Please see below Revd Canon Rachel’s sermon from the 10am service on Sunday January 9th. These readings and sermon will be used as a starting point for our online Bible Study on Wednesday January 12th (7pm on Zoom). If you would like to join the bible study please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 01484 427964.
This is the festival and the season of Epiphany – a season which sits within the wider arc of the Christmas season and serves a particular purpose within our tradition – the shape of our year of worship which spirals and repeats. Each year’s repetition of the season gives us an opportunity to see revealed just who this baby in the manger is. In these Sundays of January we will move from Sue’s exploration of the John’s Gospel last week – Jesus is the Word made flesh, to what is revealed of Jesus in the waters of baptism, then Jesus revealed as the fulfilment of prophecy when he speaks in the temple. Finally on January 30th when lots of our young people are sharing in their first communion and some of our adults are to be confirmed – we will hear the words of Simeon and Anna in the temple – recognising the lord and saviour he has waited for.
The word Epiphany shares its root in the Greek with the word Celophane – something see-through. It is the season of seeing through to who Jesus really is for us, not last year, not yesterday, but for today and for tomorrow – for the job we have to do, for the bills we have to pay, for the relationships we have, for the decisions we have to make – and for Kings from nearby and astrologers from far away. There was a baby in a manger. Aw. Cute. But now in the cold of a grey January, as we turn our faces away from the celebration of Christmas and put our noses back to the grindstone of life, we ask, in the words of Morrissey, “What difference does it make?”
And this is the question I ask you this morning. What difference does it make to your now that God became incarnate and is being revealed to you afresh in scripture and worship?
….“your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” says the prophet.
Looking at me post-Christmas, looking at any of us post-Christmas, could anyone say of any of us that it’s like someone switched a light on? They might say we look well sated from a thorough celebration of Christmas – but here in our scriptures we start to see a sign post to the what next. Not the new year new you bobbins of the diet industry, not Veganuary or Dry January. Not blue Monday (17th of Jan apparently), not every other advert being for a holiday you can’t afford or that makes you anxious because you’d love it but daren’t take the risk of booking. None of that. Because we are people of faith our what next? we ask Isaiah. We are told to rise and shine. To lift up our eyes and look around. And when we look, we shall see, and we too shall be radiant and our hearts shall rejoice.
Isn’t it simple. Get up. Look around and you will see revealed the Jesus who has come. Simple – but lets just note it doesn’t say stay where you are, keep yourself to yourself, do the same things today you did yesterday. The reading this morning from Isaiah is part of a proclamation of all God is giving us, and a rallying call to engage. Our faith is not something we passively consume, in the brand we like, with the right outfits and hymn tunes that make us feel comfortable. We are called to engage.
And as we look – the first thing we see is a load of astrologers and camels coming from the East.
I read this week that describing the Magi as “Wise men from the East” is like describing a delegation of Anglican Bishops visiting Jesus as “Wise men from the West”. A vague description at best.
It is some time after the birth of Christ – when at least three – we don’t know how many people, we only know how many gifts they brought – at least three people from a place then called Parthia, part of a particular religious and cultural group, astonomers seeking a messiah, turn up at the King’s Palace. Our tradition has taught us that just as the shepherds gathering at the manger show us that Jesus was come into the world for the poor and the outcast of his own people Israel, so the coming of the Magi represents Jesus universal nature. Jesus is not just for one nation or culture – Jesus is for everyone – and we are encouraged to see the calling of what we often call Three Kings as a reflection of that. I wonder if in the history of our Western culture that is why Parthian shaman-figures have come to be labelled as Kings. The nations of the world all called to Jesus, represented by rulers in shiney crowns. I imagine there have been a lot of rulers in shiney crowns over the years who have thought that a splendid idea as they have attempted to square their understanding of their own earthly power with the unearthly power of the promised messiah.
I don’t think it is arrogant for us to see ourselves reflected in these Magi – but perhaps it should be a slightly humbler approach. Firstly, we went to the wrong place – we went to the important city and looked for the earthly King. We frightened a very scary man – and man who would order genocide to preserve his earthly power – but not only that, we put fear into the hearts of the whole city. Perhaps fear of what Herod would do, perhaps fear of change – even the change people were supposed to be longing for. I imagine if Christ’s second coming happened tomorrow there’d be a lot of us caught on the hop too.
When we arrive we give gifts – gold of great value for a King, Frankinsense for holiness – for a king not of this world, and myrh the substance used to anoint the dead – pointing to the very different kind of kingship this messiah will live and die.
We three kings – we several travelling astrologers – are followers of signs in the sky and listeners to dreams. We are active searchers for truth – going out into the world to find what it is we seek. We are people who ask those we don’t yet know for directions along the way.
We are people who rise and shine – who get up and look around to see the messiah who is revealed – to seek his presence in person and to extend his influence in the world.
The world we see around us at the moment is a very confused and confusing place. We are not passengers riding passively on a dominant Christian culture, we are travellers seeking truth revealed anew in each generation and seeking to share it. We are the ones who can see that the light is shining in the darkness – that beyond the situation as this world sees it lies the deeper truth of God’s love in all things and for all people.
And this is what I urge you to this morning – to rise and shine – to look up. However difficult or depressing things might seem – to engage with your faith, to steep yourself in scripture. To read the bible every day, pray online with us each morning if you’re around at 9am and yes to come to bible study either here during the week or online on Wednesday evenings and take more time with the Sunday Scriptures.
Let us not be the ones who stayed at home and did not set out on the journey. Let us not be the frightened residents of Jerusalem wondering if the fulfilment of scripture will upset our comfortable lives. Let us not take up false crowns or think ourselves grander or greater than anyone because we seek the messiah – keeping our fingers cross he wont ask too much of us.
But let us be the more than three – actively seeking the messiah in the every day, journeying to new places in knowledge and understanding and serving others, connecting with others different to ourselves along the way, seeing God’s hand and truth for us reflected in God’s wondrous creation.
Rise and shine – lift up your eyes and look around. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.