St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Sunday Sermons

Sunday 24th December - Christmas Eve

MARY, MOTHER of GOD

Just as  the 4 Gospels present different portraits of Jesus, so too do they present different portraits of His mother, Mary. A minor figure in the earlier Gospels of Mark and Matthew, she becomes more prominent in Luke and John.

St. Joachim and St. Anne

Are accepted as the parents of Mary, according to the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican tradition as well as in Islamic tradition too. Their story appears in the apocryphal Gospel of James, which dates from the C2nd A.D. They are not mentioned in the Bible or in the Gospels.

According to tradition, Joachim was born in Nazareth and St. Anne in Bethlehem. Mary was born when Anne was quite elderly and this was seen as a special blessing from God, as with Hannah, the mother of Samuel, in the OT and Elizabeth, mother of St. John the Baptist, in the NT.

The Annunciation

Mary takes centre stage in Luke’s nativity account. She is the one whom the angel Gabriel visits in Nazareth (Luke 1:26-28) and she is the one who alone accepts the message of the angel that she will ‘conceive in her womb and bear a son, who will be called Jesus.’ Mary asks, ‘ How  can this be , since I am a virgin?’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be holy: he will be called Son of God.’

Mary’s total acceptance of this amazing news was in these words:

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.’

Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth

Luke continues by telling us that us that Mary then prepares for her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin, the mother of John the Baptist. She stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months and would have been there until just before his birth. Here Mary makes her song of praise to God, the Magnificat: ‘ My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour………..’   Now sung at Evensong.

The Nativity – The Census

At this time, the decree went out from the Emperor Augustus that there should be a census and all had to go to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethehem, the city of David, because Joseph ‘s family came from there – as the AV puts it :

 ‘He was of the house and lineage of David.’

In Matthew’s account, Joseph has agonised over Mary’s pregnancy ( Matthew 1:19) but an angel had also appeared to him telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because the child she has conceived  ‘ is from the Holy Spirit.’ He is also told that the son she shall bear shall be called Jesus, ‘for he would save his people from their sins.’

The Bruegel painting shows Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, in the coldest of weathers to register for the census.

The Nativity -The Stable

‘ While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  So the birth took place. The traditional Christmas story of countless paintings, Christmas cards, Christmas carols and nativity plays!

First, of course, it was announced by the angels to the shepherds , ‘a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.’

…….. and the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to find the child ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’

Luke also tells us that Mary ‘ treasured in her heart all the things that had happened.

Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Candlemas

As was the custom, Mary and Joseph took Jesus, as the first born, to the Temple in Jerusalem when the time came for their purification ‘ according to the law of Moses.’   - 40 days after the birth.  Traditionally celebrated now on February 2nd. This is when Simeon held Jesus and said the words of the Nunc Dimittis ( also sung at Evensong) including:

‘for mine eyes have seen your salvation…………..

A light for the revelation to the Gentiles

And for the glory of your people Israel’

And when the prophetess Anna recognised the child as the one ‘to whom we are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.’

The Nativity – The Wise Men

Next Matthew tells us about the Wise Men from the east -the Magi –  guided by a star, who came to visit the newborn king with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They returned home by a different route as they were warned ‘ in a dream’ not to tell Herod where the baby was.

The Flight to Egypt

Soon after the departure of the Wise Men, Matthew tells us that Joseph was visited in a dream to be told to take Mary and the baby to Egypt, as it was not safe for them to stay where they were. Herod was threatening to kill all of the baby boys under 2, as he wanted any rival to his power eliminated at all costs.

This is now known as the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Mary and Joseph became refugees and were in Egypt until Herod died. ( Matthew 2:19-23)

Jesus in the Temple – aged 12

Luke tells us that after this they returned to Galilee, to Nazareth, ‘where the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom: and the favour of God was upon him.’ ( Luke 2:39)

This is the only reference to the childhood of Jesus in the Gospels. When he was 12, he went with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem for the Passover. After the festival was over, they started on the journey home when they realised that Jesus was no longer with them. They began to search and were amazed to find him with the teachers in the temple, astounding people with his knowledge. Mary was understandably very anxious and asked him why he had left them. Jesus replied: ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ but they didn’t understand what he said to them. He returned with them back to Nazareth, where ‘he increased in wisdom and years and in divine and human favour.’

The Wedding at Cana

Despite not having an infancy account, John’s Gospel also has an important role for Mary. She was there for Jesus’ very first sign of turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. ( John 2:1-11)

After that, John records, Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.

Mary at the Foot of the Cross

Unlike the first three Gospels, John explicitly makes Mary a witness of the Crucifixion (John 19:25) (Mark mentions a certain Mary, but it is unclear whether she is the mother of Jesus or another Mary. Mark 15:40)

Indeed, it is at the cross where Jesus proclaims the mutual adoption as mother and son between his mother and his beloved disciple, John (the figure behind John’s Gospel )  (John 19:26-27).

Mary – Mother of God

The Gospels exhibit an increasing fascination with Mary. Mark portrays her in the barest of terms, calling Jesus ‘the son of Mary’.  Matthew and Luke augment Mary’s role with the infancy accounts. Finally, in John, Mary becomes an important witness to the end of Jesus’ life. This fascination with Mary does not end with the Gospels but continues to grow in the succeeding centuries.

Gillian Gyenes