What are your experiences of nativity plays? They can be extraordinary events, can’t they? At times they are full of bathos, clumsy and comic. At other moments they can be wondrous and moving, full of pathos. These days of course all kinds of characters can sometimes be found in them: space folk, aliens, rocket ships, and even Harry Potter. Mostly however we have the traditional cast: with the so-called ‘three kings’ perhaps the most striking of all. What do you make of them, I wonder? As we mark the feast of Epiphany, perhaps it is worth a closer look, not least at the often passed over gift of myrrh. For, in my view, much more than gold or frankincense, myrrh takes us to the heart of Christian discipleship and the love of God in Jesus, and certainly beyond 'conventional' gender, and other, nativity norms…
If the Feast of the Epiphany tells us anything, it is that truly holy gifts come from surprising places. Why else would the bearers of gold, frankincense and myrrh not only be Gentiles – unclean foreigners, from other nations – but also Magi to boot? Recent Christmas tradition has called them the Wise Men, or the Three Kings, but there is nothing in the text to say that they were kings, or only male, or only three of them, or even ‘wise’ in typical Jewish understanding. In fact the word Magi may indicate the word ‘magician’, as used, disapprovingly, elsewhere in the New Testament. So we have a story today where the main bearers of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and its symbols, are potentially very dodgy outsiders indeed. Of course this is highly intentional. For, from the very start, in its genealogy of Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel is keen to tell us that God’s revelation, and salvation, involves surprising people and surprising divine moves. So it was then and remains now, if our eyes, ears and hearts are open. When I begin by saying my address this morning is inspired by a funeral I attended this week, you may therefore recognise something of that same surprising movement of our surprising God…
Do we see the star of the Epiphany? I mean, do we really see the star and understand what it means? Most people don't. Some see the star and are full of awe for a moment or two and then move on. Others see it and understand it wrongly, or partially. Others see it among other lights and then follow them. Others are simply looking in the wrong place. So where are we looking? For the Epiphany story is actually a strange one. It is not what it might immediately seem. Whilst we typically often cover it in tinsel and sentimentality, it is in fact quite disturbing, and, thereby, potentially quite transforming…
Today we are keeping the feast of the epiphany - not any old epiphany, not the kind of epiphany I have as I am walking along thinking about nothing in particular and then realise what it is I need to cook for dinner- no, THE epiphany, the big one, the one that makes all the others make sense. And what is that exactly? It is when the wisest ones in the world, bring everything the world has to offer - wealth, power and even suffering, disguised as gold, frankincense and myrrh - and lay it all at the feet of a helpless, speechless baby of dubious parentage born in the poorest of circumstances and say ' this is it'! This is Emmanuel - God with us.
Once we understand that epiphany everything else that happens in the life of Jesus Christ and in our lives falls into place. Once we realise, once we truly SEE- because epiphany is always about seeing, about the light bulb moments of our lives - once we truly see that the incarnation is all that truly matters, then everything else makes sense...
Jon Inkpin for the Transfiguration – Last after Epiphany Yr B, Sunday 8 February 2015
In 1934 an American romantic comedy called Carolina was released. Based on the play, The House of Connelly, by Paul Green, the film starred Janet Gaynor, Lionel Barrymore, and Robert Young in a romanticised story about a post-Civil War family in the fading South. They regain their former life and prestige when a poor Northern girl appears among them, eventually charming, not just the young son of the house, but even his obdurate mother. The advertising summed up the poor Northern girl well: ‘bursting into our lives and world – like a flash of sunlight - upsetting traditions, injecting life where there was laziness, love where there was fear and hate.’ What an impact, eh? Much as we might sum up the impact, only more so, of Jesus whom we call the Christ: ‘bursting into our lives and world – like a flash of sunlight - upsetting traditions, injecting life where there was laziness, love where there was fear and hate.’ In many ways this is summed up in our Gospel reading this morning: which, if not a feature film, is a luminous, multi-splendoured picture, or living icon, of the love of God – a Northern Jewish boy lit up with God, lighting up our way to God, and making of us shared lights of God’s glory…
Our Gospel reading today helps us mark what our Christian tradition calls the Transfiguration. This is a fitting climax to the Epiphany: the church season we have been travelling through since Christmas. For Epiphany is a great Christian season of light. It begins with the story of the Baptism of Jesus: what some have called the ‘Great Epiphany’ or revelation of God’s light at the beginning of Jesus’ and all our Christian lives. Transfiguration complements this and rounds it off: being what some have called the “Small Epiphany’, revealing what is the ultimate purpose, or end of our Christian lives – sharing in the glory of God’s very own light. As we prepare to begin Lent, 40 days journeying through darkness to the greatest light of all, Easter, so we are given a vision of this ultimate purpose and goal of our lives...
by Jon Inkpin, for Epiphany 4B (and eve of Candlemas), Sunday 1 Feb 2015
Idols, unclean spirits, and prophets: our lectionary readings are full of them today. They are hardly the most usual Anglican subjects of conversation, are they? So what do we make of them in our holy scriptures? More importantly, in this season of light and revelation – in this time we call Epiphany – what difference do they make to our lives? How does understanding them help us to shine, like divine candles, in our world?
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,