PREACHED IN CR CHURCH CHRISTMAS I - SUNDAY
3OTH DECEMBER 2012
was surprised and intrigued to learn the other day that in most manuscripts and
printed editions of the Hebrew Bible the canon of Scripture closes with what we
know as the two books of the Chronicles. Although the writer ends his account of
what he calls ‘the events of the times’ with the fall of Jerusalem to the
Babylonians, the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the people,
the concluding note is decidedly up-beat and full of promise – and it is to a
Gentile that the final word is given: ‘Thus says Cyrus, King of Persia, The
Lord, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has
charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there
is among you of all his people, the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up’.
him go up’. So it was that following the tradition of his people and ‘the
custom’ of his parents, Jesus ‘went up’ with them to
go on pilgrimage is a deeply ingrained instinct in the human spirit, and is
practised in many religions. It is an image of human life itself, which is
characterised all the way through by a succession of departures and arrivals, of
letting go and moving on. We leave where we are, sometimes physically,
geographically, but always and certainly in one way or another.
on Simon Peter will say to Jesus that he and the other disciples ‘have left
everything and followed (him)’. They have set out on his road. It is worth
noting that the thread on which the events recounted in the Gospel narrative are
strung, is that of travelling, of journeying. During the days of his Public
Ministry Jesus and the Twelve are constantly on the move, on the road, under the
open sky, depending on the generosity of others for sustenance and shelter. It
is surely not by accident that the earliest description in the New Testament of
the life of Christian discipleship was to call it The Way. In the story of the
12-year old Jesus in the
St.Luke’s account the major obstacle to the journey which Jesus is to make
appears to be all that is meant by ‘family’. Family gets Jesus to
experience of the familiar getting in the way is common to many of us.
‘Houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, lands’ are all part
of what Peter and the others had to leave behind in order to follow Jesus. The
pattern goes back to Abraham who had to leave ‘country and kindred and (his)
father’s house’ and set out for an undisclosed destination. It is the
pattern of the dark night of mysticism, the pattern of all our ‘unknowing’.
We are to understand that the familiar is not ultimate, families are not
absolute. Indeed it is worth bearing in mind that modern psychology suggests
that we have to break with our families in order to find ourselves. There is
nothing absolute about a family – a biological family – and there is nothing
absolute about those other kinds of family which are our local and national
institutions and there is nothing absolute even about our religious communities.
blood nor soil, neither nature nor nurture, can be allowed to have the final
word in determining who we are. Our core identity is to be rooted in God and in
his recognition of us and we are not to allow family or any other group to
disrupt or displace our direct and immediate relationship with him.
pilgrimage made by Jesus to the
us too there is always the possibility of being called to something which at the
beginning we had not seen and for which we are not programmed either by our
families or by our institutions or by all that is familiar to us. When the call
comes, then we have to choose either to save our lives or lose them, to remain
settled in where we are and as we are, or to risk ourselves to the destiny of
Jesus of Nazareth – to join him as he goes up to Jerusalem, to the place of
sacrifice, to walk with him on the road which was mapped out for him at his
adolescence but trodden in deadly earnest in his adult manhood.
have to distance ourselves from even the holiest things for the sake of God,
as Jesus distanced himself even from Mary and Joseph. We are not to define
ourselves in terms of even the highest of categories, the most venerable of
institutions. It would seem that God has difficulty in dealing with us until the
power of the familiar is broken. It is there in the Holy Family itself. The
first great break occurs when Jesus contrasts the One he calls his Father with
the one Mary calls his Father. She addresses him as ‘Child’ – she still
sees him as her little boy – ‘Why have you treated us like this? Your Father
and I have been searching anxiously for you’. Jesus says (and these are the
first words we hear him speak in the Gospel account) that he is in his
Father’s house and is going about his Father’s business – so why the fuss,
why the anxiety? This is a shift, a move, which all Christians must make.
‘Call no one your father on earth, for One is your Father, the One who is in
Heaven’. So Jesus invites us to walk where he walks, looking only to the
Father for our identity and meaning. He invites us to share his journey, his
destiny, his Sonship, to be born as he was, ‘not of blood nor of the
will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God’, to be born with him into
‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’.