Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Frist Sunday after the Epiphany - 12 January 2020

My Friends,

Romans 12.1

“Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed 
by the renewing of your mind.”
The twelve days of Christmas end with the Feast of Epiphany, the last and great festival of Christmas. Epiphany is, as it were, the Christmas of the Gentiles, for in the journey of the Magi-Kings, the birth of Christ is made known to all the nations of the world. As a 17th century Anglican divine, Bishop John Cosin of Durham puts it: “[Christmas] has been indeed a feast of joy to us all this while … but our fullness of joy comes not [until] now, for the Angelic tidings of joy came first to the shepherds, to Israel, to those near at hand, but upon this feast it is omni populo (to all people), news which the star brought to all the world, and to us too, that now salvation was come unto the Gentiles”. Joy increases to fullness of joy and light blazes forth into fullness of light.
Epiphany means more than just the ending blaze of Christmas, however. It also inaugurates a season of teaching, the season of Epiphany.
The word Epiphany means  manifestation or shining forth, and refers to the manifestation of God’s glory in the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus. Epiphany raises our minds from  the paradise of Bethlehem to the heaven of Jerusalem. In a way, we move from meditating upon “His coming in the flesh that was God”  to “His being God that was come in the flesh”; in short, “to turn ourselves from his humanity below to his divinity above” (Cosin). For that reason, too, the Epiphany season abounds with the stories of the miracles of Jesus, told, however, as teachings about the divinity of Christ, the very thing which grounds all worship.
The manifestation of the divinity of Christ is Epiphany’s theme. In the words and deeds of Christ, God is revealed and revealed in ways which open out to us the true nature of God. What is made manifest is not something arbitrary, tyrannous and willful. No. Epiphany in every way is pregnant with purpose, the purpose of God. Epiphany celebrates in St. Paul’s words, the making known of “the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Eph.3.11). Thus, the First Sunday after the Epiphany signals the manifestation of Christ as the Wisdom of God, the epiphany of the divine wisdom, the true source of all teaching and every learning. 
Education is often about the discovery of things which were previously hidden from our view. Here, in the only Gospel story that treats the boyhood of Christ, Jesus is found in the temple at Jerusalem, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions”. The initial picture is Jesus as the student but “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers”. Jesus the exemplary student is also Jesus the Teacher among the teachers. 
These teachers have the humility to be astonished, to be amazed and full of wonder. As Jesus will say to an anxious Mary and Joseph who had “sought [him]”, as Mary said, “sorrowing”, so, too, he says to us “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Which only heightens the wonder.
It is a curious phrase and one which is variously rendered as being “about my Father’s business” or “in my Father’s house”, έν τοίς τοϋ πατρός μου, in any event, underscoring the connection between the boy Jesus and the heavenly Father in the place of teaching, the temple at Jerusalem. It suggests something of God’s will and purpose for us.
Epiphany makes known to us the twofold purpose of the coming of Christ. He comes to reveal divinity and to redeem humanity. He is the eternal Word made flesh, true God and true Man, as orthodox Christianity rightly and firmly insists. As Athanasius, the Father of Orthodoxy says, “without forsaking what He was, namely God, he became what He was not, namely man”. Divine wisdom is fully present at every stage in the true course of his real humanity, the unchanging in the midst of the changing, from the unspeaking babe in Bethlehem to the agonizing words of the crucified Christ at Calvary. “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature”, humanly speaking, that we, too, may grow up into wisdom provided we are attentive to Christ.
Like Mary and Joseph, we, too, must find him in the temple with the priests and doctors of the Law, the place for those who seek God. And what could be more appropriate than that he should be in their midst in the study of God’s Holy Scripture? He who reveals divinity among those who would have divinity revealed? What could be more fitting than that a school boy’s innocent simplicity and directness of insight should be the vehicle of the manifestation of God’s wisdom? 
And yet, there is the astounding wonder of the thing precisely because it runs so completely counter to our expectations. “Be not conformed to this world”, St. Paul says in a similar fashion, for Christ’s coming runs counter to all human expectation, to all worldly calculation. It confounds our schemes and designs, as it must, for it all about grace, God’s grace and our engagement with him. Epiphany shows us that God is the teacher through the wonderful paradox of the child Christ among the doctors.
Christ’s coming opens out to us a new vision and a new perspective. He opens out to us the kingdom of God, the place of human perfection, and he opens out to us the form of our participation by grace in that kingdom. In no small measure, it has to do with our being taught. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds”, St. Paul says.
This, too, is a wonderful phrase. It signals the hope of transformation through our being changed and our being changed fundamentally in terms of our outlook, in terms of our thinking. This renewal of our minds requires our attentiveness to God’s revelation of himself, to the means of his engaging us through the words of Christ in the witness of the Scriptures and through the sacrament of his body and blood, the revealed and given means of his being with us. This renewal of our minds requires our turning away from “being conformed to the world”. Conformity, as something static and confining, contrasts with the dynamic of our being transformed by our attention to the high things of God unveiled in our midst. The vain pursuit of every passing fad and fancy afflicts contemporary culture and alienates us from the dynamic of God and thus from ourselves and one another. To be transformed means to attend to Christ in the places where his Word is proclaimed and his Sacraments celebrated. Only so can we be what we behold in Christ. 
“You must therefore seek him there in the Temple, seek him in the Church, where you will find the Word and the Wisdom of Christ”, as an older wise man and theologian, Origen, once said. Nothing could be more profoundly counter-culture even as it shapes and defines cultures. Ultimately, we are what we contemplate. We become what we behold. The Church must be the place where we behold Christ in his revelation of himself to us; only so can we find him in one another. “Trasumanar”, transhumanised, as that wise poet, Dante says, coining a word in Italian to capture the wonder of our being transformed into what we shall be according to will and purpose of God.
The collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany sets the logic for the Epiphany season and for our lives. We seek the wisdom of God that “we may both perceive and know what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same”. There is a kind of logical priority given to our reasoning, the sense of the logos of God undergirding all rightful action. That sensibility goes to the very meaning of education, to the idea of our being led out of the prisons of ourselves in conformity to the whims and dictates of our world and day and our being led into the wisdom of God which alone is transforming. Only by contemplating the wisdom of God made manifest in Christ, in his Word proclaimed and his Sacraments celebrated, can we hope to grow up into wisdom. The meaning of the Epiphany, it signals the journey of our lives to God and with God.
“Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed 
by the renewing of your mind.”

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Epiphany of our Lord - Monday 6 January 2019

My Friends,
Isaiah 60 1-6, Ephesians 3 2-3a 5-6 Matthew 2 1-22

The story about the Magi from the East is full of symbolism. The star, the quest, the gifts of the wise men and of course the wise men themselves have nourished the religious imagination and have been explained and portrayed in countless ways in Christian iconography and the folklore of the three-king singers.

The wise men speak to the imagination as kings. Perhaps this happened under the inspiration of Isaiah's prophecy that speaks of kings coming towards the dawn of Jerusalem. The latter then evokes the star symbol again. But the wise men may have been difficult kings, because you cannot imagine that kings are on their knees before the king of a strange people. Kings don't kneel, by the way. It was actually the wise men that fell to their knees.

They have also given the "kings" a different skin colour: white, yellow and black. With this they symbolize Europe, Asia and Africa. For this one could rely on the letter to the Ephesians in which we read that all Gentiles are also joint heirs and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

This touches one of the strongest points of the story. They were strangers, Gentiles, who made it known to the Jewish notables that the promised Messiah, their saviour, was born. This symbol still makes Christians think today.

But this time let's talk mainly about the symbolism of the gifts of the wise. Our gifts under the Christmas tree have been unpacked, the Christmas tree can be cleaned up, the New Year's gifts have been exchanged. But it is never too late to give people a sign in which we express what they are worth to us.

The wise men  must have brought out the most precious from their treasures to offer it to the child Jesus and his parents. Church fathers say: they have honoured the child as king, as God and as man. There were sober medieval people who said: the wise men gave gold because Joseph and Mary were poor people, incense to dispel the bad smell in the stable, myrrh for the health of the child.

Myrrh is indeed a fragrant gum resin that was used, among other things, as a remedy for many infectious diseases. Offering myrrh to someone means as much as saying: may your life be preserved for pain, illness and suffering. When you give someone incense as a gift, you say that your life may be like a sweet scent, a joy for all who have to deal with you. With gold you say: that you can discover your own value, your preciousness and your wealth.

Wouldn't that be the most expensive thing that we can give each other with New Year? Then we are like myrrh to each other and we make every effort to alleviate each other's pain, to carry each other's suffering, to cope with each other's illness. We are like incense to each other, we share joy with each other, we seek God's face in each other and learn to live in the light thereof. We are like gold to each other, we see each other as God sees a person, we see that there is something in our life that makes us a king.

And if the children we let go as the Three Kings dressed up instead of singing for some sweets or a bag of money, would offer their gifts from door to door: a few pieces of gilt paper, a few grains of incense and some fragrant myrrh ? They could add a wish to it. That everyone who opens the door for them would pass on the gifts, as a symbol of what he or she wants to mean to roommates and all fellow people. That would only do justice to the wise men from the East.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne

Monday, December 30, 2019

The First Sunday after Christmas - 29 December 2019

My Friends,

“Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son;
and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
(Galatians 4:7)

Christmas Day is the great feast of the Incarnation of God. The Epistles and Gospels for Christmas Day help us focus on how God the Son humbled himself to be born of a Virgin, so that he might redeem us from sin. The Epistle for today, however, changes the emphasis. It does not focus so much on God’s great condescension in becoming man. It focuses rather on the great exaltation of human nature, which occurs when we are adopted as God’s sons. It speaks of the marvelous freedom of sons and heirs, into which we have been brought from our slavery to sin and death.

There are several ways in which God is said to have sons. Most properly, his Son is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, “the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all worlds; God, of God; Light, of Light; Very God, of Very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; Through whom all things were made.” He is most properly said to be God’s Son because he shares his Father’s nature and glory.

Yet all God’s creatures bear a certain trace of the Father’s paternity. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handy-work.” (Psalm 19.1) “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1.20) All creation, by the great variety of its forms and operations, by the harmony and beauty of its parts, bears a trace of the glory of its maker.
Therefore, God can be said to be its Father because of the vestige of a likeness to himself.

Man bears an even stronger resemblance to God because he was made in the image of God. Man’s capacity to know and love what is good is perhaps the most powerful natural clue we have as to the nature of God. Thus, God is very much the Father of man, by virtue of the image man bears of him.

But because of Adam’s sin, and because of the loss of grace which followed, man has lost the power to know and love effectively what is good. While he is made in God’s image, he has nevertheless lost the likeness to God which came through grace.

It is this likeness to God by grace that Christ has restored in us. It is on account of this likeness by grace that we are called God’s adopted sons. ‘When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!,’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8.15-16)  But what is it when the Holy Spirit cries out in us but grace, for grace is the operation of the Holy Spirit in us.

What does it mean, then, to be God’s adopted sons, bearing to God the likeness of grace? It means becoming more and more like Christ. It means being conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8.29) by the operation of the Holy Spirit in us, by grace. This means that our lives as Christians must be disciplined and directed, altered and transformed, by the means of grace with which the Holy Spirit provides us in the life of the Church. We must seek the grace which has been promised us through devout use of the Holy Sacraments. We must seek the grace that comes through disciplined lives of prayer, self-denial, and acts of mercy towards others. We must seek the grace that comes through the humble, patient study of Holy Scripture with the mind of the Church.

Thus, and only thus will we come to be the sons of God in glory, raised with the glorious body of the resurrection, united to God in Christ, sons in the most perfect way creatures can possibly be.
That glory will be the completion of all our hope. Let us hope for that glory by living now as the adopted sons of grace.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Friday, December 27, 2019

Solemnity of the Holy Nativity of our Lord - 25 December 2019

My Friends,

Readings: Isa 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6;  John 1:1-18

Each year in my childhood, my father would climb into the loft on Christmas Eve and retrieve a box of tree decorations. Some must have come from the early years of the twentieth century, like the little birds of painted metal that clipped onto the higher branches of the tree, and delicate glass bells; others were from the sixties like the hollow stars of coloured plastic that my mother would fill with sweets and hang lower down. There was plenty of tinsel; and a set of coloured lights to be tested, its conical bulbs tightened or replaced, in the hope that they would still work their magic but not electrocute the cat. And why? Because, as Isaiah proclaims in the first reading from the Midnight Mass of Christmas, 'on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone'; and as we hear from St John's Gospel for Christmas Day, the baby in the manger is none other than the Divine Word born in human flesh, the 'true light that enlightens all people'.

Each of us will have experienced times and pools of darkness in the past year: it may have been a major illness or family bereavement. For some it will have been the anxieties that come with financial insecurity, or sudden loss of work, or the exhausting demands of caring for others with complex needs. For others, it may have been the break-up of a relationship, of a family, a broken promise, or an abuse of trust. Our resilience will have been tested, sometimes sorely, pushing us towards addictive behaviours or into cynicism; some will have reached breaking-point. All of us have suffered to some extent from the increasingly bitter divisions in society, from a political culture in which truth and moral integrity seem little valued. All of us, and some sharply through sudden floods, have suffered from the degradation of the natural environment on which we and future generations depend for our well-being. Now, though, we can celebrate, truthfully and joyfully, how into this darkness of sin and its consequences a light has come, 'a light that the darkness could not overpower'.

How so? How does this child light up our lives? It takes the rest of John's Gospel, takes the four Gospels, to give a proper answer to this question; even then we shall not have a full answer; but the prologue to John's Gospel sums it up for us. This child is the 'only Son of the Father full of grace and truth' and 'from His fulness we have, all of us, received'.

As the Father's Son, true God from true God, in whom there can be no shadow of falsehood, there is nothing faked or phoney. Born of Mary, this child shows us what it really is to be human, both as he lies utterly vulnerable and dependent in the manger, and as he grows up into a mature human adult. Here is someone fully alive to love in the practice of the virtues, with the courage that it takes to live in the truth and to speak it. Here is one utterly unafraid to see the creation as the Father's gift, to accept and return the Father's love for Him and us in the power of the Holy Spirit, to worship the Father in the love He shows His neighbours, be they friends or enemies. This is what it is to act justly; this is what it takes to be compassionate. And as He goes to the cross, we see what it really costs.

As the Father's son, true God from true God, between whom nothing is withheld, but all is given and shared in the Holy Spirit, there is nothing mean or stinted in how he acts. All is graced, freely given. Born of Mary, this child will share with us His all-creative life, restore us to that fully human life which He reveals, pouring out the Holy Spirit upon His Church at Pentecost, in baptism and confirmation, and through the gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist. If we accept His cross, we shall share His resurrection from death to eternal life. 'If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water' (Jn 7:37-38).  

 However dark it gets, and because it gets so dark, there is so much to celebrate in this light! Happy Christmas!

 Father Ed Bakker,
 Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province,
 Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
 Launceston, Tasmania,

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

My Friends,

Jesiah 7 10-14, Romans 1 1-7, Matthew 1 18-24 God with us...

"I'm not asking for a sign; I don't want to test the Lord." King Ahaz's refusal sounds noble and respectful, but that respect for God is ambiguous. By not testing God, Ahaz immediately prevents him from being tested by God. If there is no intervention from God, King Ahaz himself can rule the way he wants, autonomously. If we silence God and not let him into our lives, that God cannot ask us for any unpleasant things. Then God can no longer bother us and we can do our own good. Asking nothing to God has its advantages, so we don't run the risk of calling us, testing us, claiming us.

But it is not that simple, God cannot stop you. "That's why the Lord gives a sign without being asked." God cannot be silenced. Where people close a door, God opens a window or a back door. God works in mysterious ways. "See the young woman will give birth to a son." God begins a new future, where there seemed to be no future. Where the situation seemed hopeless, God makes a new beginning, a new creation.

The stories in the Bible bear witness to the fact that God makes a new start with his people. From the chaos in which no life is possible, God creates a new earth. The very old Abraham and Sara will have a son Isaac. Moses has no chance of life, but is taken out of the water with a basket. Later, God brought the same Moses and his people from Egypt through the water to the Promised Land. The dead water becomes baptismal water. The barren Hannah becomes the mother of Samuel, a called one, created against the course of nature. Elisabeth and Zacharias, very old and barren, give birth to John the Baptist. The Bible speaks of a row of wonderfully born children, virgin-born, called to fulfill God's will, to be a sign of a new beginning.

Where human work fails, God's work begins. A virgin will become pregnant. Not a forced sign by human power, but a received sign, a gift from God. That is my interpretation of creation from scratch and of virgin birth.

Joseph is a righteous man and Mary is a servant girl of the Lord, they keep the door open for God, but that is a risk because it changes their lives. Joseph and Mary go a different way than they had wanted. The child is not born in the manner of the children of Eve, but from the Holy Spirit. Joseph and Mary accept God's work. They do not act like King Ahaz who puts God out of play, Joseph and Mary give space to God, but that will also prove them a hard test!

Mary and Joseph stand here as an example for all people who come into contact with God. In the beginning there is little joy to taste, there is wonder and even fear. It is all too new, too unexpected what God wants to give us. Yet Joseph and Mary trust that God would turn everything around for the better.

God wants to enter the world of people, but then he also asks their full cooperation. This is how God has come to his people in the past, and now he wants to enter our lives: with the help and full cooperation of us who leave him room to give signs, who try to understand his will and who are willing to to make the sacrifices he requests.

God is concerned with his creation, but we have the freedom to allow him or her into our lives. Man is not alone, God wants to be close to us, God wants to make history with his people, but then we have to let him into our lives and help build his Kingdom of peace.

In the Bible, names are always of great importance, they indicate an assignment, a life program, the name says who you are. It is the same with the names we give to God. His name is first and foremost Yahweh and that means: He who was there for his people, he who is there for us, he who will be there, also tomorrow and again and again, and he who does be who creates where we fail. There is Someone for us people, we are not alone, there is a God who wants to save us from our sins. That is the meaning of Jesus: Yahweh saves.

"And they shall call him Immanuel. That is, in translation, God-with-us." Indeed, God always wants people to be close again. Where everything seems hopeless and without a future, he makes a new start. God does not close his ears to the cry of this world, he hears the misery of his people. Jesus does not reject the world, he wants to be close to the world and give it a new life. Jesus is close to people and the world. He is God with us.

So we don't have to be afraid. Just like Joseph, the angel says to us: "Do not be afraid." We can trust in God and then he will make the impossible possible. Joseph conquered his fear through his love for Mary. Jesus overcame the fear of the cross through his love for the people. Love makes people brave. The more love we have, the more we will overcome our fears. Those who are afraid stay at a distance. He who fears God also keeps him at a safe distance. Sometimes you hear people say they don't experience or see God anywhere. Perhaps it is because they do not dare to entrust themselves to him, as Mary and Joseph did. God does not answer all our questions, God is not a source of prosperity, God does not fill the gaps, God is always the totally different one, but he is the foundation of our existence, he calls us to live courageously and meaningfully, but we must dare to entrust ourselves to him in good and bad days.

Do we allow that love into our lives or is it out of play? May God enter our lives? Are we ready for the Christmas event in our life: the new beginning, the new life, a sign given to us: love to the utmost, God-with-us?

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania,