Sermon for Epiphany – High Mass Sunday 6 January 2013
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A book of the Calendar of Saints, a book about fonts (of the non-ecclesiastical variety, so Times New Roman not the place of baptism) and a “grow your own Jesus” toy were three things awaiting me under the Christmas tree on the Feast of the Nativity. Pretty suitable gifts for the Secretary of the Liturgical Commission you might think – my nearest and dearest know me well. The “grow your own Jesus” was a particular shock – I mean the things people come up with – you place the small figurine in a glass of water and apparently it can grow up to 600% of its original size. I have not yet had the pleasure of trying this miracle – I shall perhaps wait until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord to do that!
All flippancy aside, there is something really rather profound in taking the time and space to allow Christ to grow. I do not as yet have any children, but I have a godson called Elliot of nearly 2 years old and what is so utterly wonderful is that each time I see him, he has grown tangibly and reveals increasingly individual and unique characteristics, even in the space of weeks. And I don’t only mean physical characteristics, I mean personality and humour and insightful reactions to the world. It must have been similar for the Holy Family to experience the Christ-child growing and gradually sharing more and more divine wisdom and truth with the world into which he was born.
Perhaps it is more accurate to suggest that it is we who grow in our spiritual maturity in the presence of the light of Christ, whose divine nature is unchanging. But since we are now at that season in the liturgical year when we are thrust into the unpredictability and excitement of the growing and maturing Christ in our lections, our liturgies and therefore our imaginations, then it would not be unhelpful to take the idea of ‘Christ growing’ a little further.
Such a train of thought is not entirely inconsistent with the proper biblical readings for the Feast of the Epiphany. In Isaiah, we hear that the light and glory of the Lord will rise gradually on the people of Israel like the dawn of a glorious morning, slowly pushing aside the thick dark fog of oppression and injustice, but rather refreshing the soul with love and hope; giving the world a glimpse of truth.
In Ephesians, we learn of how the boundless riches of Christ – the mystery ‘hidden for ages in God’, is now accessible to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. And of how through the ‘church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known…’
In the Gospel of Matthew, they come to the end of their determined but not unhindered searching for something – that mystery, almost revealed. And finally when they enter the house where the Holy Family was temporarily staying they are overwhelmed with joy at the beauty and simplicity they find.
So, our lections encourage us on this Feast Day to reflect on that paradox of what it means for Christ to be the channel of that total, complete and overwhelming glory of God but at the same time a glory which is revealed to humankind gradually through the life of Jesus Christ.
God who is beyond time and space, reveals the hidden nature of himself and his wisdom in his own good time, not quite when we demand it. In Isaiah, there was a promise of light throwing off darkness and that promise is still in the process of being worked out in our world. The Magi caught a very special glimpse of that, but it didn’t end there. Just because they saw Jesus at that moment, it didn’t mean there was no more to know.
As someone who is an avid supporter of twitter and social media, I am speaking to myself first and foremost here: At times in our current rhetoric in the Church, which is in danger of being turned into a sound-bite religion, we feel as if we have everything of God in the grasp of our hands, whether it is in the pages of Scripture or in ‘my’ own experience of faith. We often think that it is our duty to tell others immediately about everything to do with God. Our duty as Christians is actually to avoid these traps, but to live with that paradox which I outlined, and to encourage others to live with it too. The faith which we share – gifted to us sacramentally in our baptism – is a journey of discovery, of unexpected twists and turns and of searching on the way.
We know what we are following, at least most of the time, and God gives us glimpses of light and love along the way both as individuals and as communities: through encounters with people we meet, through our lectio divina – our reading of Holy Scriptures – and through the grace of the sacraments.
If the Epiphany does nothing else for us, then it provides this reflection: that we have no doubt that God has revealed himself suddenly and overwhelmingly in the Christ child and continues to reveal himself to us. Just as the Christ child grows, so does our faith. And it does so in response to that faith which is his gift to us. Over the coming weeks through to the Feast of Candlemas and then into Lent, we see this Christ who grows. Jesus as a young child who disappears into the temple and whose parents are beside themselves with worry; then into a young adult who insists on being baptized; then who turns the communities he interacts with upside down with challenging unconventionality; and then as a parched and isolated individual struggling with the forces of exclusion and darkness which almost seize him.
Through this liturgical cycle, we are asked to respond to this gradual revelation of the mysteries and hidden depths of God’s love and glory. We have no reason to be sullen, when the Christ child greets us with blessing: we are to be joyous to others. We have no reason to be despondent, when the Christ child intercedes to the Father for us: we are to be hopeful to others and declare this good news. We have no reason to stay inside with our eyes shut, for the Christ child casts away that darkness with the light of his love. We are to shine as lights in the world to the glory of God the Father.
And so this Epiphany season, may we patiently behold the growing Christ, who reveals more and more of himself, through time which is not ours alone, but which is bound into the mystery of God. Amen.
Sermon preached by Fr. Christopher Woods