John West, Missionary

The collect for a missionary, in commemoration of The Rev’d John West (1778-1845), Priest, first Protestant missionary to the Red River Valley, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

John WestO GOD, our heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst call thy blessed Apostles and send them forth to preach thy Gospel of salvation unto all the nations: We bless thy holy Name for thy servant John West, whose labours we commemorate this day, and we pray thee, according to thy holy Word, to send forth many labourers into thy harvest; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lesson: Acts 12:24-13:5
The Gospel: St Matthew 4:13-24a

John Wycliffe, Scholar and Translator

The collect for today, the commemoration of John Wycliffe, (c 1320-84), Scholar, Translator of the Scriptures into English (source):

O Lord, thou God of truth, whose Word is a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path: We give thee thanks for thy servant John Wyclif, and those who, following in his steps, have labored to render the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people; and we beseech thee that thy Holy Spirit may overshadow us as we read the written Word, and that Christ, the living Word, may transform us according to thy righteous will; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The Lesson: Daniel 2:17-24
The Gospel: St. Matthew 13:9-16

Madox Brown, The Trial of Wycliffe

Artwork: Ford Madox Brown, The Trial of Wycliffe A.D. 1377, 1893. Mural, Great Hall, Manchester Town Hall.

Thomas Becket, Archbishop

The collect for today, the Feast of St. Thomas Becket (1117-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr (source):

King Henry II and Saint Thomas BecketO Lord God,
who gavest to thy servant Thomas Becket
grace to put aside all earthly fear
and be faithful even unto death:
grant that we, caring not for worldly esteem,
may fight against evil,
uphold thy rule,
and serve thee to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Epistle: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The Gospel: St. Luke 12:37-43

Click here to read more about St. Thomas Becket.

Artwork: King Henry II Speaking with Saint Thomas Becket (detail of illuminated page from The Chronicle of England by Peter Langtoft), c. 1300-25. British Library, London.

Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents

“These were redeemed from among men,
being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb”

It is a compelling and yet a most disturbing Christmas story but, like the other festal days of Christmas, it reflects upon the deeper meaning of Christ’s holy birth. Unlike the commemorations of St. Stephen and St. John, however, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, as this day has come to be called, actually belongs to the narratives of the nativity.

Like so many biblical passages, the story is multi-layered. It is, on the one hand, an account of the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah. “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” locating the Flight into Egypt in terms of a New Testament riff on the Exodus story of Pharaoh’s policy of infanticide as a way of controlling the minority worker population of the Hebrews within Egypt. Here it takes on a further political aspect: Herod’s fear of a child-king who would be a rival to his throne.

Joseph takes Mary and the child Christ into Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath and fury but “out of Egypt” Jesus the Son will return to Nazareth and beyond to bring redemption to all people just as Moses led the people of the Hebrews out of the Pharonic captivity and into the wilderness to become the people of God, the people of the Law. On that score alone it is a powerful narrative and unfolds before our eyes something of the Christian understanding of divine Providence at work in and through the Scriptures.

It is, on the other hand, a powerful story about the meaning of redemption in the face of the most horrible sufferings and loss that is imaginable; the slaughter of little children. The Collect takes our breath away with its incredible insight that “thou madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths.” It is for many utterly unthinkable, a most disturbing claim that unsettles us and makes us most uncomfortable. I fear that for some this story and the theological idea expressed in the Collect is so revolting that they become atheists. The scene, even as told in the restrained language of Matthew, is such an affront to our conceptions of justice, especially divine justice. How revolting and impossible to say, at least at first glance, that children were made to die for Christ’s glory!

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The Innocents

The collect for today, the Innocents’ Day, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

O ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lesson: Revelation 14:1-5
The Gospel: St. Matthew 2:13-18

When wise men from the East visited King Herod in Jerusalem to ask where the king of the Jews had been born, Herod felt his throne was in jeopardy. So, he ordered all the boys of Bethlehem aged two and under to be killed. On this day, the church remembers those children.

The Massacre of the Innocents is recorded only in St Matthew’s Gospel, where it is said to be fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah.

The church has kept this feast day since the fifth century. The Western churches commemorate the innocents on 28 December; the Eastern Orthodox Church on 29 December. Medieval authors spoke of up to 144,000 murdered boys, in accordance with Revelation 14:3. More recent estimates, however, recognising that Bethlehem was a very small town, place the number between ten and thirty.

This episode has been challenged as a fabrication with no basis in actual historic events. James Kiefer has a point-by-point presentation of the objections with replies in defence of biblical historicity.

This is an appropriate day to remember the victims of abortion.

Bruegel, Massacre of the InnocentsArtwork: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Massacre of the Innocents, 1565-67. Oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.