There has been a recurring theme for me over Christmas and Epiphany, and some of you who have heard me preach in January might have noticed! It is the idea that runs through the Gospel passages of Epiphany, in particular, is of the revelation of God to the known world. It is present in the following ways:
¨ Through the visit of the Shepherds to the outcast
¨ Through the visit of the wise men to the non-Jewish world
¨ Through the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the river Jordan
¨ Through the presentation of Christ in the temple when the faithful prophet Simeon heralds the child as, ‘A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel’.
It is a timely reminder for us that we, in our own daily life, are invited to also reveal Jesus afresh to those around us. In word’s, deed’s and the way that we live our lives with those around us. This seems to be the challenge, because so many do not know Jesus or the way that he can impact and transform their lives and the communities in which we find ourselves. Not only are many in our communities now several generations removed from the church and faith but we have what businesses would refer to as a ‘Public Relations (PR)’ problem.
There are for many across society a deep disconnect between what we say we believe and the way that we live, corporately and individually. In essence we do not ‘walk the walk’ seeking to only talk and to so very often fail to see it impact. This is a problem for the national church as an institution as well as for the local church. An example is the recent documentary on BBC 1 about the deep failings at all levels around the abuse carried out by Bishop Peter Ball. It was called ‘Exposed: The Church’s Dark Secret’ and is available on I Player. It is deeply disturbing, but that makes it all the more powerful and we should be grateful for those individuals who have had the courage to speak truth to power, as uncomfortable as it is to watch and hear. Sadly many will judge the local church because of what they see in the media, and part of me can understand why.
This is of course a specific example, but there are others, and we need to be able to show that following Jesus changes lives, the way that we live. Of course we won’t always get it right, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. To echo the song of Simeon in the temple with the child Jesus in his arms we are to be a ‘God revealing light’.
At the beginning of February we celebrate my second favourite feast in the churches year,
Candlemas or as it is also known the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It draws Christmas to a close and literally sets our sight towards the cross. It echo’s beautifully the themes of light and darkness that we hear and see in our Christmas celebration and reminds me of part of the beginning of John’s Gospel. John heralds Jesus as ‘Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out’.
And this is why Candlemas bridges the gap between the two great festivals and events of Jesus’ life. Birth and Death / Resurrection, both about the coming of light in to our dark world as historical events as well as modern day realities. If, and it may be a big if, we truly believe in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus as a reality then we know that his light is stronger than anything else in life or death. The life light present in the stable at Bethlehem is the same light of life that we acclaim at the resurrection at dawn on Easter Day.
It is this light that gives to us the confidence that what we say is true and worthy of belief, because it has the power to change and transform lives. It means that while their may be a problem with credibility in the wider church and at times we may feel we are battling in the darkness of a society that doesn’t understand us and at times we don’t understand we believe in a message that is both unchanging in its content but the way it is communicated has and continues to change with and in response to the culture in which we find ourselves.
In November I celebrated the fifth anniversary of my licensing as Team Vicar and Team Rector, it is a time in which I recall the introduction to the declaration of assent. The Bishop said, ‘which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation’. We are called to proclaim in and out of season the God who loves us and his world. The world he entered to bring his light life. It is a challenge to proclaim in a fresh way that connects contemporary culture to the words and life of Jesus. Inspiring Ipswich is there to help us to do this, and I hope if you haven’t already picked one up you collect a copy of the booklet produced by the team headed up by Archdeacon Rhiannon. It is part of their commitment to keep us up to date with what they are doing.
My prayer at the beginning of this new year is that we may each continue to allow Jesus’ light to fill us and flood over into our lives so that we might reveal him afresh in our own generation and time. That as we start to turn our eyes from the crib towards the cross we might be a ‘A God revealing light’ and that the ‘life light’ will blaze through us.