December 30, 2007

Hebrews 2, 10-end. Matthew 2, 13-end

On Christmas morning the sermon spoke of how the familiar Christmas story wraps us round in comfort and security, like the swaddling bands in which the infant Jesus was wrapped.

But the Christian tradition does not allow us to remain in comfort and security for long. Immediately Christmas Day ends, the calendar directs our thoughts to Stephen, the first Christian martyr, on 26 December; then to John, exiled to Patmos in his old age on 27th: then the Holy Innocents, killed on the orders of Herod on 28th; and Thomas Becket, martyred in the course of a dispute between church and the civil state on 29th; and finally on 31 December, to John Wyclif, sent to the stake for daring to translate the Bible into a language people could understand.

And today we are led to contemplate the Holy Family – but it is not the Holy Family resting secure in their home, receiving the adoration of either simple shepherds or the wise of another culture. It is the Holy Family fleeing for their lives to escape the murderous intent of a megalomaniac ruler, who can see even a newborn baby as a threat to his continued power.

Today we are brought back to reality with a bump. The reading from Matthew reflects what we have been reading in our newspapers and seeing on our screens over the past few days – innocent people killed as a result of political rivalry, or natural disaster; families hit by tragedy at a time of joy;and as always refugees fleeing for their lives and seeking shelter in alien lands – real life in all its difficulty and confusion.

But the comfort and security of the Christmas picture has not disappeared. It is still there to strengthen us as we live out our Christian faith in the real world. It assures us that if we listen to God, we can come safely through the trials which life throws at us. It reminds us of the help and support we can expect in hard times from our Christian family. It reassures us with the truth that there is nothing we suffer which Christ did not suffer before us; as Hebrews says, “because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested”.

May the faith of Mary, the strength of Joseph and the peace of the Christ Child be with us all as we go forward to live through whatever the New Year may bring.


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