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This Sunday's Programme

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Christmas Day

Sunday 25th December 2022

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Luke 2: 1-20
It happened in those days that a decree came from Caesar Augustus for the whole world to be registered in a census. This first happened when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria and everyone when to their home town to be registered. So Joseph, who was of the house of David left Galilee and the town of Nazareth in Judea to go to Bethlehem with Mary his wife, who was pregnant. While they were there, her time had come and she gave birth. She delivered her first-born son, dressed him in baby clothes and laid him in a trough because there had been no space for them at the camping ground.
There were shepherds in that district, taking turns keeping watch over their flocks through the night when suddenly an angel of the Lord stood with them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid because I bring you joyful news for all the people. This day, in the city of David, the Saviour, the anointed of God, was born for you. This is the sign for you: you will find a baby, dressed in baby clothes lying in a trough. Then suddenly with the angel, there was a multitude from heaven praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest
and, on earth, peace amongst people.’

Then when the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other. ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what has happened, what God has made known to us.’ They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, with the baby lying in the trough. When they saw this, they let everyone know what they had been told about this child. All were astounded at what the shepherds were saying and wondered what it could mean. As for Mary she took all this in, pondering over it in her heart. The shepherds returned, praising and glorifying God for all that they had seen and heard. It was exactly as they had been told.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 95:1-3, 11-13

O sing to the Lord a new song,
all the earth sing to God!
O sing to God and bless his name.

Each day proclaim his salvation
declaring his glory to unbelievers,
proclaiming his wonders to all nations.

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult,
let the sea and all within it roar,
let the fields and all that grow in them be joyful,
the trees of the forest be exultant,
for the face of God comes,
comes to judge the earth.

God will judge the earth in righteousness
and the peoples with his truth.

 

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Lord Jesus, you have come to save us. May our hearts, minds and lives be open to your presence as were Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Let us hear the message of the angels and go into our world rejoicing and praising you.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

We are so familiar with the story of Christmas as told in carols and hymns, pageants and cribs that we can fail to appreciate the differing and, at times unique, understanding that Gospel narrators, Matthew and Luke, each bring to the story. Yes, both have Jesus in Bethlehem born of the Virgin Mary with Joseph caring and protecting them. Both have Jesus recognised as Saviour by people from the margins. Both have authority, civil or religious, at odds with or distant from the Saviour of the world. But when each story is studied separate from the other, we are given insights into the person of Jesus that foreshadows the rest of these authors’ presentation of the Gospel.
This Sunday we hear Luke’s version. (Matthew’s will be on the Feast of Epiphany in two Sundays time.) He opens with an extended description of the census ordered by the Leader of the then-known world, Augustus, who was often presented as the Saviour of the World for the ‘peace’ he inaugurated. The mention of Quirinius is peculiar. He was governor in 6 BC – too early for the Jesus’ birth but Luke’s use of him and of Caesar for that matter sets up the civil world as the realm in which Jesus will live and move, but not as part of it. The world of politics and power has little importance for the true King of the World.
The promised Messiah has to be born in Bethlehem and the orders of the indifferent leaders, while causing inconvenience to the young couple, also bring about the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy. The town of Bethlehem is as oblivious to the needs of the couple as were the authorities. The ‘inn’ is actually the camping ground provided for passing caravan trains and even in this ‘truck stop’ at the edge of town, there is no room for them.
The appearance of an angel announcing Good News is the third such event in this Gospel, and as in the earlier events, it instils fear, even terror in the shepherds. As before, the angel tells his hearers not to be afraid but rather filled with joy. He announces that the Saviour has been born ‘for them’ and the sign he offers is overwhelming in its ordinariness. The swaddling clothes are strips of cloth, the normal attire for a new baby. The peculiarity is the feeding trough. Does this image present us with a sign presaging Jesus’ end. From a life begun wrapped in cloth strips, placed in a stone trough, because there was no place for him, it ends, ‘wrapped in linen cloth, placed in a rock-hewn tomb, where no-one had been laid.’ (Lk 23: 53) *
But the shepherds wouldn’t have known this. Even in the midst of the sheer ordinariness of Jesus’ birth, they see the salvation of God and are more than prepared to proclaim it. For the people of that time, God’s choice of witness was strange. The shepherds were so disregarded and despised that their testimony was not regarded as valid in the court of Law. But Mary takes their testimony to heart and treasures all this within her heart.

See _The Gospel of Luke_ by Luke Timothy Johnson Sacra Pagina Series 3 (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN) Page 53.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Seven times Luke uses the word ‘today’ in his Gospel. The first occurrence is in the announcement to the shepherds that a Saviour has been born to them, the final in the promise by Jesus to the ‘good thief’ that he will be with him in Paradise. But ‘today’ not only marks the coming of salvation to members of the human race it is also part of the life of God. At the Baptism of Jesus the voice from heaven, the Father, announces, ‘You are my son; today I have fathered you.’
We who live in time, one moment after another, find it hard to comprehend the unity of time in the life of God. For God one moment contains all time. When we try to comprehend reality through the lens of God’s time, we realise that what took place in the life of Jesus, is to take place in our lives. His coming has been announced to us as much as it was to those shepherds. We are to arise, as they did, and recognise Jesus in the most ordinary of circumstances, the birth of a child, as they did. We are to tell our story, worship the child, and return to our daily lives glorifying and praising God.
The challenge of faith is to believe that God desires to be ‘Emmanuel’, to be with us in the ordinary, and sometimes dull lives that we have. We think we just aren’t good enough. We aren’t. The desiring drive for salvation does not lie with us – it lies in the heart of God to be fully present, alive to all creation, alive to each of us, saying the words said at Jesus’ baptism: ‘I have fathered you.’ When we hear and accept those words, Jesus is again born today.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

If you were going to plan salvation, would you do it this way?  With a child born on the margins of society, recognised by ones who were even further on the margins, with no real change happening in the circumstances of either the parents or the witnesses?  Compare that with the drama of the recent election campaign for the President of the USA, leader of the free world.  There we heard many promises for change, for ‘salvation’ for the masses. People’s lives would be different, great again. In the midst of the media coverage, I saw an acute cartoon.  First, it showed a politician asking the crowd, ‘who wants change?’ All respond enthusiastically in the affirmative.  Then it showed the politician asking, ‘who wants to change?’  Deathly quiet. Therein lies the difference between Jesus’ salvation and that of the world’s.

The shepherds went away changed.  They could have stayed in their fear, been sceptical of the angel’s message, seen the child in the manger as just another poor child, seen Mary and Joseph as incompetent young parents and walked away. And I think they would have walked away sad.  But they went beyond their fear and let it turn into awe.  They followed the advice of the angel and let their curiosity take them into town.  They were open to the wonder of God in the life of the new-born infant, told all about their experiences with the angel and heavenly host and then returned to their life on the margins, glorifying and praising God.  Life may not have changed but it was utterly transformed.  Like Mary, they would have treasured and pondered on that night for their rest of their days and they would have known themselves precious and important in the eyes of God.  There is no greater change we could desire for our lives.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

As you go through this week, in the midst of the demands made on you, mull on the notion of time and especially how all time is but a moment to God.  Realise that what happened in the life of Jesus is to unfold in your life as well.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

Imagine the disruption and challenge that the message of the angels would have made into the lives of the shepherds.  What it would have meant to leave their fields and go in search of a new-born child.  How did wonder drive them on?  How does wonder impel change in your life?

How would they have worshipped before the child? How did they wonder there?  Before the presence of God, how do you express your wonder?

They left full of praise, glorifying God.  How do you live in praise and glory?

Rest in the love of your God.