It Is Not the Beginning Which Yieldeth the True Glory

Second Sunday of Lent

Luke 13,31-35

In this week’s Gospel we meet Jesus on the way to Jerusalem and certain death. Try to imagine, if you can, how you would feel if you knew for a certainty that what you were doing would lead to certain death. Most of us would do a rapid re-think and do an abrupt about-turn. The cynic would say that you would have to be mad to do anything else. But Jesus wasn’t mad, was he? Quite the opposite! He knew that there was work to do, and work that only he could do, that obedience to his Father required nothing less, and that somehow, and paradoxical as it might appear, his death would mean new life for countless millions.

The tone is set in the opening words – some Pharisees come to warn Jesus off – forget this crazy idea, go somewhere safer. Interesting that, isn’t it? The Pharisees get such a bad press in the gospels that it’s hard to believe anything good of them, yet here they genuinely seem concerned for Jesus’ welfare. They get a pretty short answer for their pains. Herod is a fox – that’s an open provocation in itself. Forget the fox; while opportunity permits, Jesus’ work of healing and making whole must go forward with all possible urgency, for time is limited. On the third day Jesus will reach his goal – there’s a kind of double perspective here – it could mean Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, but it could also be referring to his resurrection on the third day, the ultimate vindication of his purposefulness. And then of course he laments over Jerusalem, as many of us still do today, and wonder when the Holy City will again be what its name means – the possession of peace.

James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What lessons can we learn from Jesus’ single mindedness, his unwillingness to compromise, to put his own interests before the will of God his heavenly Father? In a way the answers to the questions are self-evident. Remember that prayer attributed to the Elizabethan explorer who circumnavigated the globe Sir Francis Drake [1540-1628]: “O Lord God, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory.” Precisely: when the temptations come, be they to sink into the snare of indifference that asks “What’s the point?”, be they to give up, then think again of Jesus and his utter determination to complete the task that God his Father had given him. We don’t gain any merit in God’s eyes by taking the line of least resistance, because to do that means that the devil has won another victory. Jesus through his single-mindedness changed the course of human history.

Our aim will be somewhat more modest, but lives refashioned in the image of Christ, lives that are just as focused as his on love and truth and peace will make a difference, will, like the pebble in the pond, send out ripples that go on and on. And what better time than Lent to refocus, to repent of our weaknesses and our faithlessness, our lack of commitment to the way of Christ, our feelings of pointlessness. We need to rekindle our vision of a new world, a world transformed: for most of us, there’s a long way to go, and on the way we too will know some of the heartache that beset out Blessed Lord, but as the old hymn puts it so well, as it challenges our half-heartedness, such a light affliction will win so great a prize.

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Enemy Within

First Sunday of Lent

Luke 4,1-13

Lent is the season of Christian discipleship, a time to prepare for Holy Week and Easter. In the early days of Christian persecution it was a time for those preparing for Baptism and thus linked with the forty days of testing that the Lord undertook immediately after his baptism. In each of these it was understood to be the individual’s journey of the soul just as the forty years had been for the people of Israel, a time to overcome trials and temptations of faith and righteousness before entering the Promised Land.

“Die erste Versuchung Christi”, in: Miniatur-Psalter, c. 1222
[Royal Danish Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons}

From birth, the massacre of infants to death at the hands of the Romans, Jesus lived in the midst of the evil that he personified as “Satan”. Evil has a real and perpetual presence within the human world, and at some point every one of us will have to decide either to build up resources to overcome evil or to capitulate. It remains the case, there is no difference today. Globally, we still face genocide and terror in great proportions and closer to home, slavery or predators who groom women, and children exploited and suffering acts of cruelty – now even under the threat of atomic bombs.

Evil is truly present in the hearts of men and women but today they have discarded the means to engage in the struggle. Jesus entering the solitude of the wilderness faces the same battle and uses the resources of the Hebrew Scriptures and the conviction that through God’s grace, good is in the end stronger than Satan. Temptation for each person in these circumstances is to doubt the power of goodness, truth and love. Temptation is the seed that destroys the soul and leads to darkness and despair.

So again we begin the Lenten journey of the soul remembering that we are looking to Jesus who, shedding his divinity, experiences in the wilderness the full extent of being human. The wilderness is a place of heat and cold, of hunger and thirst challenging the body. It is a place of loneliness and fear that heightens self awareness and the sense of frailty when the enemy within is most active.

This predicament faces us all, and Jesus is no different to any person on life’s journey. “There is no such thing as cheap grace” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The entire life of Jesus Christ is the constant battle with evil and his victory over it. The greatest weapon required is the conviction that good triumphs over evil and that as disciples we have the means of accepting the challenge. Tragically, this is not the character we find in many western churches today where we see a good deal of sleep walking with an insipid spirituality that results as Richard Niebhur, prophetically anticipated, was the outcome of “liberalised Christianity, depicting a God without wrath bringing man without sin into a kingdom without judgement through a Christ without the need for a cross”.

So important is this struggle, that the Lord gives it prominence in the prayer for his disciples, that we pray daily “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” In this we have a constant reminder that the struggle with the enemy within us is a personal one, just as the enemy comes even to us, and this is personal temptation to deny God and descend into darkness.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

The Transfiguration

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 9,28-36

This reflection was written before the present suffering of the people of Ukraine and neighbouring countries. A terrible man made crisis with military, economic, psychological and spiritual consequence. The Christian world will also suffer as a result and we offer our prayers and heartfelt concern for our fellow Christians and the Ukrainian people who will suffer as a consequence of human wickedness.

* * *

Another Lent begins and the two year pandemic is still with us contributing everywhere high levels of anxiety. This is happening in societies that have dethroned God giving mankind sovereignty instead. The weeks of Lent are a time for thinking about this predicament, reflecting on the suffering, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. How can we understand these crucial issues of life, the false and the true, the suffering and the dying, questions driving anxiety to skyrocketing levels?

While daily news is preoccupied with fear, the politics of health and entitlements, people scramble for security and comfort. There are serious questions that should be asked when sophisticated societies are driven by mass psychosis while at the same time religious instinct collapses. Significantly, some commentators are asking silent Christian leaders to step up and have courage and assert the place of faith and the need for a transcendent vision for humanity to be on their agenda rather than placing so much hope in the new religions of health services and vaccines as the only way to provide “wellbeing”.

One of England’s most sensitive bishops, Michael Ramsey (1904 –1988) wrestled all his life to make sense of the problem of suffering. Why would the living God allow terrible things to happen to his only brother who died while Ramsey was a seminarian and why so quickly afterwards, his two parents were involved in a motor cycle accident killing his mother and the father injured? Who has not asked such questions in similar circumstances. Michael Ramsey turned to the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Mountain in his search to understand these tragedies. He began to see the Transfiguration as a gateway to the whole gospel narrative because “transformation” was at its heart. Suffering is no longer a struggle to be endured but a creative promise of change.

Miniature from Byzantine Gospels illuminated manuscripts, 13th Century,
Getty museum [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The Transfiguration appears at first to be a mystical experience for the disciples to see the radiant Jesus endorsed by the key figures from the Old Testament, overshadowed by God the Father and Holy Spirit. But for the Church it was seen as one of the most profound events recorded in all four gospels read several times each year as a revelation at many levels. It brings together the living and the dead as one in Christ. It reveals a unity between the Old and New Testament, it manifests the Blessed Trinity. But in preparation for Lent, it is the suffering and glory of Christ we consider and what this means for believers living through anxious times.

The transfiguration teaches us that suffering is real and cannot be removed for life but it can be transformed. Living in a fragile world with conflict, suffering and death can be changed or “re tooled” because in the life of faith we have access to a power beyond ourselves. Transformation is the releasing of the power of the Holy Spirit to ignite change that will blossom into new life.

New Testament writers like John use transfiguration language, “we are children of God… we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is [1 John 3;2] or Paul, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” [Romans 12;1]. Paul continually taught that in the old life results in the spirit of fear which is so destructive, but is transformed when bonded with divine energy into a new life. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” [Rom 8;18-19]. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” [I Corinth 15;51-52].

Lent brings this central theme of the vision of Christ before us and the Holy Spirit within us in anticipation of change. But with the first disciples we cannot remain permanently on the mountain but must journey onwards on the via dolorosa to the green hill of Calvary to witness the passion, of Christ that transformed them from the old Adam to share with the Lord the splendour of his glorious divinity.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

We are the masters now

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 8,22-25

Never has human kind been more powerful than today. We have the power to send men and women to the moon, we have the power to split the atom, and we ask ourselves where it will end. 

People persist in believing that power is theirs to what they like with. The consequences of that attitude are plain to see. It is all lights years away from the teaching and example of Christ. 

Hole, William, 1846-1917,
Public domain

Consider the Gospel passage [Luke 8;22–25]: Jesus is in a boat on the lake with his friends: suddenly it all begins to go wrong. One of those sudden gales blows up, and they all risk perishing. Save us Lord, they cry, we are drowning. So Jesus gives them a practical lesson about power. We all like to be in control, but the disciples were out of control, they had, as people might say today, lost it. To rely on their own power to get out of this mess would have been futile, so Jesus demonstrates that power comes from God, and that he, God in man, is able to exercise that self same power for the good of all. He rebukes the wind and the waves, and all becomes calm once more. Who is this, they ask. He is the one who calls them to abandon false delusions of power, false notions of their ability to control events, and to come back to faith, faith in God, faith in the one he has sent. Power comes from God, and that same power which stilled the raging of the sea, has the capacity to bring calm and order into our disordered lives. 

And we who bear his name are called to use the power that God shares with us to the same ends: to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring justice to the oppressed, to co-operate in the ongoing work of making the creation a faithful reflection of the very splendour of God himself, who never misuses the power that is his by right, and he expects that the power he has shared with us should be given back to him in loving service. 

In our hearts we know this to be true, yet we still seek to use power the earthly way. How foolish we are. Yes, we fear totalitarian rulers, or at least the power for evil that we believe they have, but they will be a footnote in the history books before long – here today, gone tomorrow. They may, indeed, be followed by worse, but all will go the same way. But the power that we see in Jesus, the power to bring peace, the power to bring justice, the power to bring wholeness instead of brokenness, the power to bring order into chaos, the power to love, these things remain to challenge us all. Let the world play its power games, let the world delude itself into thinking that we are the masters now. We in this, as in all things, are called to have the mind of Christ. And if you want to know what Christian power is about you need look no further than the Cross.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Look For the Star

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 2,10-11

There was a Youth Club in the London Church of St Alfege Greenwich, where the same Pop Music records were played, endlessly. One was called Look for a Star. It begins as follows: “When life doesn’t seem worth the living, and you don’t really care who you are, when you feel there is no one beside you, Look for a star!” I heard it a hundred times before realizing that the Star referred to was the Star which led the Wise Men to God Incarnate, in Bethlehem! Before we journey through Lent let the star again lead us.

In the 1960s everyone, was eagerly searching for something, wondering if life really was ‘worth the living’. So many people, young as well as not-so-young, felt there seemed to be nothing in life for them, and no one to guide them, apart from the Wisdom-of-the-Age, which assured them that Sex, or Fame, or preferably both were ‘The Answer to all Life’s problems’; but, as many especially the girls, discovered–it wasn’t true!

Nativity of Christ with the Star of Bethlehem [Public Domain]

The Wise Men were Searchers, who used the wisdom of both past and present in their searching, with God leading them to discover two vital Truths. First, that though they were wise, they didn’t know everything. Secondly, that it’s always wiser, when searching for truth, to look upwards, as well as downwards; and away from, rather than into ourselves. It’s only by getting ourselves out of our own light, that we can see God’s “Guiding Star” leading us to find what, or rather Whom, we’re looking for.

Look for a star continues: “When you know you’re alone and so lonely, and your friends have travelled afar, There is someone waiting to guide you, Look for a star!” Like the Wise Men, the Youth of the ‘Swinging Sixties” often felt lonely and bewildered as do people of today. They are told that it’s by following everyone else in the same direction they’d be guaranteed that perpetual feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction that all crave. But it won’t! When the truth dawns, that they lack the ability, perseverance, or resources, to get what they’d been led to think would be theirs by right, they feel deeply disillusioned, for instead a “Real Star” to guide them, they have been chasing a Fantasy.

The final verse provides God’s Answer –both to all mankind: “Oh! everyone has a lucky star, that shines in the sky up above, and if you wish on a lucky star, you’re sure to find someone to love, a rich man, a poor man, a beggar, no matter whoever you are, there’s a friend who’s waiting to guide you, To look for a star“. Not just a ‘Friend-for-Life-till Death-us-do-Part’, but for ever –because God has Himself conquered Death, on our behalf.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “I am the Bright and Morning Star… let all who are thirsty come: all that want it may have the water of life – and have it free”.

Our Life’s Journey lies along a ‘steep-and-narrow Way’ and is a hard and slow one for us all whoever we are: This is the journey of Lent when we are all like those Wise Men of the Epiphany, following the Morning Star to Jesus, where our Heavenly Father reveals especially in the Passion and resurrection, His plan to gradually transform us by slow stages into the perfect likeness of His Son. We have His Word for it that we shall not only discover Him; we shall discover our own true self which we’ve been searching in vain. Christ is that Bright and Morning Star in the heart and soul, which is our destiny from the instant that we were conceived.

Fr. Francis Gardom

Candlemas

A Personal Reflection On the Presentation

Luke 2,1-11

The older I become the more the commemoration of the forty days after the birth of the child Jesus mean to me. Around February 2nd the Church tells how the baby was brought to the Temple by his parents. It is the climax of the Epiphany and midway between Christmas and Easter. In my days as an active parish priest we especially looked forward to this time we called Candlemas. When the world around us had long forgotten Christmas, we were turning a page in the great drama of Christ’s birth to his death on the cross.

The medieval Church building was ideally suited to the liturgical drama. On the left side of the nave was a lady chapel over which was a stained glass depiction of the manger of Bethlehem. Here the people gathered in front of a large picture of the Michael Angelo Mother and young boy to hear St. Luke’s gospel. On the right side was our large stone font with a picture of the Pieta, the mother now cradling the body of her dead son. It was here to reaffirm our own baptism that the congregation gathered holding candles singing Simeon’s words “a light to lighten the gentiles.” These Candles of the Mass were brought back again at the end of Holy week for the singing of the Exultet – the light of Christ. With singing, and prayers the Eucharist brought Epiphany to a crescendo as we turned towards Lent and Holy week.

I shall never forget these great and moving services that are part of the Christmas cycle, but it was at a later time and without the sequence of the parish liturgy, that I read a sermon by the Orthodox priest and teacher Father Alexander Schmemann. It was to be his last reflection a little more than a week before his death on the same feast that Orthodoxy calls “The Meeting”.

Biełaruś [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

It is one of the most simply moving descriptions of the joy of the old man Simeon holding in his trembling elderly arms the infant child, and recognising that he had at last seen the light of the saviour, that which his entire life he had waited for. “Lord now I can depart this life in peace, I have seen the saviour. The importance of this meeting between the young mother and her baby and the partnership and wisdom of the old prophet and the woman prophetess, both waiting in expectation of the fulfilling of the Hebrew prophets is a sign of the turning from Old to New Testament where each complements the other.

Even more this is a meeting of joy of birth and the overshadowing of death, “behold a sword will pierce your heart also. These elements are revealed in the two Michael Angelo sculptures where the mother embraces the bitter and sweet, the joy and pain, and the total submission to the laws that govern human life. Both the mother Mary and the Son Jesus submitted to the limits of the human world. Neither mother nor child needed to go to the temple for purification, for she was the living temple through whom God had become man, and Jesus was true God and true man. The same truth is at work here and in the birth, the baptism by John at the river Jordan and as Jesus standing before Pilate willingly accepting the cross. It was necessary that everything that took place was in humility, obedience and love.

This day is extraordinarily special.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Good News

Third Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 4,14-21

Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home town, as was his custom goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and reads a short passage from the scriptures, as might any Jewish male, after which he sits down to teach, as the custom also was, and all eyes are on him. What will he say by way of comment on those beautiful but challenging words from Isaiah? What comes must be just about the shortest sermon in recorded history – “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

The atmosphere in the synagogue must have been electric. Just consider those words: good news to the poor. Most of these people would have been poor. The poor need good news – they cannot buy favours, let alone loyalty or compassion, they are powerless in a world where power counts for everything. Beyond that they are frequently personally unappealing – smelly, badly dressed, often addicted to drugs and other life denying habits and stealing to fund their habits.

Christ in te Synagogue of Nazareth, National Gallery of Ireland
[Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Our ancestors used to talk about the deserving poor and the undeserving poor, but Jesus makes no such distinction – it’s not why they are poor, but the fact that they are poor which dictates that they need good news – which is not simply a matter of handouts and sympathy of the kind that says “I feel your pain” – they need new ways of living, they need to recover their humanity, and Jesus’ good news offers them just such an opportunity. And poverty extends far beyond material things – surely our generation is spiritually poorer than almost any since our ancestors crawled out of the primeval swamp or got out of their spaceships from Mars if you prefer that version. To their credit, Christians have been bringing such good news to the poor for two thousand years now and anyone rash enough to be a Christian needs to work out how in his or her life they can follow the example of the Master. As we have been blessed so we should be a blessing to others.

And the Lord concludes his brief homily with words of challenge and encouragement – today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. A short sermon but the challenge of a lifetime, and a challenge for a lifetime. It can all seem too much, far too idealistic: the world’s not like that, and if you get in the way of the powerful you get hurt. But God can work wonders even with unpromising material like us. No one is going to bring about that new order that we call the Kingdom single handed. But together we can, and we surely must all play our part. It’s the application of synergy. Synergy is the highly unmathematical proposition that 2 + 2 = 5. In other words if two people on their own can do so much, add another two and they will do more than twice as much.

We are all called to be synergists. So we are challenged to think on these things, pray about these things and listen to what God is saying to us. Not just once, but day by day, so that God will show us how we can be a blessing to others by doing our bit to bring about the Kingdom which Our Lord lived for, died for, and rose to glory for. 

Fr. Edward Bryant

Cana Revealed

Second Sunday after Epiphany

John 2,1-11

Signs and signposts are essential for finding our way about. When car drivers first travelled from country to country they were often provided with a windscreen sticker to explain the different road signs. We all need signs, and nowhere more than in matters of faith to explain the meaning of an event in which the hand of God is believed to be at work. This is especially important today which is an age when many people have lost both the sense of transcendence and also the background information to pick up the clues that might help them in making sense of religious experience and in searching for more meaning and purpose to life.

The season of Epiphany is a time especially given to looking closely into accounts sometimes very well known in the lifetime of Jesus that the Church from earliest times regarded as signs that pointed to a deeper meaning. The Gospel of St John has twenty one chapters mainly revealing seven signs that may not even have been fully understood in his own time but in which this great mystic saw the hand of Almighty God at work. The very first of these took place when Jesus arrived in the small village of Cana in Galilee and changed water into wine and in so doing pointed prophetically to a dramatic development in sacred history.

Mural, Greek Orthodox Church of the Wedding Feast, Cana, Israel
[Hoshvilim, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

There is a special importance in the setting itself, because marriage was not only already a sign of the sacred union between God and the people of Israel but would become crucial to the way Christians would understand their communion with Christ who will lay down his life for the Church which is his bride. [St Paul uses this in his letter speaking of “the great mystery of Christ and his bride the Church”. Ephesians 5,32] The sign of the spousal bond returns in the conclusion of the Book of the Revelation. Here the Christ will come again in glory to claim his bride the Church. This spousal sign will be significant throughout the earthly ministry but for now the whole mission to create his bridal church can begin.

The second sign emerges from the first words, “on the third day” [John 2;1]. We are not told what third day this was a part of, but we do know that God had revealed himself to Moses on a third day, and Jesus had been raised from the dead on a third day. It seems that this was intended to be a similar third day sign. Especially so with a huge amount of water, 180 gallons, set aside in the Levitical laws for the Jewish rites of purification. This water Jesus transforms into wine because there had been a shortage. Jesus had not come to overthrow the Hebrew tradition but to fulfil it. Here was a clear parallel with the later feeding of the multitude that are preludes pointing to the abundance of the eternal life that flows from the Eucharist of his body and blood that are so crucial in becoming part of Christian self understanding.

Finally, for Jesus Cana is the beginning his missionary campaign. He has just gathered his small band of disciples and now everything must change. This all takes place with a change in the mother-son relationship. Hitherto Mary has played a quiet but important part in her son’s life. She is aware that she will suffer a pain greater than any birth, for Simeon had prophesied that by the sword of pain, her “heart will be pierced” [Luke 2;34.] Mary is a principal guest at the wedding, maybe she is a close relative. Her son, Jesus comes later and it is then that for the first time she, his mother, intercedes. “Whatever he says do it” [John 2; 5.]. This is a request that comes out of the needs of others but also a recognition of his authority. Mary is in her quiet action a model for us. Here the mother who had given birth to a child who has been subject to her, but now the role is reversed and she will play a supportive role until the end. In this way she has given life to his ministry that now goes out into the world and she the woman becomes subject to him, becoming the very first member of his Church. From this point the cross will overshadow everything as Jesus goes about transforming and bringing life out of death hope out of despair.Only by reflecting upon these signs are we able to begin the journey of faith and through our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Why Was Jesus Baptised?

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3;15-16,21-22

What are we to make of the strange matter of Jesus’ baptism? Baptism has many meanings, but it is undoubtedly for us about the forgiveness of sins: At some stage of church history, people postponed getting themselves baptised until they were on their death beds, because they reasoned that if they expired immediately after the water had been poured, they died sinless, and therefore went straight to heaven.

But where does Jesus fit into this? The Church has always believed that Jesus in his human incarnation was totally free from sin, so how can he, who was “God-in-man” be baptized for sin? This is Impossible. Two reasons may explain the Baptism of the Lord. First, it was an act of obedience: it was the will of his heavenly Father that he should do this; and how could he call others to loving obedience, if he was not prepared to set an example? And the second reason – solidarity. Solidarity with his human brothers and sisters who needed cleansing from their sins, in a way that he did not. Jesus in his baptism expresses his oneness, his solidarity with all of God’s children, who without exception stand in need of God’s forgiveness. 

Mural from the John the Baptist Church at the Jordan River
[David Bjorgen CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons]

To accept Jesus’ solidarity with us however also challenges us. How do our lives match up to the sinless Son of God? If we hold up a mirror to our lives, what do we see when look into it? The same old face that we have grown half to love, half to hate over the years? Or do we see rather someone who is being changed more and more into the likeness of Christ? 

In Jesus we see one who is perfectly good, perfectly holy, perfectly loving. He has no ambition in his life save that of doing his Father’s will, of drawing all men to the fire of the love of God, of reconciling man to God and man to man. The world, of course, has other ambitions: the ambition for money, the ambition for power, the ambition to destroy, the ambition to bring evil down upon others. If Jesus had been prepared to keep quiet, to be a silent eccentric, then he could probably have lived out his life in the carpenter’s shop, but as the modern hymn puts it, he had a Gospel to proclaim, and it was inevitable therefore that his other-worldly ambition would come into head on conflict with the ambition of this world. So the result was that they put this dangerous dreamer to death, and thought that they had silenced him for good. 

We know that isn’t how it turned out. We know that Jesus’ resurrection proves that love is stronger than death; we know that that puts the ultimate question mark against the world’s way of doing things. Does not the resurrection prove conclusively that the only ambition worth having is the one that Jesus had, of doing the will of God the Father, come what may? Jesus’ ambition is God-focused and leads to new life; the world’s ambition is self-focused and leads to death. Equally our baptism calls us to share to the full in all that Jesus is: his love, his obedience, his other-worldly ambition, or as the word would put it, his hopeless eccentricities. 

At the Jordan river all the people were baptised and Jesus was there in the middle of them. Isn’t this how the Church should be? We should be a people of joy, acknowledging the presence of the Lord in our midst. With that confidence, we should then, like Jesus be ready to be ambitious for God out there, taking his message to the world, a private affair no longer. And if we are regarded as fools, then what better than to be fools with Christ, fools for Christ? Don’t worry: with God on our side, who can be against us? 

Fr. Edward Bryant

Journey with Wise Men

The Epiphany of the Lord

Matt 2,1–12

Is it true, this fantastic story of wise men from the East coming to worship the baby Jesus? There is probably a bit in all of us that says that it couldn’t possibly have happened in this way – it seems to stretch credibility too far, so is it true?. The question of truth with regard to the Scriptures is a big one, and it can be taken at different levels. For example, the account of the Creation in Genesis is not these days generally accepted as literal truth – there is simply too much scientific evidence for evolution over a period of millions of years.

That however does not in any way detract from the religious truth of the story, for it tells us that the world is God’s creation, that he loves it, that there is beauty and order in creation, and that men and women are made in God’s image and so on. So when it comes to the journey with the Wise Men, before we simply dismiss it as a piece of beautiful but fanciful writing on Matthew’s part, we do need to remind ourselves that the Middle Eastern world of two thousand years ago was very different from the world of today and truth or wisdom come not just literally but in many ways.

There were Wise Men – Magi, astrologers – in abundance in the ancient world, they did study the stars, they did believe that important messages came to them in that way, they were prepared to travel long distances in search of the truth; further, it appears that at about the time of Jesus’ birth, there were strange phenomena apparent in the stars, even if we now know that a star would not literally go in front of people to guide them; we also know that Herod the king really was paranoid – he trusted no one and in the process had his wife and mother in law and three of his sons assassinated. For all these reasons, therefore, and, yes, recognising that there are problems with the story, we still should not be too ready to dismiss it as a mere flight of fancy.

The Magi – Fresco in cave church, Cappadocia, Turkey [Anonymous, Public domain]

But beyond the literal level of the text, there are important religious truths contained in this passage. For now, just consider on one point, namely that these men were not Jews. It is one of the wonders of Christianity that it exists at all. At the time of the first Pentecost, and for some years afterwards, it was really little more than a Jewish sect. Had it remained so, it would almost without question have died out when the Romans smashed the Jewish nation in the year AD70. But before then, men of vision, and notably St Paul, had helped the new faith to break the bonds of Judaism and set it on the path to becoming a faith for the whole world.

The point about the Epiphany, grandly subtitled the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the English Book of Common Prayer, is that right from his birth the Lord Jesus is shown to be Lord of all, and not simply another Jewish prophet. The Wise Men come looking for the one born King of the Jews, but they acknowledge his dominion over them as non-Jews also as they present their gifts to him. This child born in obscurity to a humble Jewish family is to change the world, and the world, in the shape of the Wise Men comes to pay him homage.

Our task is twofold: first to join with the Wise Men in the symbolic offering of our lives to the Lord Jesus, but second to play our part in the ongoing manifestation or revealing of Jesus to the world, for there is great ignorance about who Jesus is, as great as that shown by Herod. And we will be doing our part by the kinds of lives we lead and by the words we say. As St Paul puts it, we are all ambassadors for Christ, by virtue of our baptism, and we must take this calling not as an imposition but as a wonderful opportunity to bring Christ to the world, and the world to Christ.

Fr. Edward Bryant

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