Glencairn Methodist Church
The first of months
Well, here we are again, the 1st of January, this time in the Year of our Lord two thousand and thirteen. January gets is name from the ancient Roman God, Janus. Janus is usually depicted as having two faces on the opposite sides of his head so that he could look backwards, with the face of an old man, at the year just gone, and look forwards, with the face of a younger man, expectantly into the new. Janus was a door-keeper. he kept the door between the years, letting us pass from the old into the new. The name Janus is also the root of our word janitor; usually janitors do more than just opening doors!
January used to be the time of "the January sales" but now these are held in December or earlier. And "New Year" is usually the time when we reminisce on the year just past and make resolutions for the year to come. The BBC has done much of our reminiscing for us in recent days, filling air time with footage of the Queen's Jubilee, the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games and of course the remarkable victory of the European golf team over the USA in the Ryder Cup.
But before we move on too quickly we should remember that we are still in the Season of Christmas for a few days yet, and that there are still some stories to read again about the early days of Jesus' life. We come across these if we follow the Lectionary religiously (pun intended!).
St Luke gives us two stories that we recall in the coming days:
In Chapter 2, verse 21, we read that "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named "Jesus", the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." So today, as I write, January 1 is a Festival Day - "The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus". The Law required all baby Jewish boys to be circumcised on the eighth day as a sign of the covenant relationship between God and his people made with Abraham. Read about this in Genesis chapter 17.
Then, still in chapter 2, Luke follows on in verses 22 to 38 with the story of "The Presentation of Christ in the Temple". Again this is to fulfil the requirements of the Law as they applied to women after giving birth. See Leviticus chapter 12. (This actually takes us up to February 2, but never mind, it is nearly in January.) Please take the time to read this passage in Luke. It also tells the stories of Simeon and Anna, and their prophecies over Jesus. Note the mention of a sword!
And St Matthew gives us stories that we also recall at this time
In Chapter 2, verses 1 to 12, we read of the visit of the Magi, the "wise men" who came "from the east" to visit Jesus because they had somehow divined that he was someone special. They went understandably to King Herod's palace first but, after consultation with the Hebrew scholars, the King re-directed them to Bethlehem. They had been granted insights into what lay ahead for Jesus, and they brought him prophetic gifts - Gold for a baby who would grow into a King, Frankincense for a man who would become a Priest who would offer himself as a "fragrant offering" to God on a cross, and Myrrh, an aromatic substance used for embalming the dead - Jesus was to suffer and die!
Although this story usually gets mixed in with the other birth stories, the church celebrates the coming of the wise men on 6th January - the Feast of The Epiphany, the first time in the Gospel stories that it is mentioned that Jesus is to be the savour, not just of his own people the Jews, but also of foreigners - Gentiles. This is to be the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah )42: 6) when God said of His Servant "I will make you to be a light to the gentiles." This was recalled by Simeon at the Presentation ceremony.
Matthew goes on in Chapter 2 to tell of Herod's frenzied slaughter of the young boys of Bethlehem and of the Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, thus escaping this horror. We celebrated this on 28th December, but I guess only those who religiously follow the Calendar and Lectionary noticed.
These stories tell us something shocking, something that we would rather not think about over Christmas for fear of spoiling the magic. But the Gospel writers do not shrink from this and tell it as it is going to be. Jesus came to die, for us, so that God could find a way of forgiving the enormity of the sins of all of us.
1st January 2013
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm