‘Mission accomplished’ could have been the exclamation of John the Baptist, had he been familiar with our modern expressions. From its very beginning, even in the womb, his entire life was dedicated to ‘preparing the way for the Lord’ and announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. The baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan is the official beginning of Jesus’ ministry; but it’s the end of the road for John the Baptist. John’s mission has been fulfilled and there’s nothing more for him to do. Reverting to modern language, it could be said that John the Baptist was ready for retirement.
I was at an informal meeting of ministers from various local Christian churches. At one point, the discussion drifted into the topic of family life and subsequently into the domestic challenges faced by married ministers. Among those challenges was how to strike the right balance between being a servant to their respective congregations and beyond, while being a caring spouse and parent within their own families. It was really lovely to see that all of them genuinely wanted to be great pastors and great family men at the same time. Then I made my contribution: ‘My wife and children never complain.’ For a split second there was a stunned silence, followed by an outburst of laughter. ‘There is some wisdom in having unmarried clergy’ was the light-hearted conclusion of one of the ministers.
‘The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light’ – and here we are, inside this well-lit, bright and relatively warm church. But that’s not the main reason we’ve left our homes, TV shows and whatever else we usually do at this time. We are here tonight to celebrate the incomparably more powerful source of light than those floodlights here, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. We are here to celebrate the birth of Light that has the power to penetrate even the darkest corners of the human heart and soul. It’s a paradox that this most powerful source of light comes in the form of a powerless and vulnerable baby boy, born in an impoverished family far from home, in the middle of the night, in a stable. This whole situation hardly bears the hallmarks of a privileged birth, let alone a royal one. Rather, it recalls recent pictures of families stuck at Gatwick airport for days, with their children sleeping on the floor under staircases, on whatever clothing their parents managed to pull out of their luggage.
The Litany of Loreto, one of the traditional Catholic prayers, recalls many titles ascribed to the Mother of Jesus, each followed by a plea for her intercession. Those titles are derived from biblical, spiritual and devotional sources. It’s a much-loved litany, especially in some countries. Throughout the month of May in Poland, people gather in churches, or by roadside shrines or crosses daily to sing the Litany of Loreto. It’s a lovely and sometimes heart-rending experience. Despite my love of the litany, I’ve always perceived it as painting Mary unwittingly as a sort of regal figure, perfect in her virtues and achievements, but somehow distant and difficult to imitate. I love the litany in its devotional aspect but speaking personally I find the biblical stories about Mary much more inspiring. The story in today’s gospel is one of my favourites about Mary, and it is surely one of most inspirational.
Dear Parishioners of St Peter’s and of St Mary’s
Fr Tad has served you diligently for 7 years. He has now been asked by me to take on a new mission in Aberdeen. He will therefore be leaving you at the end of January. I know you will want to join me in thanking him warmly for all he has been and done for you over these years. I also want to join him in thanking you for all the support you have given him during that time. It has been a good partnership.
The roof of St Ninian’s, Tynet sadly has been damaged due to the high winds…
Thanks to some tree surgeons and a roofer, the tree has been removed and the chapel is now watertight.
The name of the mountain pass ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ surely has a note of irony to it, as that scenic road is blocked every now and again by landslides. Clearing the road and making it passable is akin to painting the Forth Road Bridge. That’s our modern equivalent of responding to the ancient cry as recalled in today’s gospel: ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill will be laid low, winding ways will be strengthened and rough roads made smooth.’ This passage comes from the prophet Isaiah roughly 2,600 years ago, well before the invention of motorised transport. It shows that beaten tracks – and later on, paved roads – were crucial for maintaining effective control over conquered territories, and made movement of goods and people much easier and safer, hence it was good for trade too. The importance of an extensive network of good quality roads was emphasised recently by the British Government in a rather bizarre way; the budget proposal included more money for dealing with potholes than for education.