The Gospel of Mark

In 2021 the Church follows the Gospel of Mark. Let us look at the themes that appear in the earlier chapters of Mark

  1. The beginning of everything that God sent his Son into the world. This Son, and his sending, was prior to the world and created the world and now sustains the world, for the world is just all the people in it. The world is not only all the people in it now, but all the people who ever have been and ever will be. The world is made up of people. The world is this great assembly of persons. They are persons, because God considers them so and treats them so. And he insists that we do the same. The material world, nature, is just the means by which we are present to one another, it is the way we are together, here, present, touchable, visible and audible. We are present and tangible to one another because we have bodies, because the natural world makes and sustains these bodies. It is the natural world that makes us present to each other and sets us before one another. We are embodied persons. We are persons, and we are present to one another, because our bodies enable us to be so. Our bodies are good, and flesh and materiality and nature are good. Food and plant life and meat and compost and soil are good. Each is always being transformed into the other, each a stage on a cycle, and our existence and presence are the outcome of this cycle. The Son of God was sent because God always intends to gather this assembly, bring these many persons together into life and so the bring each other us into this good company, that we call the whole company of heaven. Our Lord makes this company known to us, person by person, both through the apostles Jesus gathers and so through Israel, from which he calls them, and then through the people who bring us to Jesus, our own friends and family, whom he has also made his witnesses. In Jesus Christ God intends us to be with him, and intends that we be together, happily and freely, and he intends that we both know him, and come to know them, willingly and freely. He intends to be with us, as we are with one another, and yet more convincingly, uninterruptedly, unlimitedly, without the interruption of death or of the evil that come from our fear of death.
  2. In this first chapter of the Gospel of Mark Jesus calls his people. He selects his team. This is the team that is going to take the good news of salvation out across the world. But it is not merely going to bring is news, but it will cut through and free us and save us from the entrapment into which we have all been driven, and driven one another.
  3. Jesus came proclaiming the good news. Good news for the poor, according to Isaiah 61, is freedom for the captives, release from darkness for the prisoners… and this is because (Isaiah 40) her hard service has been completed, her sin has been paid off… Israel has done her time, her deficit has been paid off, and she is out of debt, and no longer owned by anyone. The Lord proclaims a general release. He is commanding all tyrants to let go of the people they have enslaved. No contract of debt bondage is binding, they are null and void. Our masters don’t have the power to hold you any longer. You are no longer under arrest. You cannot be held. The authorities have to admit who they are holding – this is ‘Habeas Corpus’ – and release them. No more detention is over. No fines need be paid. We have paid them enough, since we have been paying interest that has been compounding faster than you can pay it down.  This is not merely news, but an announcement to all masters that we are no longer their slaves. The locks turn, the doors fly open, the warders have gone, the gate swings wide, our way out is clear before us. 
  4. The Lord calls them fishers of men. A fishman is a hunter who hunts fish. Christ is going to make them hunters of men, but of a particular sort of hunter. All men are hunted and have become prey, and all have been preying on others. These disciples are going out to find those who have been hunted and caught and are trapped in order to release them. All men have become prey and are hunted, and all have been caught in the trap. All of them are struggling, unable to free themselves, and by struggling have only ever become more entangled. The whole environment in which they live has become a kind of darkness and paralysis, a thick, clinging medium in which everyone is held down, and in which everyone is responsible for holding everyone down. In this world, everyone has only one aim, to get you back, to lash out, to wound whoever we can find to blame. In our distress we attribute guilt to anyone and everyone. All of us are thrashing around, caught, and yet lashing out, and so all of us making this mire worse.

This entire morass is the consequence of man’s being hunted by man. This hunting and being hunted has become chaotic and destructive that it is difficult to say where blame lies, so we sum this up by the name Satan, the personification of the pursuit, catching and tying up of mankind, which is the of man’s unreadiness and inability to live with his fellows. Man is afraid, and afraid of them. He is panicked and lashes out. He is stampeded into retribution, trying to get his own back, to inflict pain on whoever inflicted pain on him. The limitlessness of the violence that unrolls one who just wants to see all mankind tied down and thrashing around forever, each only ever able to harm, and to hurt those nearest to them and so endlessly and helplessly to pass on the evil on, in a kind of living destruction. All Israel is sloshing around in the waters of chaos, over their heads in trouble, and with every moment making this worse for themselves.

5. This is where our society is now going, back to a world of envy, viciousness and revenge. As long as our nation honoured Christ and understood that its own flourishing was the result of following him, it remained a civil society. People were not the helpless victims of the cycle of revenge within which all are helpless. Over generations it built up its record of experience about how to be responsible to one another, how to trust one another. But now, over many decades of despising and directing their aggression against Christ, this vast cultural capital has dwindled away, all spent, nothing to show for it.  Now it is sinking back into that mire in which everyone is stuck, in which all life is simply lashing out at other people who lash out at you, in which an entirely society is stuck in this vicious environment of turmoil. 

The Lord wades in. Christ goes into the water until it goes over his head. This is the meaning of this immersion the river, this baptism with John. He hauls those he catches out onto dry land, one at a time, as it were hauling in a net, with people caught in it or clinging to it as though it were a long rope-ladder. Through all the events of the gospel of Mark we see Jesus hauling the people of Israel out of the water, the underworld domain of death. He pushes through the flood and storm into which the land and people of Israel have fallen, pulling people out, and dragging them to solid ground, out of this violence and turmoil. He cuts us loose from the folds of the endless vengeance, and so extricating us. The more we cling to this rope ladder he has thrown us or this net he is dragging behind him, the more we are pulled free of all the other coils of entanglement which have been holding down.

6. The Lord calls these first men into this first military unit. They are selected. This is their recruitment and conscription. They don’t hesitate. They are now his troops. He will appoint twelve, one for each division, making up the full complement of the army of Israel. These men will go out into the predatory nations of the world and call out of them those who are going to be the troops of this army, a great company of witnesses. The Lord appoints twelve, one for each division, making up the full complement of the army of Israel. These men will go out into the predatory nations of the world and call out of them those who are going to be the troops of this army, a great company of witnesses.  They are going to be hunters of men.

Since they are at Capernaum, on the shore of this inland sea of Galilee the Lord likens this hunting to fishing. The fisherman hunts an underwater creature and hauls it up to the surface. Fish don’t want to remain down there, in the dark. They want to be creatures that live in the open, in the air and light as we do. But at the moment, men live in dark dank environment, swimming through the slimy, treacly, glutenous environment created by their own vicious acts. They live in a world of revenge, in which everyone is permanently set against everyone else and so fear another.

These men, the apostles, are now going to be the rescue service, that drag us one by one out of this suffocating mesh of entanglements in which we are drowning. The waves caused by our own acts and our own irresponsibility are swamping us and whipping up a storm. Yet we still have the power to subdue the water, simply by calling out, ‘Lord, have mercy, Lord, save us’.

APPEAL FOR THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD to Catholics and all people of good will

In this time of great crisis, we Pastors of the Catholic Church, by virtue of our mandate, consider it our sacred duty to make an Appeal to our Brothers in the Episcopate, to the Clergy, to Religious, to the holy People of God and to all men and women of good will. This Appeal has also been undersigned by intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, journalists and professionals who agree with its content, and may be undersigned by those who wish to make it their own.

The facts have shown that, under the pretext of the Covid-19 epidemic, the inalienable rights of citizens have in many cases been violated and their fundamental freedoms, including the exercise of freedom of worship, expression and movement, have been disproportionately and unjustifiably restricted. Public health must not, and cannot, become an alibi for infringing on the rights of millions of people around the world, let alone for depriving the civil authority of its duty to act wisely for the common good. This is particularly true as growing doubts emerge from several quarters about the actual contagiousness, danger and resistance of the virus. Many authoritative voices in the world of science and medicine confirm that the medias alarmism about Covid-19 appears to be absolutely unjustified….

Finally, as Pastors responsible for the flock of Christ, let us remember that the Church firmly asserts her autonomy to govern, worship, and teach. This autonomy and freedom are an innate right that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given her for the pursuit of her proper ends. For this reason, as Pastors we firmly assert the right to decide autonomously on the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, just as we claim absolute autonomy in matters falling within our immediate jurisdiction, such as liturgical norms and ways of administering Communion and the Sacraments. The State has no right to interfere, for any reason whatsoever, in the sovereignty of the Church. Ecclesiastical authorities have never refused to collaborate with the State, but such collaboration does not authorize civil authorities to impose any sort of ban or restriction on public worship or the exercise of priestly ministry. The rights of God and of the faithful are the supreme law of the Church, which she neither intends to, nor can, abdicate. We ask that restrictions on the celebration of public ceremonies be removed.

What is happening to us? II

The Covid-19 panic of 2020 is a coup. It shows us how far our political culture has crumbled away in the recent years. The determination to sustain our financial system have required the prolonged concealment of truth and profound corruption of public discourse and political life.

Our governments have taken advantage of the global panic in order to enact authoritarian measures to cover up for the fact that the financial assumptions which have sustained Western living standards are now collapsing. The Covid-19 panic measures have allowed governments to conceal the real crisis, the financial crisis, beneath, and so prevented populations from understanding the extent of the collapse and the responsibility of governments for this collapse.

First, in this coup the medical industry and pharmaceutical corporations have taken control of government. Their vaccination and tracing projects will are intended to regulate which of us may have access to employment and public life.

Then this is also a coup by the public sector, directed against the private sector. Government no longer wishes to acknowledge that it is dependent on the national working population. Governments have divided the population into essential workers and non-essential. and believes that only government employment is essential. They think that they can do without us and so they can take economic activity and employment away from a large proportion of the population and yet expect their own prospects to remain the same. But government is dependent on a free-functioning economy. When government thinks it is more essential than the economy that supports it, the parasite is endangering its own host.

An economy is the most complex integrated man-made organism on the planet with billions of inter-dependencies. Its complexity is understood by no single human. That’s the beauty of it. Politicians can’t fathom it or understand any part of it, usually because they’ve never produced anything of value that needed to be marketed and sold. Trying to make adjustments to it will continue to cause unimaginable problems. Governments find it impossible to allow us all to manage our own risk. They cannot do because they cannot resist the demands made by those who do not want, or do not know how, to provide for themselves and who have no concern for their own freedom or dignity.

The West is failing because it lacks sound money. Unlimited currency means unlimited government, unlimited debt and servitude and eventually limitless collapse. Secondly it has replaced markets, in which everyone shares some level of risk (and so has their own dignity) with massive central planning and crony socialism. Markets reveal the truth of values. Central planning attempts to repress the truth of values.

Globalism is the belief that we in the West do not have to work for ourselves to produce what we consume, for it believes that we can give that task to distant Asian populations that are driven by their masters as a slave society. We can benefit from their labour without having to acknowledge their servitude. The result of our willingness to buy from them and export our industries to them is a long-term loss of economic power. We have given away and so lost the skills by which we once supported ourselves, and so we have made ourselves vulnerable. The consequences are becoming clear now. Globalisation has left us without industries and so without skilled work and good wages. The world has turned into a globally-coordinated command economy. One inevitable result of the centralisation and collectivisation of our economy is that there will now be shortages and failures of supply, and reducing demand, no goods for customers and no customers for goods. The global financial system suffered a new financial heart attack in autumn 2019 when it suddenly turned out that US government debt was no longer valid as collateral for the loans by which they could meet the interest payments on all previous loans. There just isn’t enough real economic growth to be able to make these interest payments.

Governments cant stop this depression and deflation. Money printing transfers wealth from savers, the holders of existing money, to the holders of the new money. It is a form of theft. Quantitative easing is, in the real world, deflationary because it signals to markets that the central banks are so scared of the future that it cannot be trusted to market forces. This feeds the fear and causes people to hoard money, thereby exacerbating the cycle.

The government response to the waves of fear (Coronavirus, BLM and other manifestations of cultural revolution) has revealed our social fragility and low morale. There has been no public resistance to these new restrictive powers that are now driving us further into isolation from one another. If we allow our governments to control our life and ability to assemble, we will be unable to talk and debate with one another, to be informed or reassured by one another or decide on any course of collective action.

Of course, you and I will live on in Christian freedom, always holding out the gospel and encouraging people to walk away from the gods of the present age. We will treat the present regime always in the light of the limited authority of its true mandate. We will decline to give it the worship and obedience it demands, and will continue to meet together in public to worship the one true God.

What is happening to us? I

This is going to be a very difficult year. The coronavirus and the return of the credit crisis are two immediate reasons for this.

Last year it was obvious that the financial markets were in crisis again. The reality of our financial situation for individuals, for businesses and for the nation has become more vulnerable as the debt situation has got worse.

Our national debt has increased beyond all expectation that there could be enough economic growth to be able to make the payments on this debt. All advanced nations have sunk deep into utterly unsustainable levels of debt. No one believes that this debt load can be managed, that interest payments can be met. The markets have lost the ability to challenge governments and central banks by selling currencies or stocks. Stockmarkets, on which our pensions and unemployment benefits depend, are up only because central banks have been pouring new credit into them in order to prevent them from crashing. These banks have been creating new debt, to function as new money, at an unprecedented rate. Nonetheless this money is vanishing as debt is paid down, so there is a liquidity crisis – no one has any cash.

The emergency measures have gone on longer and vaster than ever before. Central banks have prevented markets from establishing real values and letting the truth of our situation from emerging. We have avoided recognising how impossible our situation has become. This long emergency intervention by governments and central banks has concealed our situation from us. We have been borrowing, but since we have not achieved any growth, we are unable to repay but have simply been taking from future generations. Our borrowing has funded our present consumption, not gone into useful investment. No new source of energy has emerged.

No government, media or population wants to hear this. Those in authority understand that their remit is simply to conceal from us the truth of our economic situation.

But we Christians are determined that truth must always be revealed. The long suppression of truth is one reason for the crisis. A reckoning is not only unavoidable but it is good. Christians offer truth by asking questions of governments and media, and so letting the contradictions in their claims become clear. We do not set out policies or one political approach. We ask questions to all the assertions and assumptions that express the worldview of our leaders and media. We do not try to have the last word on any subject. But we do not let anyone assert their view without challenge. We do not believe that the way things are is the way they must always be. Christians do not silence one another or refuse to allow questions to be asked. There are no forbidden subject areas. We are responsible for calling the mighty to account and for pointing out to our own generation the consequences of its long self-deception.

It would be a relief to see our situation with greater honesty, if our nation could begin to recover its sight and is able to admit to itself that endless economic expansion is over. Our single greatest deception has been our assumption that economic growth will continue forever, that growth is the norm and that we will soon return to it. But there has been no real economic growth for many years. Debt-fuelled growth is not real growth, when the burden of interests payments grows ahead of real productivity. We should consider whether the economy and standard of living we have known are now gone for good. England has slipped into a long Lent, a time of passion, fasting and decline, but it has been undiagnosed, because we have not named it as such. Truth is the only medicine and truth can only emerge through public debate and judgment.


Luke 2.22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.  When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him

Presentation in the Temple

They brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.

They offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord., a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons

The Lord wants to see us, and so he commands us to come. We go to his temple, the meeting place at which has agreed to make himself available to his people. As often as we turn up, he grants us an audience, listens to us and looks us over. He wants to see how we are getting on, so he invites us to come and make our report. We take to the Lord some sign of what we have achieved since we were last before him. We take a representative sample of our livestock, because this is evidence that we are good stockmen and managers. We bring some representative part of what the Lord has given us so he can see how it has grown since last time. If it has flourished, he can see that we are good stewards, capable of handling what is entrusted to us well, and now perhaps worthy of more responsibility. The health of this single animal represents the health of our entire holding.

The animals brought into the temple represent sons and all the other members of our household. Our own sons and servants may accompany us, and perhaps the Lord can see that we treat our servants as though they are our own sons. Animals dispatched back to heaven are messengers from the present generation of this household to ask for another generation for this household, so that it has a future. 

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany John 2 Wedding at Cana

John 2.1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.……When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom10and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

On the third day there was a wedding. The third day is resurrection day. After the slog and pain of this day we arrive, we can stop, put down our work, and are released. A wedding is a gathering and a feast and gladness. We stop work, come together and celebrate being together.


When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew

The steward called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now

Water is changed into wine. But this happens before us in order that we realise that this water is simply being changed back into wine. Water really is wine, but wine toned down for our benefit. Water is a liquid of earth; wine the liquid of heaven. It is heaven that makes earth what it is for us. Whatever is earthly comes from heaven, but is reduced so that that it does not overwhelm us. Everything that is good, comes to us from the holy life of God and is a portion and manifestation of it. Wine is a strong manifestation, and water a weaker manifestation, of that holy life.

There is fullness in heaven, or rather, heaven is simply fullness. It is the self-renewing, replenishing store cupboard, from which supplies come to us as we need them. We learn what they are and what they can do, as we receive them in thanks and as we, in giving thanks for them, pass some token of them back in acknowledgement. Just as if you receive a large package, you tear a strip off it and send this back as your receipt and acknowledgement of what you have received. In all our thanksgiving we are offering acknowledgement of what we have received.

All food and supply and provision arrive on earth from heaven.  The completed whole supplies each present instalment to us. The whole supplies the part. Everything does not arrive all at once, for then it would simply be unassimilable by us. We live in a just-in-time system.

Heaven supplies all things to us. There is the fullness and reality of all that is. We send back our thanks for the supplies we receive. And we send back whatever is broken or spoiled or we cannot deal with. All that presently exists in creation is a fragment of a greater reality, the unity of which lies ahead of it. Nevertheless, each thing may be seen as a first instalment, a first fruit, a glimpse or a view of what is coming.

The wedding at Cana prepares us for more metonyms or equivalents:

Wine is blood

Blood is holy life

Fire is holy life

Blood is dilute fire

We learn these signs and symbols from the prophets. John says that this was the first of the signs that is,wonders or miracles that the Lord gave us in order to tell us. He tells us what is going on and shows us through these illustrations. We not only hear what he says, but through these signs we see it for ourselves.

Second Sunday of Epiphany John 1 The Lamb of God

John 1.29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me. 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel. 32And John testified, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, Look, here is the Lamb of God! 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, What are you looking for? They said to him, Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying? 39He said to them, Come and see. They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four oclock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peters brother.41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, We have found the Messiah (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).

I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and it remained on him

The Lamb of God  

Jesus tells us that he is the Lamb of God. He is Agnus Dei, qui tollit peccata mundi the lamb who bears away the sins of the world.

The Lamb is the token of God and of Israel. He stands for both them together. He is able to go freely between heaven and earth. His coming and going is seen in the sacrifice of lambs made at Passover. The Passover sacrifice is the sign of the founding event in which Israel is taken out of Israel. The lamb is the Lord entering the people of Israel, and through the lamb, as though he were the passage and escape route that opens up before them. He provides the food supply by which sustains them as they do so, for he himself is that food supply.

God takes away the sin of the world. The lamb turns himself into fire in order to take our sins back with him to heaven, returning these broken parts to the whole, so that they may become part of the whole again and so be redeemed.

In Israels Law, sins were formally loaded on two oxen and dragged out of the city. Also once a year they were notionally packed onto two goats, one of which was driven far away into the desert from it would not return.

A lamb is an emblem of innocence and sinlessness; the idea is that the creature without any sin or other encumbrance of its own, has no limits on its strength and so is able to pull weights that no creature encumbered by sin can pull. The lamb is not constrained by any sins of his own, so his energy is limitless.

Jesus is the innocent and thus limitlessly powerful draught animal who can take our sins so far away that we will be finally free of them. In daily life all human refuse and waste is dumped just outside. It takes a very well-organised society to dedicate the resources draught animals to take that waste far enough away that it will not pollute the water supply on which that settlement depends

The Lamb takes away the sin of the world by returning to heaven, taking with it whatever we load onto it. By fire the lamb returns to heaven. The lamb turns himself into fire in order to take our burdens back with it to heaven, returning these broken parts to the whole. In daily life all human refuse and waste is dumped just outside the settlement. It takes a well-organised society to dedicate the draught animals of taking that waste far enough away that it will not pollute the water supply on which that settlement depends. In Israels Law, sins were formally loaded on two oxen and dragged out of the city, and also once a year they were notionally packed onto goats, one of which was driven far away into the desert from it would not return. A lamb is an emblem of innocence and sinlessness; the idea is that the creature without any sin or other encumbrance of its own, has no limits on its strength and so is able to pull weights that no creature encumbered by sin can pull. Jesus is the innocent, and thus limitlessly powerful, draught animal who can drag our sins far enough away that we will be free of them.

First Sunday of Epiphany Matthew 2 Wise Men

Matthew 2.1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel. 

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage. 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Israel is a kingly and royal people. All the nations of the earth will see this and come to Israel for leadership and judgment. Israel will provide this government when Israel follows the Lord his God. 

They were overwhelmed with joy.   They knelt down and paid him homage They offered him gifts

We worship Christ. The response that recognises him truthfully is this worship of him. These kings worship this king and so make him their overlord. Their homage declares him king of kings. In our worship we offer the Lord gifts. The gifts we offer are the gifts we have received from him. We show him how we have used the blessings and resources he has given us. 

We worship the king, here at this altar. We stand behind the wise men, doing as they do. This worship makes us wise. Understanding and wisdom follow from these actions we make in homage. When we acknowledge that we are standing here before the Lord, creation begins to open itself to us. With this holiness come both life and truth. As result of this our people were able to develop a greater understanding of the world around them. When theology, the Christian confession of God, was made the fundamental starting point, that is when theology became queen of the sciences, all sorts of other sciences became possible, and our knowledge and understanding of creation and our place and vocation in it. We understood that we have been appointed kings and stewards, responsible to the Lord for the good management of creation so that it should achieve the great flourishing of which it is capable.

Opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh

These are gifts that communicate eternity. God, frankincense, and myrrh do not corrupt and so prevent whatever they are mixed into from rotting. These gifts show us that these kings recognised that this child is not king for a while, as they are, but king for all time, the king whom time will never impact upon, so his kingdom will not be replaced by another. These gifts communicate eternity. Knowledge has to do with what is unchangingly true, and therefore with eternity. For time leaches away everything that is not eternal, and make everything we were able to say about it, for as the forces of time wear away at it, whatever it was, it is no longer. Real knowledge is knowledge of what is changelessly true and so it is knowledge of eternity. This is what these kings communicate to us with their gifts.   God makes man immune to change and decay. He who had his beginning in time remains mortal, but immortality pervades him. Eternity has soaked into him, so what is mortal is overcome by what is immortal.   

Christmas 3 Matthew 3 Baptism in the Jordan

Matthew 3.13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? 15But Jesus answered him, Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness. Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

The Christian is Baptised. He is drawn down through the waters and then drawn back up out of them again reborn.

You enter Christ and become one of his people, a member of his Body. If you are baptised you have been given a very high office. There is no higher status than Christian. By baptism you became a king, priest and prophet, and you became a son and heir. You did so because at baptism you entered the body of Christ, the communion of his holy people. There is nothing higher than this. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to discover how vast this dignity is.

At the beginning of our Christian life we are babes, vulnerable, who need the protection, supervision and teaching of the church immediately around us. The church starting with the specific Christians and congregations has to take care of you and give you the best start, so that you can grow. They have to ensure that your growth doesn’t stall. They have to accompany you so that you learn to recognise and follow the voice of the master and discern his voice among all the other voices huckstering and dinning all around you. All those other voices want something from you; they want you to join their club and so bolster their power. They want to manipulate you and use you. All the Christians around you want you to grow up, become strong, and grow independent, able to defend yourself from all the charlatans. 

Only Christianity says that persons are individuals, and says that they are not individuals because they make themselves such, by cutting themselves off from all others. To cut yourself off is to put yourself at the top of the chute that will send you sliding away down into the isolation of utter aloneness.

But they are individuals because God calls each of them by their name, and hold them before him, so that it is his relationship with them that makes them utterly distinct from every other person. Their uniqueness flows into them from him. By loving us and calling us, and waiting for our response, God makes us who we are, and refuses to let us lock ourselves into to any smaller or vicious identity. We may attempt to close ourselves down and lock ourselves in, but by continuing to call us God keeps us open.

Scripture is the waters of baptism in which we should stay immersed. Our fathers taught each other the bible, and they knew that all truth and their own identities were revealed to them by the bible. They learned parts of the bible off by heart, so that they were always ready to quote some part of it to help them weigh up how to respond to each situation and decide on the best course of action. They became a more self-controlled and not so easily upset and not stopped by any setback.  They got further on the way towards personal maturity and adulthood. They were disciples, and we should become disciples too. All the virtues of discipleship will help us to deal with all the shocks and adjust to all the changes that life will bring.

The waters are cold deep and the current is powerful. The unruly forces that push their past us and over us will not hear anything we say. They want us to lose our footing, so that we are swept off our feet and carried along. These forces make us helpless babies. Our rulers present us with screens through which pour all forces of the world, the whole current pushing against us and attempting to take it with us. In putting screens into the hands of our children we are recklessly pushing them out into a flood of unhappy human experience without the means of dealing with it. We are pushing them out into rough waters and letting them become immersed in the fear and violence of the unhappy world, in which all is flux and flow, in which the current bears everything away. 

This flow comes at us through our electronic devices. The screens we hold in our hand are the altars towards which we direct our gaze, our desires, prayers and adoration. Each delivers a torrent of images, messages and action, which tumbles together every motive and desire and identity, jumbling everything up with everything else so that no settled individuality emerges and we remain entirely fluid, our identity undeterminable. They set us in an entirely non-reciprocal, asymmetrical and so unjust relationship, in which technology and media owners are everything and we are nothing. We must let go of them and allow the one true flow of holiness that comes from God bears away all that does not belong to us, so that our baptism results in our standing solely on the solid ground of Christ. 

When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Now we hear this voice. Now we may put down our phone, look up to the altar and see the Beloved Son of God and know that his gaze holds ours, and we are out of the river and on solid ground at last. Out of the torrent and the flood steps the unchanging truth of man with God.

Second Sunday after Christmas Naming and Circumcision of Jesus

Luke 2.15-21

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us. 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The Angels come to earth, bringing to us the gospel and the worship of heaven. Angels are bearers and personifications of the message. Through them, heaven reaches down to earth.

The shepherds are the people of Israel. They are the least regarded and lowest status, since their lives are semi-nomadic, almost never bringing them into the city or political life. Nonetheless, shepherds are representative of Israel. The prophets liked Israels rulers to shepherds, either good rulers or bad ones, good guardians or predatory ones.  

The shepherds said Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place

Bethlehem is the city of David. The shepherds come to worship the Lord. Shepherds are both outsiders, and they represent Israels rulers who are often referred as shepherds of their people.

This is the search for man. This is the revelation which is what epiphany means of the truth of man. Here is the true man, the real and complete man. Now we can say, Show us this man! Show us what a real man is! Where can we see the truth of man? We want to see Jesus. 

Jesus Christ is called the Son of Man. He is the truth of man, and the personification of man. He is the best product of mankind, the prototype and the finished work. He is man who is made holy, brought into the presence of God. As we go through the world we hope to discover more of this true man. We look for intimations of him. A real man can stand through life without becoming a victim to envy, resentment, to rage or to all the forces that stoke up his resentment and use it to manipulate him. As soon as a man lashes out at those nearest to him, who he can hurt without consequences he has failed to be a man. A real man is a disciplined man, which means that he must be a disciple. 

At the centre of our Christmas celebration is the scene of the nativity of Jesus, the crib. Here set out in this cabinet we see Mary and Joseph, the ox and the ass, the shepherds and the kings. This scene is static, but it allows us to direct our worship in the right direction in the same way that the cross and the altar do. It directs our gaze to our true Lord, and so away from false lords, towards the truth and away from fakes and falsehood.

But we leave church and this nativity scene, where does our gaze settle? There are all the many other cabinets of figures, each presented by some institution broadcasting its identity through spectacle. In all these other cabinets the figures move, and the spectacle is live action, loud, repetitive, formulaic. We may watch these spectacles in the isolation that our screen gives us, so we are simultaneously on our own, and part of the vast crowd of spectators. We cannot hear or see this crowd, yet as long as spectacle is streamed to us, we are a member of it. We are held here, rendered supine and voiceless by this show. The point of the show is the power of those who mount it. Their power is the power to make you their audience. As long as you have this show on, you belong to their demographic. Their power comes from your reception, receptivity and susceptibility.

But if you watch the nativity scene you are watching the antidote to the shows now appearing on all other screens. The scene of these figures gathered around this manger in this stable is not too fast moving to take in or to question. It is slow enough for you to deliberate and make your judgment. In the same way, the Easter scene, in which the Lord was similarly flanked by the other figures who make up the scene (they crucified him, one on the left the other on the right), directs us gaze to the one true object and subject of our love.

Any child who watches is gazing at an altar on which a particular religious event is taking place. It looks as though he is merely watching and therefore detached from it, not taking part in it. But this show is the performance by which the powerful lure the gullible, and by catching and holding them, making them powerless. It is an event in which power flows from the watcher the watcher is drained of the ability to act and the performer and provider of that spectacle draws to himself the power of all those he has rendered powerless. So simply by watching the viewer is inadvertently taking part. It is an event of child-maiming and stunting. It is a religious event in which they surrender their child to the forces which will prevent him from growing up. They surrender not only his childhood but his adulthood to. He enters a form of captivity which is permanent. He cannot live now without the torrent of images, which flash past him too fast to be queried, digested, challenged. He cannot live without this level of over-stimulation. It cannot be produced within any small community, but only by the whole vast financial and technical resources of the global media, the purpose of which is to dissolve all locality and create this single global economy, this single cultic form of obedience. They are stunting their own children, and ensuring that they will never be able to grow up because they received and dont know what love is, or that human relationships are entirely about face-to-face, reciprocal relationships, in which we listen and speak to one another, in which we hear and are heard by one another. They are giving their children away to the gods, and the gods are not kind. This child-abuse is becoming child-sacrifice, worship of Moloch.

The Son of Man

Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, meaning that he is the offspring and true product of Mankind. He is the true figure and representative of Man, the best of Man, all mankind in one. He tells us that he is the first-fruits, brought to the temple, and there found good by God. There is a test, and he passes it. Summarising the Book of Hebrews, there is a trial, and though many start the course, only one has ever arrived and withstood all that has been hurled at him, which is all the aggression and accusation men have ever hurled at one another. He is the real outcome and achievement of all human striving.

The gospel we have inherited has brought us a very high account of mankind. It is good and true, and reliable and trustworthy. It is ambitious for us in a way not rivalled by another other tradition. It pins us to the hope of love and truth and freedom. It insists that we are men for one another, people in a community, bound by love, and it insists that we learn what is true, and adjust ourselves to the truth, that we develop good judgement in order to explore and its saying that we should abandon our fantasies and let reality be our judge. We should discover that creation is good, that there is a very significant role for us, and that nature is to not simply to be defied.

We are men, we already are human, but we also have to learn how to be men or how to be women. Man and woman are roles that we have to grow into. We grow into them in the same way we grow into any other set of skills; we learn and practice a set of disciplines until we have learned a certain facility, a certain capability and freedom within them. So, we are not up against nature, and not bound to struggle against everything it represents for us. Nature gives us the opportunity. Nature gives us a starting place, and without taking this starting place from nature, we cannot very well make a start on becoming either a man or a woman and so cannot become truly and fully human. In the same way, the formation and education and enculturation we received from our families and neighbours give us opportunity and a starting place.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus

By this circumcision Jesus becomes a member of Israel. The people of Israel have been chosen to be the example of what mankind is intended to be. Israel is the model of mankind, and therefore it is also our coach and trainer. Israel is the sketch and prototype, so there are many many false ways explored and finally abandoned. All the errors and mistakes are remembered and still visible as much as the successes. It is the people with the experience and they are therefore the teacher for whoever wants to learn and follow. Israels experience and history are written down in order that there be a public record of Israels long apprenticeship. Israel is elect to be the eldest son, the eldest of many brothers. He is to make life easier for them by showing them the way and leading them. He is their pioneer and trail-blazer.

Each of us is given an identity. It is a Christian identity. We are who we are, because our parents and families name us and call us and affirm us. for these many centuries they have done so in confidence, understanding your unique identity, because they received their identity from the gospel. We have understood that God knows us, and calls and names us, and waits for us and hears us and answers us. He has given us this name Jesus just so we can call him.