Father Terry writes:
To stand at the remaining wall of the Temple in Jerusalem and observe is to be astonished at the variety of Jews who come to pray. Bukhara Jews from Central Asia with embroidered hats. Hasidic Jews from Eastern Europe (or Stoke Newington) in furred hats despite torrid heat. Californians in baseball caps. Indians from Bombay. Argentinians from Buenos Aires. Judaism is a more international religion than many Christians realise. Some 2000 years ago the writer of the book of Baruch rejoiced in this diversity, and prophesied that Jerusalem would be a sign to the world. We hear in the first reading: ‘See your sons reassembled from west and east’. A new freedom and fulfilment would come, like those set free from captivity in Babylon.
We inherit this prophecy and apply it to the Church. We have become, as it were, a Jerusalem, a city that stretches across the earth and across time itself. In this invisible city of God the followers of Christ seek to grow closer to their Lord, to live as he would have them live, to love as he would have them love. As St Paul reminds us today in the letter to the Philippians, when he prays that their love for one another ‘may increase more and more’. And, he adds, ‘never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best’. This reminds us that we have to discern what is right and good, and sometimes struggle to understand. The invisible city of God is lived amid another city, in our case, London, where there are tensions and challenges and temptations that we have to rise above every day, with the help of God.
It’s a very earthy city, London. Well – I suppose that even Jerusalem two thousand years ago would have resembled London today in some ways. Our Lord wept over it. But of course, it is to people like us in a city like ours that the Lord comes. That is why the gospel today is at pains to stress the facts. It names the governors and the places where John the Baptist heralded the coming of Christ. The Messiah was coming in flesh and blood to real people, to the world of commerce and cruelty, to the world of hope and generosity, the world of conflict and of yearning for peace. To the backwater of Bethlehem – and to the crowded streets of a busy, relentless capital city. All humankind must see the salvation of God. It could only see that salvation if God himself was to leap the immense distance between God and man, between spirit and flesh, between eternity and time, to come among us as one of us. This is the tumultuous, world-changing event that we will celebrate once more on the 25th December.