extraordinary freedom of his spirit. He could disregard taboos, mingle with and sometimes cure Samaritans, sinners, tax collectors, gentiles, from whom members of the religious establishment of the day among the Jews kept their distance.

It was on this occasion near Caesarea Philippi that Jesus posed to his disciples the surprising question, “Who do you say I am?” It is a question which every year, during the celebration of Advent and Christmas, Christ addresses to us also. Finding an answer was something which occupied the minds of the first Christians for quite some time, something also which led to several heresies in the first centuries A.D. about the nature and person of Christ.

The Church uses the scriptures, and in particular the gospels, to awaken in us a response in faith to this mystery. In what is the first gospel to be written, St Mark tells us nothing about Christ’s life before his public ministry, but he begins with an account of the work of John the Baptist as being the fulfilment of a prophecy by Isaiah. What Mark is saying is, that the story of Jesus really began far back in Israel’s history, and that his public life, his death, and his resurrection show us that he is God.

Matthew and Luke in their accounts of the birth of Jesus, read every year at Christmas, go a step further. They are saying that it was evident from the moment, not only of his public life, but of his birth, that Jesus was a divine person. Matthew traces the genealogy of Christ back to Abraham, the father of Jewish faith and also of ours. By this he is indicating to us, that the promises made long ago to Abraham, that he would be the father of a great people, were now about to be fulfilled in the life and work of Jesus. Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back even further, to the first man Adam. The story of Jesus, he is saying, really began with the creation of man, and what God was doing through the life and death of Jesus, was to create, not only a new Israel, but a new humanity, for himself. It is well to remember that St Paul saw Christ as the second Adam, the new Adam, in whom all humanity would be renewed.

Today the beginning of John’s gospel goes back to the moment when time began. Its first words, “In the beginning,” show us what John has in mind. For these are the same words with which the Bible begins its account of the creation, “In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was God.” And in that first chapter, no less than ten times we read, “God said,” that is God spoke the Word. “God said, “Let there be light” – God said, “Let there be a firmament” – God said, “Let the waters come together” – and so on. The creative Word of God was at work, and the story of Jesus, St John is telling us, is the story of this Word, after becoming flesh.

John emphasises also that what took place as the work of God in the life of Jesus, was not a kind of afterthought on the part of God, a means of plugging a gap, of setting right a defect which had appeared in creation because of the original sin of which Adam and Eve were guilty. No, Christ is, and always was, at the centre of God’s plans for creation, and every created thing derives its meaning from him. Our task, then, for the new year should be to put Christ at the centre of our lives, so that, as we read at the offertory, by the mystery of the water and wine in the Mass “we may come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

He came to his own (Jack McArdle)

This gospel is pure poetry. It is as if John opened his mouth, and let the Spirit of God within him pour out the sparks of the furnace within his heart. It is hard to grasp the profound nature of what he writes, compared to the letters he wrote at the end of his life, which can be summarised in one sentence: “Little children, let us love one another, because God loves us.” This is written with the total conviction of who Jesus is, why he came, and what happens if we are open to his message. At the end of his gospel, John will have to admit that, if he wrote down all the things Jesus did and said, the whole world couldn’t contain all the books. John is known as the beloved disciple, and it is obvious that his heart is overflowing with love, gratitude, and joy; because of the Jesus he is about to write about in the following pages of his gospel.

The heart of the message is that Jesus came to his own, the Jews, but they did not accept him. The message is now offered to all of us and, for those of us who do accept it, Jesus will allow us full membership within the family of God. This privilege is pure gift, and has nothing to do with merit, birthright, or achievement.

When I was a kid we had a popular song for all singalongs called “All my granny has left you is her old armchair.” It was about the jeers and sneers of family members directed against the one who was left an old armchair, while they shared her house and property. The part of the song that always gave me great joy was when the one who received the chair discovered that all of granny’s savings were carefully concealed within the chair and that he turned out to be the lucky one; something that wiped the sneers off the faces of the others, and filled them with a jealous rage.
A poor way to illustrate today’s gospel, but I’m sure you get the idea. In John’s day, for example, Jesus had left them nothing tangible beyond the memory of a man who had died as a public criminal and, I’m sure, in the eyes of John’s family, he was seen to be really foolish to have followed such a one, and he deserved nothing but disdain.

I like the following statement: “For those who do not understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary.” That is part of John’s problem in today’s gospel. While he witnessed Jesus healing the blind, he himself had come to see much clearer. All of the miracles Jesus worked for him were within him. Jesus was, indeed, the light that had come into the world and John, as one of his followers, had been handed the torch to carry that light to others. John the Baptist was not the light, nor is John the Evangelist claiming that he is the light. The role of one was to prepare the way, the role of the other was to proclaim the message, and guide others to the Way, which is Jesus.
From the beginning, Jesus was not accepted. John would later write in one of his letters, “you are children of God. Only those who are of God will listen to his voice. The proof that the word is from God is that the world will not listen to it.” The Word became flesh. Word can mean many things. It can be a word in a dictionary: it can mean a message as in “Did you get any word from John yet?”; it can mean a promise as in “I give you my word on that.” Jesus is the Word of God, he is God’s message, God’s statement, God’s promise. Jesus wants decisions, not discussions. “You are either for me or against me,” he said. One of the ways of not getting around to doing something is to talk about it long enough. Debates and discussions can turn the flesh back into word again, and what is a reality becomes a thesis or a theory, something involving mental assent, which has nothing whatever to do with faith.

The Law was given through Moses and, by the time Jesus came along, the people were totally hamstrung by the love of law. This law was studied and taught by the scribes, imposed by the Pharisees, and scrupulously obeyed by the people. Jesus came to replace this love of law with the law of love. John is really excited about that, as we see in the last paragraph of today’s gospel. Many years later, as an old man in exile on the island of Patmos, he had simplified the gospel message to one simple truth: “Little children, let us love one another, because God loves us.” (Do you remember hearing words like that from Mother Teresa?)

There are none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear. You could be sitting there wondering what I’m going to say, while I’m up here wondering what you’re going to hear, and we can all forget that only God can speak God’s word, and only those who want to hear will actually hear that message.

There are two parts to the history of salvation: What Jesus did, and whether we accept that or not. He came to his own, but they weren’t interested. For you, for me, for any or all of us gathered here today, however, it is our moment of decision. The only yes God is interested in is my yes of now. I cannot live today on a yes that was said on my behalf at my baptism. For those who did receive him he gave the right to become children of God. All they had to do was to trust him to save them. That is the offer that is made to us today. God doesn’t give me anything; he offers me everything.

In the beginning was the Word. John also knows only too well that, at the end, the Word will still be there. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In other words, no matter whether people accept or reject his word, no matter what way the world chooses to behave, no matter how bad things might appear to be, at the end of time Jesus will be Lord; the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of Satan will have come to an end, and there will only be the kingdom of God, which Jesus came to establish. (As you know, the last Sunday in the church calendar is the Feast of Christ the King.) It’s like knowing the result of the race before you go into the bookies. You can have no excuse for not being on a winner. God won’t send you anywhere when you die. Rather will he eternalise the decisions and directions you take now.
Give some serious thought today to the yes of your baptism, to ensure that you personally have taken full responsibility for it, and that you are a member of the Christian family by deliberate choice, and not by some coincidence or accident of birth.
If the Word becomes flesh, if Jesus takes on our human nature, then, surely, he has taken on your human nature. This should lead to some serious reflection along the following lines:

If Jesus has taken on my human condition, then I am faced with a serious situation. He can take over and effect only that which I allow, and the limits to what he can do in and through me, are set by me. The implications of such a possibility are frightening. There is nothing automatic about God. He will not enter where he is not welcome. And he needs my goodwill as the foundation for all his work in me. Did you hear about the man whose beard went on fire, and he prayed it would start raining? He himself wasn’t prepared to do anything.

There was a dark cave deep down in the earth, and it had never seen light. One day the sun invited it to come up to visit it. The cave was amazed at the light, and it invited the sun to come down to visit it, because the sun had never seen darkness. The following day the sun came down into the cave, looked around, and asked, “Where’s the darkness?’ When the sun entered, there was no darkness anymore, just as when Jesus, the Light of Life entered this world.

The Word Became Flesh (Tommy Lane)

In 1850 John Millais (1829-1896) painted a picture of Jesus working in Joseph’s carpentry workshop, entitled Christ in the House of His Parents. Jesus had given himself a bad gash in his finger and blood streamed down onto his feet. Mary was there comforting him. Although only an imaginary incident, it portrays well what John means in his Gospel today, The Word became flesh.

In the first line of his Gospel, John makes us jump in at the deep end by beginning immediately with his description of God, In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. But because the Word became flesh we would expect Jesus to have the same emotions as us, and he did. ) He loved other people, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, his disciple John and the rich young man. He even cried at times of severe personal stress; when his friend Lazarus died and before entering Jerusalem when he knew that the city would not accept him as the Messiah. He enjoyed social occasions. We read of Jesus attending various dinners, so often that a mocking rhyme was made up, calling him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus felt pity for people when he saw them suffering, so when they were hungry he multiplied the loaves and fish. He got angry when people used the Temple for the wrong purpose. He needed companionship, so he took Peter, James and John into his confidence on many occasions and John was his close friend. At the end of a long day Jesus fell asleep in the boat, he was tired like all of us. He felt fear before his passion, “Father let his cup pass me by” and openly admitted, “now my soul is troubled.” Imagine, Jesus saying how his soul was troubled. When John says the Word became flesh, he really means it, deeply.

The Word dwelt among us. Jesus didn’t just become flesh and live a quiet life. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He was a man of the people. That’s why they said of him, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. When curing the lepers he touched them. Lepers were not supposed to come near towns and according to Jewish Law Jesus would be impure after touching a leper and could not enter the Temple or synagogue until after washing. But Jesus was a man of the people, he dwelt among them, and so Law or no Law, when a leper wanted healing he touched him. Because Jesus was a man of the people he concentrated much of his ministry among those who really needed him most, the sinners. They knew they were welcome in his company, he was known as a friend of sinners.

This Word, Jesus, became flesh, and dwelt among us, and made the Father known to us. The last line of our Gospel today says, No one has ever seen God, it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Fathers heart, who has made him known. John is saying the reason why the Word became flesh was so that we would get to know the Father. Jesus is the Fathers Word to us. Jesus is the revelation of God the Father. How do we get to know the Father? By getting to know Jesus. Jesus says I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. When Philip asked, Lord, show us the Father – and then we shall be satisfied, Jesus answered “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I’m in the Father and the Father is in me?” He himself, the Word made flesh, is the way to the Father. If we want to know the Father, we must get to know Jesus. How do we get to know Jesus? By spending time together with him, when we pray to him and think about him, and when we read the Gospels. We cannot say that it is too difficult to get to know God. He has revealed himself to us in his Son Jesus.

First Reading: Book of Sirach 24:1-2, 8-12

Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, “Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.”
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace That he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.

Gospel: John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.