Catholics for a Changing Church

Reflections for week beginning 11 December 2022

by Derek Reeve

Reflections on the Daily Mass Readings

Sunday, December 11th, Third Sunday in Advent in Year One or ‘Gaudete Sunday’

Today marks the beginning of the second half of Advent when, traditionally, the atmosphere of our meeting together changes and becomes more joyful as Christmas draws closer. It is difficult to find the origins of this Sunday becoming a similar observance to ‘Laetare Sunday’ at mid-Lent, but it has taken on the characteristics of that Sunday and is seen as a break in the more penitential aspects of Advent. Because there came to be some relaxation of fasting and penance on this day, in England it came to be known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’. However, it would be a mistake to see today in the same way as Laetare Sunday in Lent because, although Advent is traditionally a time of discipline in preparation for Christmas, unlike Lent, it is a time of joyful preparation.

On mid-Lent Sunday the Pope would bless a golden rose and send it, as a mark of favour, to some distinguished person or community and, from this custom sprang the tradition of wearing rose-coloured vestments on that day. At some point this custom was extended to mid-Advent Sunday, today and this does seem to accord with the joyful character of today’s celebration. The name, Gaudete Sunday’, as was the case with many Sundays, sprang from the first words of the Entry chant in the old Mass. This quoted Saint Paul and gave the tone to the whole celebration, as he says ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ ‘Gaudete in Domino semper’.

The custom that has sprung up of having a pink candle on the Advent wreath seems to have crept in gradually and probably from the United States. The original wreath was imported from mainland Europe and became popular in Anglican churches of a moderately Catholic tradition. It consisted of a wreath of holly and ivy on which were placed four red candles with a white one in the centre, one of which was lit each Sunday of Advent with the white candle being lit on Christmas Day. At some point after the Second Vatican Council Roman Catholic churches began to adopt this custom but, sadly and possible again under American influence, ecclesiastical furnishers introduced the horrid violet candles with one pink one for this Sunday. This does take away from the original dignity of the simple wreath with its four bright red candles.

Readings: Isaiah 35/1-6, 10 : Letter of James 5/7-10 : Matthew 11/2-11

The prophet Isaiah, in today’s reading, proclaims joyfully the coming of the Messiah. With his coming the southern desert will flower, and the whole of nature will rejoice as it sees ‘the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God’. At this, the prophet says, the weak and the faint-hearted must have courage because the Lord is coming, and he will do marvellous things. Those things which Jesus announced as his programme when he spoke in the synagogue are all listed here. The blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb will rejoice. Joy and gladness will be there and sorrow and torment will be at an end.

It is John the Baptist who again figures in today’s Gospel reading. John is already imprisoned for his outspoken criticism of the king’s behaviour. This is a sad moment in John’s life because, not only is he in prison, but he seems to be having doubts. Was he right to back Jesus and proclaim him as the Promised One or had he made a dreadful mistake? Because of his doubts John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he truly is the One for whom they have all been waiting?

Jesus sends John’s disciples back, telling them to recount to John how the words of the prophet are being fulfilled, and the Good News is being proclaimed to the poor. Jesus adds that those who do not lose faith in him will find true happiness. John is encouraged to hang on, in spite of his sufferings, and not to lose faith in Jesus.

Jesus then tells the people why John is such a great man. They had gone out, Jesus reminds them, not to see the tall reeds shaking in the wind all around the place where John was baptising, nor to see someone who might have impressed them with their fine clothes, since John dressed in a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt. No, Jesus says, they had gone out to see a prophet and John was much more than a prophet. John, he says, was the great prophet Elijah, come back to prepare the way for him.

John, Jesus says, is the greatest of all who have been born of women but, nevertheless, he is of the old order which is passing away. Even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John, Jesus tells them, because this is the new order of things. This is not to put John down in any sense but to remind the people of the greatness of the new order which Jesus has come to proclaim and to inaugurate.

The extract from the Letter of James is an encouragement to those who would hear his words, not to lose heart. They were waiting for the Lord’s return, but they must be patient and, meanwhile, live together in peace, harmony and love.

The readings today make this a truly joyful Sunday. Like John the Baptist, we may have begun to wonder and to ask questions. In view of the chaos in the world, the threat of global extinction and the uncertainties surrounding even the future of the Church, have we backed the wrong horse?

It is here that Jesus’ words speak to us. Jesus tells us that, like John, we must look around us and see the way in which love is constantly triumphing over evil. The Kingdom is being established all the time, in small acts of love and kindness. The protests all over the world against tyranny and oppression are also signs of the coming Kingdom. Love is constantly overcoming evil, but we fail to recognise it. It may seem hopeless because the problems are so great but change comes from below and wherever love abounds and selfishness and evil are being opposed, the Kingdom of God is being established.

As James says, what we have to do is to live peaceably with one another and to build up the community of the Church that we may be truly a sign of that coming Kingdom. What more can I do to make my own Christian community a community of love and fellowship, turned out towards the world and ready to give service wherever we can?

In my own life Advent must be the time when I am on the alert to recognise where the Kingdom of God is and to give thanks for that. Is my life characterised by joy?  There is so much to rejoice about, if we stop to think. Is my Christian community a community of joy? Not just superficial jolliness but the deep joy that springs from being a community of friends who know and love each other where no one feels excluded or is turned away.

Let’s try to make every day and ‘Gaudete’ day!

Monday, December 12th, Commemoration of Our Lady of Guadaloupe

Last Friday was the day on which Juan Diego Cuahtlatoatzin, the Aztec peasant was commemorated. He believed he had seen the Mother of God and this had brought about the creation of a shrine in her honour, not far from Mexico City. It is this that is commemorated today, and it is a reminder, whatever we may think about Juan Diego’s vision, that the Lord comes to bring joy to the poor and the oppressed like the Aztecs who had been so badly treated by their Spanish conquerors. It was from Juan Diego’s experience that the Aztec people became more aware of their own dignity, and the status of women was improved so that they were treated as the equals of men. This is what the Gospel is all about, bringing people to their true dignity and enabling them to live truly human lives.

We pray today for the people of Mexico and the whole of Latin America with its many problems, and we remember all the poor and the needy of our world.

Readings: Numbers 24/2-7, 15-17 : Matthew 21/23-27

Balaam is a somewhat mythical character, not unknown to other Middle Eastern traditions. The stories about him form a separate unit in the Book of Numbers. In the extract which is read today, Balaam is portrayed as a seer upon whom the Spirit of God came to rest so that he was able to prophesy. He is able to see what God sees and to reveal this in his own words. Once again, his vision is of a new idyllic state, but the words of most interest to us at this time are that ‘a hero arises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples’ and ‘I see him-but not in the present. I behold him-but not close at hand, a star from Jacob takes the leadership, a sceptre arises from Israel’. These words have, obviously, been seen as referring to Jesus, the ‘star of Jacob’, since he was descended from him, and he is of the same stock as all of us, truly human.

In the Gospel reading today Jesus is still engaged in dispute with the Scribes and the Pharisees. Once again Jesus drives them into a corner so that have to admit defeat. Jesus refuses to tell them by what authority he carries out his good works and teaches the people, but we know that it is on the authority of his Father since we believe he is the One who was to come.

In the strange experience of Guadaloupe, the poor are raised up as the Gospel announces. In the words of Balaam, one will come from the people of Israel who will be the leader of all. He, Jesus, will proclaim the Good News of God’s love and concern for the poor and the needy. We rejoice that this One, who has come, is truly one of us, of our stock, made as we all are.

As was said above, today is a day to pray for the poor and the needy of our world, and we give thanks for all those efforts by people of every faith and none, to lift up the poor and give them their dignity and to make our world a place fit to live in for all humankind.

There are proper readings for Our Lady of Guadaloupe though almost certainly those of the day will be used. Those for Our Lady are: Zachariah 2/14-17, which speaks of rejoicing and universal salvation foreseen in the experience of Juan Diego. Or alternatively Apocalypse 11/19, 12/1-6, 10, which tells of the great sign in the heavens, which has often been seen as about Mary.

Luke 1/26-38, which tells the story of the Annunciation. Or alternatively Luke 1/39-47, which tells of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth her cousin.

Tuesday, December 13th, Commemoration of Lucy, martyr (+304)

Lucy has no particular connection with Advent, but it is not totally inappropriate that she is remembered today. Lucy died in Syracuse, during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in the year 304. The legends about her are of little historical value, but she has been honoured at least from the beginning of the fifth century in many places in both the Eastern and the Western churches. The legends about her describe her as a wealthy Sicilian who refused marriage, gave all her goods to the poor and was betrayed to the persecuting authority by her suitor. She was tortured and, in the legend, she had her eyes torn out though they were miraculously restored. According to the legend she was killed eventually by the sword. It is because of the legend that Lucy is often depicted holding her eyes on a dish.

Because of her name, which means ‘light’, Lucy’s feast has become, especially in Sweden, a festival of light, since it is so close to the shortest day of the year. Being so close to Christmas, Lucy is a reminder that it is the ‘light of the world’ that we are preparing to celebrate and his coming into the world. He it is who enlightens us and opens our eyes to see the underlying reality of God’s love and the coming Reign of God’s love.

Today is a day to pray for enlightenment that will enable us to see things aright. We remember too, the people of Sweden and all those places in Italy where Lucy is specially honoured. Lastly, we pray for the blind and those who are partially sighted and all who care for and support them.

Readings: Zephaniah 3/1-2, 9-13 : Matthew 21/28-32

The prophet Zephaniah was active between the years 640 and 609 BCE, and he speaks at a time of tumult. He is addressing the city of Jerusalem itself, and he reproaches it for the way in which the people have failed to trust God and to learn their lesson. In spite of this, he prophesies that all will be forgiven and peoples from afar will come to worship God. Those who are left in Jerusalem will be the humble and the lowly, leading honest lives and free from all wrong-doing. They will enjoy both peace and prosperity, the prophet says.

Christians have related these words to the Lord’s coming and his calling together of a holy people, who will be his followers. These will not be from among the rich and the arrogant, but they will be lowly and humble and lead honest lives. Others from all over the earth will be attracted by them and join with them.

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells a story which suggests that everyone is called by God through the inner promptings of their conscience, though they have not always obeyed that prompting. However, like the son who says ‘no’ and thinks better of it, they too, the poor and the lowly who have not been particularly observant of the Jewish Law and even those who are not Jewish, they have begun to repent and to change their way of life and to follow Jesus’ teaching. On the other hand, those who profess to be faithful to the Jewish Law and the prophets, that is the chief priests and the elders of the people have said, as it were ‘yes’ but have failed to understand and to live the Law, since the Law is all about love of God and love of neighbour.

Jesus reminds his hearers that they failed to listen to John the Baptist while those whom they condemn as sinners, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes, did listen and did change their way of life. Even seeing that, Jesus says, did not make them repent and change their way of life.

As we prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s birth, he reminds us that, however much we may have failed in the past we can always change our ways and repent and follow him more faithfully. As the prophet Zephaniah tells us, it is the poor and the lowly, sinners like ourselves that Jesus calls and whom he wants as his friends. Our only mistake might be to begin to think of ourselves arrogantly as did the Chief Priests and the Elders. As Jesus reminded us some time ago, when all is said and done, we are his lowly servants. But what a privilege that is!

We pray today that we may serve the Lord faithfully and remembering Lucy, our light may shine before others so that they may see what is good in our lives and being attracted towards that light come to know something more of the God who is both light and love.

There are special readings for Lucy though, most probably, those of the Tuesday in Advent will be used. Those for Lucy are: Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians 10/17-11/2, which alludes to the marriage between Christ and the Church and recalls Lucy’s devotion to him.

Matthew 25/1-13, which is Jesus’ story of the wise and foolish bridal attendants, reminding us that Lucy was ready and waiting when the Lord came to call her to himself in her martyrdom.

Wednesday, December 14th, Commemoration of John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes was born in 1542 into a noble but impoverished family in Toledo and was brought up by his widowed mother. He went to a poor school in Medina del Campo and was apprenticed to a silk weaver. He showed no aptitude for trade, and so he went to a Jesuit college. In 1563, he joined the Carmelite Order of Friars, studied theology at Salamanca and in 1567 was made a priest.

Juan was not happy with the way in which the Carmelites lived their religious life, and he thought of becoming a Carthusian hermit. The great Teresa of Avila persuaded him, however, to join her in her reform of the Carmelite Order. Juan or John of the Cross, as he had become, joined Teresa and became Rector of the study house for the friars who had joined the reform and confessor to the sisters at Avila where Teresa had established the mother house of the reform.

In 1575, the friars who had not accepted Teresa’s reform refused to give independence to those houses who had and imprisoned John in Toledo. It was here, in prison, that John wrote some of his greatest poetry. After some nine months, John escaped, and, a little later, the two branches of the Carmelites separated officially, and John became successively Rector of the college at Brava which he had founded, Prior of the house at Granada from 1582 and Prior at Segovia in 1591.

The end of John’s life was marked by further suffering at the hands of the Vicar General of the reformed Carmelites. John was banished and died in exile at Ubeda in Andalusia in 1591.

John was the victim of power politics and jealousy though he was a man of great warmth and passion and both a poet and a mystic. He had been rigorously trained in the theology of Thomas Aquinas and his spiritual writings, which are commentaries on his poems, reflect that. They stress the need for a life of asceticism and for pure faith and love of God.

John’s works are greatly admired not only among Carmelites but throughout the Western Church and even among Christians of other churches.

We pray today for a deeper commitment to prayer and for a stronger faith and trust in God who is often, as was in John’s case, very much a God who remains hidden.

We pray too for the Carmelite Friars and Sisters and all associated with them.

Readings: Isaiah 45/6-8, 18, 21-26 : Luke 7/19-23

The reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah today is composed of verses from a section of the book which is devoted to the pagan King Cyrus of Babylon and his anointing by God. Cyrus had been chosen by God to be the one who would free the Jewish exiles from their bondage. The prophet extols God as the God of the whole universe. To him all the peoples of the earth will eventually come, even those who had revolted against God.

This is the liberation for which the people had waited, but it is very different from the one which is described in the Gospel reading. Jesus is the One, anointed by the Spirit, who will come to free the people, but not as a political liberator. Jesus will bring freedom of a different kind, and the healings that he does will be symbolic of that freedom. He will free those who are excluded from society by their diseases and will restore them to fellowship with others who have, perhaps, believed their affliction to have been a punishment sent by God.

The Gospel reading is Luke’s version of what was heard last Sunday from Matthew’s Gospel. In Luke’s version John seems not to be in prison as yet, but he is experiencing the same doubts which figured in Matthew’s account last Sunday. Jesus’ reply to John’s disciples is to quote the prophet Isaiah, not from the extract which is read today but from that which was read last Sunday. Jesus sends John’s messengers back to him to tell him that the prophet’s words are being fulfilled and, above all, the Good News is being proclaimed to the poor.

The Kingdom that Jesus proclaims is very different from the one for which his contemporaries were waiting and for which they were hoping. Often we confuse the Kingdom of God with the Church, and we become saddened and perplexed when we see numbers diminishing and people no longer wanting to join us. But Jesus says today ‘Happy are those who do not lose faith in me’.

The Church is not an end in itself but a vehicle. Jesus did not send his followers out to create a Church or to build an organisation. Like King Cyrus, the Church is meant to be a means to an end, and the end is the Kingdom of God. This is done by the sort of communities that we create, which reflect the values of the Kingdom of God. These are concern for the poorest and the most needy, openness to all who come our way, love and care for one another. This will be a sign to others of what life is all about and how best it may be lived. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of God is being built up all around us, wherever people are loving one another, caring for others and working to make the world a better place for all.

As Jesus tells us, we must not lose hope in him. Our true happiness is to live the Gospel in our lives and to trust totally in the God who loves us and who has shown himself to us in Jesus. During this Advent time we are called to be ever more alert to recognise where the Kingdom of God is happening and to give thanks for that. The Spirit is at work among peoples of every faith and none, and we are here to give God the thanks for that.

There are special readings for John of the Cross though, almost certainly, those of Advent will be used. Those for John are: 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 2/1-10, in which Paul speaks of the simplicity of his own preaching which was only about Jesus and him crucified. In spite of his intellectual abilities, John’s essential teaching was simple and exactly that of Paul.

Luke 14/25-33, in which Jesus speaks of what is demanded of those who would be his disciples, demands that John followed faithfully throughout his life.

Thursday, December 15th, Thursday in Week Three in Advent

Readings: Isaiah 54/1-10 : Luke 7/24-30

The reading from the prophet Isaiah is a great hymn of praise for the God who is totally wedded to his people. Though they may have suffered and become estranged from God, God will never forget them. It is as if God is saying that there may have been a parting of the ways, but I can never forget you. You are the one whom I have loved since your youth. In these few verses the prophet is seen at his most romantic when he is speaking of God’s love for Israel, a love which extends to the whole of humanity and the whole of creation.

The Gospel reading continues that of yesterday and is, again, Luke’s version of what was read last Sunday from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus asks the people why they came out to see John the Baptist and what had they expected? They wouldn’t have come out to see someone who would impress them by his finery since John wore a camel skin tunic and a leather belt. Nor would they have come out to admire the scenery with the tall reeds swaying in the breeze. No, they had come out to see a prophet and John was much more than just a prophet. John was the one who would be the messenger who would prepare the way for the One who was to come. Those who had listened to John, Jesus tells the crowds, were the tax-collectors and those labelled as sinners. They had found the Kingdom but the Pharisees and the Elders who had refused to listen to John had missed their opportunity and thwarted God’s plan for them.

John prepares the way for Jesus who is the One who will proclaim the Reign of God’s love to the poor, the needy and the little ones of the world, and they listen. The powerful and those who believe themselves to be righteous are unable to hear John’s message and so cannot enter the Kingdom.

Today we give thanks for God’s saving love for all peoples without exception. We give thanks too that Jesus came to proclaim that love and to set up the Reign of love and that he left us, his followers who are the Church, to continue his work.

Friday, December 16th, Friday in Week Three in Advent

Readings: Isaiah 56/1-3, 6-8 : John 5/33-36

The reading from the prophet Isaiah today emphasises the fact that God demands that his people should ‘have a care for justice’ and ‘act with integrity’. Furthermore, the prophet declares that even those who were not Israelites but who follow this way, will not be excluded.

The emphasis on the observance of the Sabbath may be a surprise but this is because, very often, the observance of the Sabbath is equated with the Christian observance of Sunday when people go to church. The Sabbath was and is something far greater than that, and it was a way of ensuring that the people lived fully human lives. Not working on the Sabbath was what mattered most and going to the Synagogue was only secondary. The Sabbath gave the family the opportunity to be together, to eat and drink together, to rejoice and to celebrate together. The sacrifice of those who keep the Covenant and observe the Sabbath will be acceptable to God because they live in this way. Today, even among Jews who are not observant, the Sabbath is sacrosanct and brings the family together. This was a unique institution in the ancient world where generally the rich did no work, and the slaves worked every day without exception.

There is, surely, something here from which we can learn. Though it would be impossible to restore Sundays as they used to be, it is important that there is time in our lives for rest, for meeting together as a family and for sharing meals together. It is this that makes our lives truly human, freeing us from the pressures of everyday life. Here, surely, we can try to follow the example of our Jewish sisters and brothers and make sure that our families do meet together regularly. More than that, all around us there are broken families and lonely and isolated people. Can we not sometimes take them into our homes and share with them? Especially around Christmas can we open our homes to those who need our care and our love? We can still do something to create that atmosphere of fellowship and love, which was what the Sabbath was all about.

The Scriptures often speak of the world to come in terms of the great Sabbath, not a prolonged time of doing nothing but a time of friendship, sharing, loving and celebrating. Isaiah speaks of those who might have been thought of as outsiders being joined with the Jewish people and being welcomed by them, and that is the sort of world that we must try to bring about because that is the Kingdom of God.

Today’s Gospel reading is again about John the Baptist. Jesus tells the Jews which, in John’s Gospel means that he is addressing, not the whole people, but the Jewish authorities, that John had been a witness to the truth. John, he says, ‘was a lamp alight and shining’. For a while they listened to him, Jesus says, until, perhaps, they recognised the true impact of what he was saying and how it applied especially to them.

Jesus says, though, the witness that he gives is greater than that of John. His works testify that the Father has sent him, he tells them. What are the works of which Jesus speaks? His works were not done to impress people but to show that the Reign of God was coming among them. His works upset the order of things since they put the poor, the needy and the outcast first but it is because of his works that Jesus can say that the Father has sent him. He reveals the Father not by his words so much as by his actions. The Father too is concerned, above all, for those whom the authorities neglect and despise.

A lot to reflect upon today! What about our Christmas celebrations? How much are we showing our concern for the poor and the needy?

Saturday, December 17th, Saturday in Week Three in Advent and ‘O Sapientia’

Today is the first of the great days that lead up to Christmas and, for each of these days, there are special readings at Mass. They are also marked by what are known as the great ‘O’s which are sung at Evening Prayer before and after Our Lady’s song, the Magnificat (Luke 1/46-55). The Magnificat is the climax of Evening Prayer when, with Mary, we praise God for all that Jesus proclaimed in his Good News. It is a song of praise for the God who turns things upside down and puts first the poor, the lowly and the outcast, among whom Mary numbers herself. ‘He has put down the mighty from their thrones’ Mary sings ‘and exalted the lowly and meek’.

Every day throughout the year in the Western Church for centuries it has been this song of Mary which brings to a climax the Church’s daily worship. It is for this reason that the Magnificat is preceded and followed by what is called an antiphon which takes up the theme of the day or feast. From today until December 23rd there is a special antiphon which begins with ‘O’ and which calls upon the Lord to come, to come to us, to come to the world, to come today, to come in the flesh and to come, at the very end to gather all things to God.

Each day the Lord is addressed by a different title and the first day, today, he is called ‘Wisdom of the Most High’.

These antiphons were so well known, even by ordinary folk that the days leading up to Christmas were known by their opening words, so that today was known as ‘O Sapientia’. Even after the Reformed Church of England had simplified the daily services for a much more simple order, doing away with such complicated things as antiphons, today was still named as ‘O Sapientia’ in the Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer.

These are wonderful prayers, made up of quotations from the Hebrew Scripture, all of which allude to the coming of the Messiah and so you may like to use them each day in your own prayers and to reflect upon their content as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Lord at the first Christmas and remember his coming to us every day and in every event and situation. These antiphons will be at the end of each day’s readings.

Readings: Genesis 19/2, 8-10 : Matthew 1/1-17

With the beginning of these special days, the Gospel reading reminds us of Jesus’ ancestry. He doesn’t come out of nowhere as if by magic or a miracle. He comes from Mary and from a whole line of Jewish ancestors, which the Gospel writers like to trace back through the great figures of Jewish history. Matthew takes this back even to Abraham, the father of their race.

In the short reading from Genesis, Jacob calls his sons together before he dies to tell them what will happen to them in the days to come. He describes their character and their particular gifts, attributes and faults.

The reading gives us only the words that concern Judah, since it is from his family that Jesus’ ancestry will be traced. Judah will be like a lion, and he will receive honour and respect from his brothers. Above all, it is from Judah that the royal line will spring and, eventually, the One to whom all peoples will render obedience.

In the Gospel reading, the Gospel writer traces Jesus’ ancestry back, through Solomon and David, through Judah and Jacob and eventually to Abraham. This genealogy is in no way historical, and the most important sources in the Hebrew Scriptures are 1 Chronicles, chapters 2 and 3 which give us the names from Abraham to the Babylonian Exile and Ruth 4/18-22 which give us the names from Perez to David and also the manner in which the Genealogy was written: A was the father of B and so on. The origin of the names from Abiud to Jacob remains a mystery.

The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is clear. It is to present Jesus as the son of David and of Abraham and to situate his birth at an opportune time in Jewish history. The arrangement of the names in three sets seems to have no purpose except to emphasise the number fourteen as a multiple of seven, a number of great significance in Jewish thinking.

The inclusion of five women in Matthew’s genealogy is original and breaks the pattern set in the book Ruth so that it must have some purpose, and it is worth noting who these five women were.

Tamar (Genesis 38) disguised herself as a prostitute and conceived sons by her father-in-law, Judah. Rahab (Joshua 2/6) was the prostitute of Jericho whose life was spared because she aided Joshua’s spies. Ruth was a Moabite woman who joined herself to Israel through her husband Boaz’ family. The wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, became David’s wife after he had made her pregnant and arranged for her husband Uriah to be killed in battle. (2 Samuel 11-12). Mary, the mother of Jesus, is drawn into David’s line through her husband, Joseph, though her child Jesus would be the legal son rather than the physical son of Joseph, as the Gospel writer will explain later in his Gospel.

The purpose of including these women into the genealogy would seem simply to emphasise that each of them was, in some way, a departure from the normal. This would prepare for and foreshadow the irregularity of Jesus’ birth, which the Gospel writer goes on to describe. They prepare the reader to expect the unexpected and here, at the beginning of his Gospel, the writer makes them function as part of a theme that will run throughout his work, the tension between tradition and what is new.

From a contemporary point of view these women also illustrate how Jesus’ attitude towards women was totally at odds with what was then prevalent in his time. Each of these women is an outsider in some way or other, and they reflect Jesus’ concern for the outsiders of society, the little, the poor and the rejected.

At the beginning of these last days of preparation for Christmas, the readings remind us that Jesus comes among us into a very real human situation, into a totally human environment of family and society and into a world of great injustice. Making himself one of us, the Word made flesh proclaims a Gospel, which is Good News, most especially for the poor, the needy, the outcast and all who are second class members of society as, indeed, were women.

Today, the readings also remind us how totally Jewish Jesus was and how this Gospel was written firstly for Jewish Christians who had accepted his message and teaching but who were remaining faithful to their own Jewish traditions and beliefs while trying to reconcile them with all that was new in Jesus’ teaching.

Today we give thanks for this wonderful mystery which we prepare to celebrate. The Word of God is truly one of us, human in every way and showing us in our own flesh and blood the goodness and compassion of the God whom he calls Father.

We pray too for our Jewish sisters and brothers, for a closer relationship with them and a better understanding of all that we hold in common.

Here is the first of the antiphons which will be sung this evening at Evening Prayer:

O WISDOM of the Most high,
you who,
with your strong arm yet tender care,
govern all things,
and teach us the way of Truth.