A message from Fr. Chris as we begin a new year...
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The season of Epiphany began on Sunday January 7th and continues for three weeks. The word epiphany means appearance or manifestation. During this time we see how God makes known or “manifests” the birth of His Son with miraculous signs, different signs to appeal to different groups of people be they Jew or Gentile. Most importantly, then, the season of epiphany draws our attention to the universality of Christ’s birth. It draws our attention to the reality that all people, can be saved through him. The Christ-child was visited first by the shepherds and, as Sunday’s passage (Matthew 2: 1 – 12) tells us, sometime later he was visited by the wise men. The shepherds came from the nearby places surrounding Bethlehem. The shepherds of Bethlehem represent the people of Israel. The wise men or "magi" came from far away. Probably Persia. The magi are GENTILES and as gentiles, they represent the whole of humanity. Epiphany reminds us that our Christmas celebration is their Christmas celebration because our baby Jesus is their baby Jesus, because our God is their God. The visit of the Magi reminds us that Jesus is not someone that we have a copyright on, not someone that we own the rights to, not someone who is ours. He is the Lord of all, savior of the world.
The wise men are guided by a star. There are several ancient accounts, pagan and Jewish, of stars heralding the birth of great men. In Biblical thinking there is only ever one thing behind the intentionality in the stars - God himself. The Gospel of Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to guide the magi to Bethlehem. This is God's design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that all the nations will eventually worship his Son.
Having arrived in Jerusalem the Magi attract the attention of King Herod. Herod is a figure we dislike. Instinctively we judge Herod negatively because of his brutality. We know that he murdered anyone who threatened his authority. When Herod hears that a God-ordained king has been born within his jurisdiction he immediately senses rivalry. The character of Herod in this passage reminds us that Jesus is always troubling to people who do not want to worship him as their true king. And so during this period of Epiphany we’re perhaps encouraged to ask ourselves:
Is there something of Herod in us?
Might we too sometimes see God as a sort of rival?
Might we too be blind to his signs and deaf to his words
because we think he is setting limits on our life and does not allow us to do as we please?
When we feel this way, it is worth meditating again on the central truth of our faith that God is love and that love does not threaten or take away. Quite the opposite is true. Love gives us the possibility of living life to the full.
Later, in the passage Herod assembles the chief priests and the scribes and asks them where Christ was to be born. The chief priests were Annas and Caiaphas, men we will see again at his crucifixion. The scribes are "scholars" of the Law. The Scribes are in constant conflict with Jesus during his lifetime. What is important here is that the chief priests and scribes are well versed in scripture, they know it by heart and, yet they miss the fact that the Messiah has been born. The way we use scripture is always open to problems. There is often a temptation to consider the Scriptures as an object of study, something we can distance ourselves from, rather than as the word that draws us closer to the truth of Christ.
Towards the end of the passage we are told that first thing the magi do upon entering the stable and seeing Mary and the Child is to kneel and pay him homage. In other words, they give themselves. Only after this act of worship, only after giving themselves to Christ, do they present their gifts. The order of actions, homage first and gifts second, is significant. First, homage. First, worship. First, giving themselves. This is their first and best gift. Only then do they present their material gifts. The material gifts have both symbolic and sacrificial value. Each one tells us something about the Christ-child. Gold was precious and worthy of a king; frankincense was incense worthy of a divinity; and myrrh was a spice used in burials.
So, the gifts were appropriate for one who was a king, a God, and a suffering redeemer. They might also symbolize our response: gold – represents our virtue or good deeds; incense – represents our worship or prayer; and myrrh – represents our suffering and sacrifice.
As we move into a new year, let us do as the magi did. Let us give the gift that they gave. We go into this New Year as innocents, not knowing what the year will bring. Let us give ourselves fully to God. Let us be honest about the Herod in us; Let us commit to a faithful study of scripture; And let us respond to God’s love in Christ in deed, worship, prayer, and sacrifice knowing that whatever the year brings, we are in God’s hands.
On Saturday 13th January at 12.30pm you are invited to St Cross for the final Mission Action Planning meeting. During this meeting (3 hours) we will carry out a SWOT analysis (Health Check) of all areas of our church life together. This will give us a clearer picture of where our church is strong and where we might need to prioritise our attention in moving forward to where we want to get to over the next three years. Following on from this meeting the PCC will identify a sequence of SMART goals for the next three years for each priority area identified. The plan will enable us to achieve the goals we set out to achieve.