Sunday, 29 December 2019

A gift for children
at Christmas-time

The Flight into Egypt … a stained glass window by the Harry Clarke Studios in Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 29 December 2019

The First Sunday after Christmas (Christmas 1):

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick


11 a.m.: United Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2),

Readings: Isaiah 63: 7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2: 10-18; Matthew 2: 13-23

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Candy canes hanging on the Christmas tree in the Rectory in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This Sunday can be something of an anti-climax for many people, after all that has happened on Christmas Day and the day after, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Saint Matthew is alone among the four Gospel writers in recounting the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-23). We hear this morning how Saint Joseph learns after the visit of the Magi that King Herod the Great is plotting to murder the infants in his kingdom.

Herod the Great fears the new-born ‘King of the Jews’ that the Magi speak about is going to be a threat to his throne, and so he sets out to kill all innocent children under the age of two.

The wise men from the East came to Herod the Great asking ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ They have visited the child with Mary, paid him homage, and offered him gifts. Now they have returned to their own country.

In yet another dream, an angel warns Saint Joseph of the plot, and so he takes the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child with him, and the family flee to Egypt.

Perhaps it’s an unsettling story.

Perhaps it’s a story that reminds us how we can make Christmas too easy, too comfortable.

This is not a ‘family-friendly’ story, if you think of what happens to the Holy Family, to Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

The Christmas story is not complete without tyrannical rulers, mass murder, refugees and families fleeing injustice.

The Cambridge priest poet Malcolm Guite, in his poem ‘The Holy Innocents (Refugee)’, writes:

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.

Perhaps the Christmas story is a reminder to us that everywhere today we find oppressive rulers, the denial of human rights, child abuse, and the creation of mass numbers of refugees there is something very wrong, there is a denial of the Kingdom of God that Christ has come into the world to announce, that the state of our world today is a clear denial of the message of Christmas, of what Christmas is all about.

That’s the dark and bitter side of Christmas.

But I thought we might also like to share something sweet about Christmas too this morning.

How many of you have candy canes hanging on your Christmas trees at home?

Did you know the candy cane is a traditional Christmas symbol throughout America?

A story that’s rather nice but probably not true says that back in 1670, 350 years ago, a German choirmaster was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas service in Cologne Cathedral.

So, he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet. He wanted to keep their minds on Christmas, so he made them into the shape of the letter ‘J’, like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the Baby Jesus at the first Christmas.

The shape of the candy cane is like the letter ‘J’ and reminds us of the name of Jesus (Matthew 1: 21; Luke 1: 31).

Turn it the other way and it is the shape of a shepherd’s crook. The shepherds visited the Baby Jesus that first Christmas. And, of course, Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are called to be his followers (see Isaiah 40: 11; Psalm 23: 1, John 10: 11, John 10: 27-30).

Now look at the colours of the candy cane. They are white and red to remind us that Christ is truly God and truly human.

The white in the stripes represents his holiness, his purity, that he is God incarnate, that at Christmas God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1: 14).

The red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross (Luke 22: 20; I John 1: 7; Revelation 1: 5).

At a time when children were not encouraged to come forward at Communion, the white and the red could also remind them of the bread and wine at Communion.

The candy maker also flavoured the candy cane with peppermint. Peppermint was very similar to hyssop, which was used for sacrifice and purification in the Old Testament, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice. Perhaps the peppermint is also a reminder of the spices the Wise Men brought as gifts when they visit Jesus (see Matthew 2: 11).

The candy cane is solid, like is a rock. The candy maker chose hard candy for the candy cane to remind us that Jesus is our rock, dependable and strong (Psalm 31: 3).

When the candy cane is broken, it is a reminder that when Christ was crucified, his body was broken (I Corinthians 11: 24).

Did the first makers of candy canes think of all these connections when they invented them?

Perhaps all these meanings were added after candy canes became popular. But the candy cane is a gift reminding us that the love of God is a gift for us in the birth of Christ.

And did you know, if you share two candy canes together you can make a heart, the symbol of love?

Because, love came down at Christmas, and Christmas is all about the love of God for us, shown in the birth and incarnation of Christ, and a reminder that we need to share that love with one another.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Flight into Egypt … a stained glass window in Saint Ailbe’s Church, Emly, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Matthew 2: 13–23 (NRSVA):

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

The Flight into Egypt in Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White or Gold

The Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

The Post-Communion Hymn:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

The Flight into Egypt … a panel in Saint Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

152, Come and join the celebration (CD 9)
179, See amid the winter’s snow (CD 11)
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face (CD 25)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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