Archives January 2008

Sermon: Candlemas, 2008

Text: Luke 2:22-40;

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, Christmas is well and truly over, the decorations are safely packed away, and the more enterprising amongst you may already have bought next year’s Christmas cards cheaply in the January sales, I know we have! Soon after Christmas the next two high points of the Christian story turn to the Epiphany and now Candlemas – the presentation of Christ in the temple.

It does seem rather strange, with only three days to go before Lent – Ash Wednesday is the earliest it can possibly be this year and the earliest since 1854 – for us to still swell on Christmas, but this feast of Candlemas – the presentation of Christ is the final part of that chapter of the Incarnation.

So, as far as the closing events of Christmas go, Epiphany gets quite a bit more attention than Candlemas, and in the Orthodox tradition, Epiphany is the date for the exchanging of presents. Yet it is Candlemas which marks the true end of Christmastide, and the last revelation of the incarnation to us all for some years, until the finding in the temple and then Our Lord’s adult ministry.

I am sure you can all name the three Wise Men: Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar- at least, that is what we call them, because of course there is only a couple of paltry lines of Scripture about them. However, tradition has created names, reputations, hymns and histories about them: we dress these boys up in fancy robes, we imagine them as very successful, wealthy, world travellers, spiritually insightful, prime specimens, we give them names, and we plunk them down, just off centre stage in the crib. We all know about, we all love the three wise men.

So – who are the three wise women of the biblical, birth narratives? Who are the three wise women of Christmastide? …I am sure you weren’t expecting a quiz this morning, but who were the three wise women… ?

I’m sure we’d all want to include firstly, Our Lady, the Theotokos – the bearer of God – and, if we think we might remember Elizabeth. But who might we identify as the third wise woman of these birth narratives? Well, my dear friends, I’d like to nominate Anna for this privilege.

We often miss her… It’s easy to read her as not much more than a supporting player to Simeon but she’s really someone very important. So important, in fact, that scripture records not only name, but also details of her genealogy and scripture pointedly tells us that even among her own people, in the context of a male-dominated society, she was regarded as a prophet: and hence, we can assume she was held in some kind of high spiritual regard – perhaps not by the Scribes and Pharisees, but certainly by the ordinary folk.

Perhaps this Anna deserves a second look as today we consider the wider narratives of the birth of Jesus. So – who was this woman?

Luke uses two full verses to give us details about Anna. Besides her name, Luke tells us that she was a prophetess, he tells us her father’s name, he tells us that she came from the tribe of Asher. He tells us that she was very old, that she had been married for seven years and that she’d been a widow for 84 years. We’re also told that she never left the temple and that day and night she served God with fasting and prayers… So, what good news we can unpack from all these details.

We must start by considering her ancestry.

Her father gave her the name Anna: or, as it would have been in Hebrew, Hannah. She was given the same name as the mother of Samuel – a name that means “gracious.”

Her father’s name was Phanuel. This name is the Hebrew equivalent of the word Penuel. Penuel, you may recall, in the dim and distant days of your Sunday School, was the name that Jacob gave to the place where he had wrestled with an angel of the Lord in Genesis Chapter 32). The name, literally means, “face of God.”

Anna could trace her ancestry back to the tribe of Asher: the eighth of Jacob’s twelve sons. When Jacob blessed his twelve sons before his death, he said of Asher that his tribe would be materially well off and yield “royal dainties (Gen. 49:20).”

Moses spoke in similar terms of Asher suggesting that Asher would “dip his foot in oil (Deut 33:24).” When Joshua divided the Promised Land among the twelve tribes, Asher received an inheritance in the far north of the land, beside the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Over time, along with the material blessings that the tribe of Asher enjoyed, there came temptation.

The people of Asher did not have the strength of faith to obey God’s command that they drive out the Canaanites in the book of Judges (Chapter 1); instead, they dwelt and prospered along side the Canaanites: Their spiritual shallowness and lack of devotion to the good of God’s people was highlighted some years later in the Bible in a story that tells us that when Deborah called on all of Israel to rally to fight for their survival against Jabin the King of Cannan. Asher declined to help. The scriptures say that “Asher continued at the shore and stayed by the inlets (Judges 5:17).”

In time of peril, the tribe of Asher stayed at home, continued their daily work and preoccupation with profit and prosperity and offered no help to their brethren in Israel…. After this, the tribe of Asher disappears from the biblical scene and, eventually, whatever was left of them was carried off into bondage when the Assyrians conquered their land. The story of the tribe of Asher ends, right there – with the notable exception of Anna…

God, long ago, made a covenant with the people of Israel, with all twelve tribes and although Anna’s kinfolk merged into secular society and were lost, God (as God always does) kept the covenant and ensured that a remnant remained. Though her people had been unfaithful to God and had ultimately paid the price for it, there was at least one family steeped in faith and faithfulness. Anna’s grandfather gave his son the name Phanuel: Face of God, a recollection of the struggles of Jacob to know himself and God. Phanuel, in his turn, gave to his daughter the name Anna recalling how Anna gave birth to a son who, in his day, rebuilt and strengthened the people of Israel. Here, played out over many generations is God’s faithfulness to his Covenent. We so often expect God to deliver immediately, within the hour, whereas in God’s timeframe, God chooses to work across the generations, across the millennia.

What else do we know about Anna? Luke tells us that she was a widow.

Being a widow is not easy. There are a lot of ladies sitting here today who could testify to that. For Anna, all of this would have been compounded by the cultural, economic and everyday realities of her life. Israel had no Social Security or Private Pension Plan. Being a woman, in an era thousands of years before any notion of equal opportunities meant that she faced a tough life.

Eighty-four years as a lonely, impoverished, there can be no doubt, single woman…. Clearly, Anna was a survivor! A role model of persistence and hope: and, of charity!

Luke tells us that she spent her time at the temple busy at “fasting and prayer” and she was regarded, by ordinary folk at least, as a “prophet.” As a prophet, she must have had knowledge of scripture that was quite unusual for a woman of her day: spiritual depth and insight. To be known as a prophet and as a very devout lady, she must not only have been AT the temple, but have been noticed at the temple: a friend, teacher, and spiritual guide.

Anna was a remarkable lady in a hierarchical, male-dominated society and religious milieu. She was a true evangelist, in the sense of someone who spreads the euangelion or good news – Luke tells us that she “went out and spoke of the child Jesus to all who would listen”

She was certainly remarkable: as a woman, as a widow, as a person of poverty; as a survivor; as the faithful, redressing remnant of the tribe of Asher: a testament to God’s enduring faithfulness; as a devout person, a student of the word; as a teacher and a prophet; as an evangelist of Jesus Christ:

Yes, it is certainly no wonder that God caused Anna’s name to be remembered and the story of her ministry to be preserved.

Anna, the third of the wise women of Christmas. Anna, the gracious giver.

Anna, our sister in Christ: and, as her words reveal the truth of the Christ Child, we thank God for her.

Amen


Encouraging Signs

prodigalson2.gif

After what had been a bit of a dark week past (see posts passim), I can sense some new and encouraging signs. In addition to the two adult candidates for Confirmation, I have had another two respond favourably to my suggestion that they prepare for the Sacrament.

One of my greatest loves in ministry after the celebration of the holy mysteries is Discipleship: sharing and teaching the faith, and whether that is in the context of Confirmation or Bible Study, Lent & Advent Courses or working with young people, I don’t mind. I still have a sort of wild enthusiasm for my faith which all these years have not seemed to dent, and what makes it all so special for me, is such fun to share with others.

I’m no great theologian, and certainly a poor evangelist, and I could never aspire to do more than I simply love doing, which is sharing faith over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and helping people make sense of what is going on in their hearts as they are touched by the presence of God. As in all my ministry, I just feel privileged to be along for the ride. When people start to respond, it lifts me; and my little episode of self-doubt passes as I can look forward to drinking lots more coffee and talking with people about Christ.

Does my prayer life no end of good as well: Deo Gratias! Pray that these signs of growth may continue to flourish, just like the seed in tonight’s Gospel: 30, 60, 100-fold!


A terrible, horrible youth club night

I’m now in one of those hideous, dark moods because of tonight’s youth club. It started okay, and was mildly boisterous. This was understandable really because the local Secondary School had an INSET day preceded by a one-to-one interview day which meant that most of them hadn’t had much stimulation for two days (the one-to-one day just seems like a bit of a skyve to me, but still…)

I had planned what I thought was a good talk – about Christ the light in the darkness: a candle had burned unnoticed in the room all evening, and I’d got them into groups to discuss things which the world saw as important, and then to share them. The plan was then to turn out the lights and show how the light stands out, linking it with Jesus, the light of the world and then how they can be a light of hope for others.

It was a disaster.

They messed around during the ideas. My team descended into the groups to get them to focus, and they found it really hard work. Some groups were so disengaged and disruptive (there were 38 young people there – a few less than normal) and it was impossible to share their thoughts, even though some of them had some good ideas.  I turned down the lights and the candle shone brightly and they just kicked off.

The lack of respect just hit me square in the chest: in one of those demoralising, epiphanous moments, I realised that this was an enormous waste of time and effort. The afternoon’s work I had put in had been wasted, and I had let my Lord down and failed him.  I have often joked that doing a ‘God-Slot’ at this youth club is a bit like Paul standing at the Areopagus in Acts 17:16-34 – front line evangelism, and if Saint Paul can get laughed at then maybe so should I – he is after all a better evangelist than me.

But their behaviour was just so appalling. I told them so. In no uncertain terms. There is both an explicit contract that they sign up to as members of the club and an implicit contract, neither of which I felt that they had honoured, so I have suspended the youth club for a week to let them understand how far beyond the pail I felt they went. I will be writing to the parents of all the regular attenders to explain why I have suspended the club for a week. When you make a threat you have to follow it through.

So now, I feel a complete failure. The team were wonderfully supportive, and although I gave them plenty of opportunity to tell me that I was wrong, they all supported my actions. I am in a bit of a crisis over it myself though: self-doubt and insecurity are my biggest failings and so the constant nag that I should have handled that better, that youth workers perhaps should tolerate much more, that the Gospel is big enough and important enough to break through into their lives, and that I let them down rather than them letting me down.

The truth is somewhere in the middle of all this. I am very depressed now. A horrible, horrible night. I pray for redemption, both for myself and for those whom God has placed in my care, and that somehow, in the light of a new dawn, I can start afresh and bring these young people into an encounter with the sacred.


Sermon: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – St Cuthbert’s Church, Copnor

Text: John 1:29-34, Galatians 5:16-26

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

It gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning, and I bring you greetings from the parish of St Thomas the Apostle, Elson in Gosport. I come to be with you today, not merely because I want to have a good nosey around your wonderful new sacred space, but because your vicar asked me to bring with me as part of your programme of return a new and radical form of meditation – a meditation for all of our senses and for all kinds of people, which our alt.worship community known as Blesséd created last Summer for the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham.

I hope you have seen the posters for the “Stations of the Spirit” and I hope that you, and perhaps most importantly, those that you bring tonight will experience a new, challenging engagement with God and the fruits of the Spirit that we heard about in our second reading. But more on that later…

Clearly, as you return to this sacred space, transformation is a key theme of the moment for you – as the power of God transforms not only your church, but our very essence as followers of the Lamb of God. The Spirit of God, manifesting herself and bearing fruit amongst this community.

A friend of mine, before he became a priest, was a viticulturist: a professional grower of wine. We on the South Coast are blessed (and I know how difficult it might be, given the weather this week), we are blessed with a climate which makes actually rather good wine. I have become, over the years, quite a fan of wine grown in England. I love to visit the vinyards – a very nice local one is only up in Wickham, walk around them and then (out of courtesy only, obviously) taste and buy. As the Scriptures say, wine “gladdens our hearts” and it is lovely to have a personal encounter with place and with product that gives so much enjoyment.

My friend, Fr Kit reminds me that the process of making wine is ancient: when Noah found dry land again, he planted a vineyard and got drunk (it’s in Genesis 9:20-21). However, he is at pains to remind me that one does not simply plant grapes and get wine, something has to happen to it to make it into that wonderful substance.

The action of fermentation, the work of yeast, to convert sugar into alcohol happens almost invisibly. It happens as it must in the dark, in the warm, and out of sight, and for most of us, how it does it is a mystery.

We start with grape juice and we end with champagne. A transformation in substance.

In the same way, the words and the actions of the priest and the responses of the congregation work on ordinary things: simple bread and wine, and there is another transformation in substance.

In a way that is also mysterious, that cannot be satisfactorily explained, nor indeed should be explained, there is a change in the ordinary and it becomes extraordinary, as God enters into these elements and simple bread and wine become the blessed sacrament and precious blood.

When John the Baptiser spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, it was an explicit reference to the Sacrificial Lamb of the Passover and one of the reasons that when you look at John the Evangelist’s account of the Last Supper, it occurs on the night before the Passover so that Jesus is crucified at the same time as the Passover lambs are sacrificed – have a look at that when you get home today and you will find it so.

“This is the Lamb of God…” is literally true, it is not a metaphor or an illustration, but a statement of fact. In these changed elements we find God. We find the real presence of Him “hiding” as St Francis of Assisi wonderfully said “under an ordinary piece of bread”.

When Jesus took the bread and wine of a meal, he said “This is my body”, “This is my blood”. It was not a metaphor, not an illustration, but the institution of a sacrament.

We start with bread and wine and we end with the body and blood of Christ. We need not look for God in the molecules of the wine, or the atoms of the bread, look not for the change to the elements but look for the change in the people of receive it – the comfort derived from the sacrament. Look not for the wind, but for the action the wind has on the trees. Look not for the work of the yeast, but the sweetness of that fermentation.

God takes the ordinary: people like you and like me, and he transforms us into something extraordinary – into the saved. God does this is subtle ways, hidden, in the dark. How he does this is a mystery. Look not for the process, but look for the end result.

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and self-control [I know a song about that which once you get it into your head, I promise you will never forget, the end result of the work of God in our lives, the outcome of our encounter with the sacred is transformation.

We are transformed by the power of God, baptised as John said, by the Holy Spirit, transformed by Christ’s body and blood.

The transformation of the Holy Spirit is played out in your new sacred space, and a renewed vitality and confidence in your mission in this place is made clear. The Fruits of the Spirit, won for us by the Lamb of God, have the power to touch the lives of each and every one of us, and the lives of the many more that we will encounter and share those fruits with. Notice that Jesus changed the lives of Andrew and his friend not with heavy-duty theology, not with fine or eloquent words, but a simple invitation of fellowship – “Come and See”

This evening, I invite you to Come and See, to put on a pair of headphones and make a journey around this place and encounter the fruits of the spirit in new and challenging ways, in meditation and in action, in reflection and in prayer and be transformed, just as these holy sacraments are transformed and transform us.

We are the products of that transformation…a transformation far finer than the finest champagne, for this transformation gives us the taste of salvation.

Amen.


Youth Talk – Friday's Youth Club – The Great Task List

For this you will need to give a copy of this worksheet out to everyone with a pencil. The winner is the first person to sign off all these silly tasks. Great to get the kids to interact with each other outside their normal groupings!

The Great Task List

You have to get a different person to witness and sign off each task

Name:

Action

What Done?

Signed for

Tell a Joke

 

 

 

Pretend you are taking a bath or shower in the middle of the room!

 

 

Sing a Song from the Top 10

 

 

Recite a nursery rhyme.

 

 

 

Imitate a comic strip character until someone guesses its identity

 

 

Behave like a duck for 10 seconds

 

 

Say something nice about three different people in the room.

1

2

3

 

Shake hands with three other people in the room.

1

2

3

 

Pretend/Act out opening a present on Christmas Day

 

 

Walk from one end of the room to the other with an object between you knees.

 

 

Act like an egg being cracked and fried.

 

 

Do an impression of a well known celebrity. Identify the person first.

 

 

Make a short poem about one of the leaders

 

 

Tell someone about your family

 

 

Stand on one leg for 45 seconds

 

 

Talk:

 Embarrassed?

What is the craziest thing you have ever done? The most embarrassing?

Have you ever done something silly that you later regretted?

If you could go back and change one thing you did in the past, what would you change? Why?

What is one thing you did that was seen by others as a little silly, but that you wished you could do again?

Has the possibility of being embarrassed ever stopped you from doing something that you should have done or wish you would have done?

One of our greatest fears is the fear of being embarrassed. We don’t want to lose the respect of others or to be the subject of ridicule. But anything worthwhile in life carries with it some risk. You usually have to go out on a limb to get the fruit. Everything worthwhile in life lies outside of your comfort zone. Some of the greatest achievements in history took place because men and women were not afraid to risk embarrassment and ridicule to reach for their dreams! It’s a good thing the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur, Christopher Columbus and others weren’t afraid of ridicule. Otherwise we wouldn’t have planes, light bulbs, vaccines, and many of the other technological marvels we enjoy today!

Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction. – Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. – Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

 The energy produced by the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine. – Ernst Rutherford, 1933

 There will be a global market for perhaps five computers in the world – IBM Executive, 1950

 640k should be more than enough for anybody – Bill Gates, 1983

Don’t be afraid to reach for your dreams! Jesus said “I come that you may have life – life in all its fullness”, he said that sometimes we do things which may seem wacky and off-beat because they are the contrary to the cynicism and mistrust of the world – that it may seem like foolishness to “sensible people” but this is the wisdom of God, a deep wisdom which is so much more profound than any science. Dream Dreams and Share Visions (Acts 1:17-21) and live life to the full.

Science is about discovering more and more about God’s wonderful creation, and it is a good thing, but science is no substitute for the place of God, and the men in white coats don’t have all the answers.

I don’t have all the answers either, but I know of a man who does – the carpenter from Nazareth who came that we may have life – life in all its fullness (John 10:10).


My Desk – Chaos in Action

I have seen a number of photos of people’s desktops on the blogs recently, so here is my contribution

My Desk

What you see cannot surely be a surprise:

* Tea and Coffee Mugs (always in multiples – no espresso this time, must be late in the day)

* The Ikon of Our Lord and Our Lady which is always before me as I work. It’s the best kind of distraction I can find, and reminds me what I am here for.

* PC Screen with (unseen) the Flock Browser and Google Reader on it. Flock is a great browser based on Firefox with instant access to Facebook and YouTube. I love it that I can keep track of my friends throughout the day.

* Wires everywhere – why does even wireless stuff come with so many blessed wires?

* Microsoft Digital Media Pro Keyboard and Logitech Trackman Trackball. I love these Human Interfaces. Many people can’t cope with a trackball, but it saves deskspace and is more comfortable to use. The keyboard has lots of buttons for shortcuts and zooming and has been my favourite keyboard for  a number of years now.

* Notes scribbled on bits of paper – not everyone gives me stuff in electronic form

* DVDs and Memory Sticks – I have about a dozen of these floating around. They may be the new floppy disks but they can be much more easily lost.

* Paperwork: Funeral Plans, the last Quinquennual Inspection report, a brochure for Paschal Candles for 2008 and the new install disks for Hymnquest which chooses our hymns for us.

Yes, cluttered beyond functionality, and yes, a mirror on the chaos of my life and ministry which is quite cluttered, technologically complex and yet hopefully Christ-centred (no Bible? That’s because it’s in my hand, of course! 🙂  – oh and also on the bookshelf behind the detritus of my contact lense equipment). Life, prayer and ministry are all to be found on this desk, and yet there is still more room for more people and more of their busy and chaotic lives on it. As long as Our Lord and Our Lady remain in constant view, I think that it’s going to be alright.

What’s your desktop like?


Sermon: Feast of the Epiphany Year A

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

It’s not easy being a bloke these days… we take quite a bit of stick. I read recently that if the wise men had been women, things would have been different and much better.

Firstly, if the wise men had been women, they would not have arrived many months after Jesus’ birth because they would have stopped to ask for directions.

If the wise men had been women, they would have been there to clean up the mess so Jesus wouldn’t have had to be born in a barn.

And finally, had the wise men been women, they would have brought much more practical gifts including a stew so the family would have something to eat.

What do we really know about the wise men? Not much when you examine the scriptures. Where did they come from? “The east” you say. But where in the east? How far east? Pompey? Brighton? China? We know they came from the east and they came from a long way away, but we don’t really know where they came from.

The Archbishop of Canterbury before Christmas caused indignation amongst the Daily Mail and Daily Express (those fine Churchgoing newspapers) because he suggested that the “Three Kings” were legend – look again at the text. Shock horror – Archbishop relies more on actual biblical text than chocolate-box imagery. Exactly how many of them were there and what kind of men were they? Matthew does not tell us. Well done Rowan, I say, and let us all emphasise the Scripture more than our tradition, supersitition and hymnody. In the second century, the church father Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship him: hence “We three Kings of Orient Are”. He also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Bible doesn’t tell us who they were or how many of them came.

In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Balthazar and Kaspar. And so operas have been written ascribing these names to them. But no one really knows what their names were.

We don’t even really know that they were wise. In the original manuscripts they are called the “magi” from an ancient Iranian word, “magoi” which was used to describe people who acted in very strange ways, were captivated by astrology, spells and incantation and dressed in a very bizarre manner. The Latin word is “magi” from which we get words like “magician.”

So let’s recap: we don’t know who they were, where they came from or even how many of them there were. Why doesn’t Matthew the Evangelist tell us any of this information?

I would suggest that all of this detail is left out of the picture in order that the full emphasis may be placed on the one thing that is central to this story: their statement, “we have come to worship.”

The gifts of the wise men are not merely the forerunner of the large credit card bills which many have run up in the battle to deliver the biggest, the best, the most sought after present this year, but are part of the revelation of Jesus Christ to the world.

A good gift says “I thought of you as I bought this. It would be appropriate for you”. The gifts of the wise men show this consideration, and in their symbolism they predict the Messiahship of the Child Jesus.
Gold
Signifies Kingship. King Herod was threatened by Christ, not merely because he was a shallow, cruel and insecure tyrant, but because he feared the true authority of the rightful King of the Jews. Herod was a puppet ruler in power on behalf of the Romans, empowered to keep the peace and collect the taxes. Jesus Christ, of the House of David, the ruling house, had temporal claims to authority as well as Spiritual.

Too often we try to divorce our spiritual and our temporal lives: the life explored in the Mass split from the life lived in the workplace. The Gold presented the child represents his authority on earth as well as in heaven; his authority over us for the whole seven days, not just the Sunday morning.
Frankincense
Symbolises Christ’s Divinity. Incense is burned to signify prayer and holiness: altars, gospel books and statues are censed to set them apart. The psalmist in Psalm 141 says:

“Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice”

The Christ-child, both fully human and fully divine is recognised as being both of this earth, in his incarnation, and not of this earth. The media and the secular world it panders to wants to bring down Our God to earth and keep him there – they are only interested in the historical Jesus, whether his mother was all the Holy Church cracks her up to be, and whether in this scientific and reductionist age we should believe in the “supernatural”. God is supernatural, for he is above and beyond all creation, and in this sad little earth which has nothing left to cling to, I rejoice in the worship of an all-transcendant God who overcomes the boundaries of our trivial science and the limitations of our little minds. We should resist the temptation to bring God down to our level, when he belongs on our altar and in our hearts in worship.

The last gift,
Myrrh
Fortells Christ’s death, for Myrrh is the sweet spices and perfumes that a body is covered with after death. The same Myrrh that Mary Magdalene brought to the tomb that Easter morning to complete the burial rites of the crucified Lord.

Expensive and rare, certainly, and reserved for a special purpose, this gift is a prophecy of Christ’s death, and shows that none of these gifts, none of the birth narratives told in the Gospels of Luke or Matthew happen by accident. Certainly, there are discrepancies in the scriptural accounts, but Scripture is more than a newspaper account – it is a revelation by God, and each feature in this story is significant – nothing is wasted. For this reason, we should not be prepared to gloss over the bible, and especially the birth story of Christ: “Oh we‘ve heard that a thousand times”, I suggest that we should never take these scriptures for granted, return to them often and pore over the details, for they are rich in God’s revelation to us.

The wise men were significant to the birth narratives because they represent the wider revelation of the Christ to the world. The word was made flesh in an obscure backwater of a town, in a stable to a young girl of insignificant birth and her artisan husband. The Saviour of the World was revealed to the Jews not in the glory of the temple, although he would be known there at his presentation, witnessed by Simeon and Anna, or the splendour of the royal palace, but in a stable before working men from the hillsides rather than the great and the good of the Jewish state.

The Shepherds were considered to be less than worthy Jews because the task of looking after the sheep would require them to work on the Sabbath: they were perpetually ritually unclean, and yet they were the first Jews to whom the Lord was revealed.

Similarly, the fact that the wise men came at all is significant, for they were Gentiles; beyond even ritual uncleanliness; they were, for all their finery and precious gifts, just like us: the great unwashed. The Christ is revealed to be the Christ of both the Jews and the Gentiles, it is because of this revelation that we gather in this church this morning.

The wise men brought gifts, significant and expensive, but the gifts were for all their symbolism merely an extension of the traditions of middle-eastern hospitality: the real significance of the Epiphany was coming to worship the Christ-child – to acknowledge the Saviour of the World in human form, to keel before a tiny child and, as representatives of us all, to recognise Jesus as Lord.

It does not matter whether we can aspire to the income, the wisdom or the gift-giving capabilities of the wise men, we are all called to the crib, we are all called to come and worship.

Amen.