Sermons from St
Fr John Reed, Sunday, 31st December,
English folk music has some unusual songs about Jesus and his childhood, some with non-biblical story lines, like the Cherry Tree Carol, have made their way into the Oxford Carol book, others haven’t and are sung with stories of other strange legends in folk clubs.
The Bitter Withy is an English folk song reflecting an unusual and apocryphal vernacular idea of Jesus Christ. The withy of the title is the willow and the song gives an explanation as to why the willow tree rots from the centre out, rather than the outside in.
The infant Jesus asks Our Lady to go out and play ball, and is joined by three other children who refuse to play with him as they are lords' and ladies' children and his dad is “common.” The child Jesus then demonstrates he is far superior than them by building a bridge of sunbeams, going over it, and when they follow him, they fall into the sea. Our lady finishes the song as any good medieval mother would by giving him a beating with a withy for his folly.
Understandably the Church had problems with this particular song and it didn’t make the Oxford Carol book. It clearly demonstrates Jesus divinity, making him far superior to the earthly Lords and Ladies children, but his supposed actions in drowning the impudent children are very out of character with the Jesus we know and love.
The collect for today says “grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity;”
Galatians reminds us that we are adopted as children of God through Jesus, no longer slaves but children. That is a big leap in status, and more: we are not illegitimate children, but actual heirs of God the Father’s Kingdom. As a Jimmy Owen song drawing on Galatians and St. Paul’s letter to the Romans says: 'We are heirs of the Father We are joint heirs with the Son, We are children of the kingdom, We are family we are one.'
Have you had new clothes this Christmas? Isaiah tells of new clothes - a people being clothed with garments of salvation, robes of righteousness comparable to the clothes of brides and grooms. Nothing to do with the austerity of a people chastened by exile, having to exist in another country which is not their own, but the sheer unbridled generosity of the Divine Father. A God who is prepared to forgive and give his people another chance in there own land. Future glory beyond anything known in the past history of the people.
The prophet also talks of spring and new growth, following winter. Think of all those bulbs waiting in the ground for a glorious spring display. That is our destiny as children of God, our humanity will literally flower in the fullness of Christ’s divinity.
As the Eucharistic prayer will say; “In him we see our God made visible, and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see.”
And being “caught up” needs the response of the human heart; for Mary as her cared for her newborn son, the one who had been heralded by the angel Gabriel as the Saviour of humanity, Jesus means “God is Salvation”. Mary already had much to think upon in this tiny bundle on her knee. But Shepherds came calling with gifts, and stories of more angels. And with them the realisation this was more than just a small family affair. Mary had to, in time share the child she loved with the whole of humanity. Mission begins at the stable door, and the very gift we receive through Jesus is not for our personal benefit, to be hoarded like a miser. It is being called into a wider relationship with the world, as the God the Creator relates to the whole of creation to share the in concerns of God. Not as a slave, but as a child and an heir to the whole inheritance along with other children.
The Gospel has Mary pondering these wonderful things in her heart, and we would do well to think on what Jesus is bringing to our lives, but we need also to share what is in our hearts with others. Recent research says we live in one of the most individualistic countries in the world. It is easy to go with the flow, but the Gospel calls us into a relationship with the whole of the world. As we follow Jesus into the next year may we discover more of the concerns of our Father, and the responsibilities of being his children aspiring towards the full stature of Christ.