14th February 2021
Readings: 2 Kings 2: 1–12 Elisha succeeds Elijah, who is taken up to heaven Mark 9: 2–9 Jesus’ Transfiguration
1. Introduction. Alexei Navalny, the Opposition Leader in the Russian government, is a good modern-day example of a person of great courage, who despite an attempt on his life, returns to his home country to challenge the leaders of his country and in so doing, encourages his supporters. Prior to the event of Jesus’ Transfiguration, our Gospel reading today, Jesus had spoken to all 12 of his close disciples about going up to Jerusalem, where he would die. Peter had taken him to task, causing Jesus to rebuke him. The Transfiguration is an important event for Jesus himself and for three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, who would take on important roles in the leadership of the Church. For two of them it would be at the cost of their lives. We can read in Acts 12 of Herod having James put to death. Not in the New Testament, but in tradition, supported by Jesus words to him after Jesus’ resurrection, “Someone will lead you where you do not want to go.” (Jn 21 v 18), Peter was crucified. As we prepare to enter the season of Lent with a strong focus on the passion of Christ, we do well to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ transfiguration.
2. Liturgical. Despite the significance of the transfiguration, the Church of England, and perhaps more widely in the Church, has found it difficult to give due recognition to such an enigmatic but profound event. The Book of Common Prayer allocates 6th August as the day to mark the Transfiguration, but without any special readings for such a profound event. But then we are not too good with other celebrations. Ask anyone whether churchgoer or not about the significance of today, 14th February, and almost everyone would say, “St Valentine’s Day”, but in the Church of England calendar it is St Cyril and St Methodius’ Day. I guess that Lea, as a native of Hungary, would be one of the few people that we know, who could tell us much about those two great 9th century missionary brothers probably of Slavic origin but from Macedonia, now N Greece, who went to the Slavic people in what is now Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. They were keen on people having a liturgy in the own native language and to this end Cyril invented the Cyrillic script, still in use in parts of Eastern Europe. To return to the Transfiguration, the Alternative Service Book allocated the 4th Sunday of Lent for the observation of the Transfiguration. This was a sure-fire way of it being overlooked by most individual churches as they celebrated Mothering Sunday. Probably the Common Worship position of allocating the Sunday next before Lent is a good compromise, ensuring that however few Sundays there are before Lent, the Transfiguration is marked every year, with the gospel in the liturgical Year B from the second synoptic gospel, Mark’s Gospel and related readings; the Old Testament being Moses receiving the commandments on the first or second time or, as this year, Elijah’s ascent to heaven as he hands over to Elisha.
3. Elijah and Elisha. I will just draw out a few points from that OT reading. First of all, the two prophets had a demanding journey setting out from Gilgal about 1 to 2 miles from Jericho, down in the Jordan valley at about (Mediterranean) sea level, 13 miles up to Bethel in the hills N of Jerusalem, probably at about the same height as the city. The Jerusalem Central Bus Station is at 2,700 ft (817 m) above sea level. Bethel literally means ‘house of God’, where Jacob, when fleeing from his brother Esau, stopped for the night and had a vision of angels going up and down a ladder between heaven and earth. At Bethel there was a school of prophets. I reckon that Elijah was keen to introduce his successor, Elisha, so that the School accepted Elisha. He suggests that Elisha should even stay there, but Elisha knows instinctively that he must stay with Elijah until that became impossible. Perhaps they stay a night, before returning very close from where they set out, namely Jericho. An easier down-hill journey of about 14 miles, to a second school of prophets, where again Elijah invites Elisha to stay with the prophets, but Elisha firmly resists this and again, perhaps the next day, they set out, but accompanied by no less than 50 prophets from the School, down to the River Jordan just north of the Dead Sea at 1,250 ft (-382 m) below sea level.
Old Testament prophets were known for their performance of miracles. Elijah’s final miracle is to strike the River Jordan to provide a way to cross to the other side, before he is then received into heaven. Some people find such a miracle hard to accept. When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land, crossing the River Jordan, a natural explanation is given, that a landslip higher up the valley was the physical cause of the water ceasing to flow. The miracle is in God’s timing, of bringing the Israelites to the brink of the river at just the right time. The Arabian historian Nuwairi records a similar event in 1267 A. D. In the early 20th Century, in 1906 and again in 1927, similar events of landslips stopped the flow of the river, and now, so much water is regularly extracted, that you can almost paddle across in places. On the East side of the Jordan, the remarkable life on earth of the man, who again and again had challenged authority, including Ahab, King of Israel, putting his own life in danger, comes to an end as he is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. As a representative of the prophetic line, he is the one to be present at Jesus’ transfiguration, together with Moses, the great law giver.
4. The Transfiguration. What was it that Moses and Elijah talked about with Jesus? St Luke tells that “They spoke about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfilment in Jerusalem.” (Lk 9 v 31). The Greek word translated ‘departure’ is ‘Exodon’, literally, ‘the way out’. The Greek therefore gives us a natural link with the OT Exodus from Egypt, under Moses’ leadership. From beginning to end, Jesus is the one who supports and fulfils the Law and the Prophets. You may wonder about Peter’s response to the situation, especially as it has been translated in Church Bibles that we use. He proposes three dwellings, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. This is not meant to be some sort of self-isolation for 10 days. The Greek word is variously translated ‘booths’ (RSV), ‘tabernacles’ (KJV) or ‘shelters’ (NIV). I like tabernacles, as this links with the Feast of Tabernacles, a sort of week’s camping holiday with tents or tree branches, perhaps in the garden, to remind the Jews of their forebears’ wilderness experience. This meeting was not only important for Jesus but for the early Church, to help counter any idea that Christians were rabble rousers, intent on flouting the moral law of the Jewish people. The gospels helped any thoughtful Roman citizen to have a more balanced view of conflict between Jew and Christian.
The climax of the transfiguration is a cloud, reminiscent of the cloud which guided the Israelites in the wilderness, coming over the mountain and out of the cloud comes the voice of God the Father, ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to him’. It can be quite frightening being up a mountain enveloped in cloud. Many years ago, when our younger son Andrew was 7 years old (and he is now 50), I was leading a walking group of 12 in the Lake District. We were at a high level on Sergeant Man in thick cloud and rain and I could not find the track to take us down. We had to go down, on compass and reference to the map, quite a steep slope. I held Andrew’s hand and he was quite unperturbed. We all got down safely.
5. Application. At the beginning of my sermon, I spoke of the courage of Alexei Navalny, a man much in the news. I want to tell you now of Fadzayi Mahere, a woman of great courage who recently returned to her own country of Zimbabwe. A committed Christian and a qualified lawyer, she had worked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but then decided that she must return home to defend people whose human rights had been abused, and to protest against police brutality. She was quite soon arrested and thrown into prison, a prison with appalling conditions, lacking any kind of human dignity. The Christian way is by no means always an easy way. We may not have the calling or the opportunity to courageously challenge authority where power is misused and people are abused, as did Jesus, and as do Alexei Navalny and Fadzayi Mahere. May we though, out of the clouds of life, hear the voice of God the Father saying ‘You are my son, I love you’ or ‘You are my daughter, I love you.’ and so press on to serve Our lord in all the challenging circumstances of life.
I conclude with the words from the hymn, ‘The King of love my shepherd is’, based on Psalm 23, “In death’s dark vale, I fear no ill, with thee, dear Lord beside me; thy rod and staff my comfort still, thy cross before to guide me.
Sunday 17th January 2021
Readings: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20, John 1: 43-end
Why are we here today?
I don’t mean why are you at home on Zoom, whilst Francis, Annabelle and I are in a rather cold church, we know all about that, I mean what makes us gather as a church at all?
What, or who, calls us together?
I am going to put my neck on the line and suggest that beneath whatever surface reasons we have – friendship, upbringing, joining in with community – I suspect that we are each drawn here for the same underlying reason.
Whether we really know it or not I believe that everyone who is drawn towards worship, has been called by God at some time and in some way and that we are all ‘here’ in response to that call with a desire to experience something more of the God who calls us.
We are still in the season of Epiphany and the old testament, psalm and gospel readings set for this morning give us examples of different ways in which God calls his people and the way in which his people have their epiphany moment of recognising the One who calls.
The Old Testament reading for today is about God’s call to Samuel. Samuel was then a young boy working as an apprentice in the temple to Eli the priest. To our eyes this probably looks like a strange way to bring up a child but given the importance and the centrality of the Temple to Jewish life to be apprenticed to a priest in the Temple
must have been an incredibly important and sought-after position.
A bit like being an intern at Google now.
When you read the stories about Abraham and Moses, it is possible to form the view that in ‘Old Testament’ times people were having visions and encounters with God on a daily basis. But, interestingly we are told at the beginning of today’s reading that in those days the word of the Lord was rare, and there were not many visions. Either God had gone quiet on his people or his people had lost the ears to hear.
Either way God chose to raise up Samuel as a new prophet and we heard that God began by calling his name out loud:
But each time Samuel thought it was his master Eli calling and he came running into his master’s room, saying “Here I am, you called me”. So sometimes God may be speaking to us loud and clear but we simply fail to recognise it.
In verse 7 we are told that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, because the word of God had not been revealed to him. The phrase ‘word of God’ is laden with meanings – it can mean the written word of Scripture, it can mean Jesus as the living Word of God but, in this context, we should not forget that it can also mean the literal, spoken, word that Samuel was hearing for the first time.
God called Samuel in an audible way but because Samuel had never heard the word of God before he mistook it for Eli and it took the older man’s wisdom firstly to discern that it was God and secondly to tell Samuel how to respond. Actually, the first part of his advice to Samuel was “Go and lie down.”
And sometimes we need to do exactly that in order to hear God’s call – to quieten ourselves and our own thoughts and agenda. To consciously make the space to listen out for God over the hubbub of our lives.
And when God called Samuel for final time we are told that there was not simply a voice but, in verse 10, that the Lord came and stood there and called “Samuel, Samuel.”
When God stands in your room, calling your name, that is a pretty full on, hard to avoid call.
Samuel’s response to God when he called for the final time is actually the ideal response for each of us no matter how we experience God in our lives – he says: “Speak, LORD, for you servant is listening”.
Those words of quiet obedience cannot help but remind us of Mary’s response to the annunciation: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”.
Although we are thinking specifically about Samuel’s experience of being called it is also interesting to reflect very briefly on what he was being called to. In verse 11 God tells Samuel that he is calling him to do something that will make the ears of everyone who hears it ‘tingle’, as he is to pronounce God’s judgement against the family of Eli, the very priest to whom he is apprenticed. Being called by God does not always lead to cucumber sandwiches – sometimes it means disturbing one’s hearers by seeking to bring them back to God’s call, and many prophets and priests and, of course, Jesus Christ himself, have paid the price for saying things which may make others squirm and disturb their sense of power and entitlement.
The calling of Philip by Jesus in John’s gospel was also a direct and unambiguous call: Jesus simply found Philip and, without preamble, said to him “Follow me”. There is no response from Philip other than immediate obedience. Although this instant response to the call of Jesus can be inspirational it can also be challenging, because it can be so different from the way that we often respond, and many scholars have tried to create a ‘backstory’ for the relationship between Jesus and Philip to explain this lack of preamble and questioning – however I was interested to see something by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship:
“This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct and unaccountable authority of Jesus. There is no need of any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons us to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God…When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. Christ calls; we are to follow.”
Samuel heard the call of God the Father in an audible way and that was the call that he needed to begin his prophetic ministry and Philip was called personally by God the Son, Jesus and that was the calling he needed to become a disciple. However, with one or two notable exceptions, very few people are called so directly. The psalm set for today, Psalm 139 which has always been one of my favourites, speaks of a different sort of experience of God and it is one that I suspect more of us can relate to.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
This speaks not of hearing God speak audibly or even of meeting Jesus face to face but of an inescapable sense of God’s presence – of simply knowing that he is there whatever we do and wherever we go. And we should not be surprised that a sense of God’s presence, which we may call the Holy Spirit, is the way in which most people will be aware of God in the present age because Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit on the church to be our comforter until he returns in glory. So this is by no means a second rate manner in which to experience the call of God as we worship one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So perhaps we are gathered today because of a calling by God – whether Father, Son or Holy Spirit.
But maybe you don’t feel that you have ever encountered the call of God and you are here because your friends are here. Well, that is within the divine economy too. Turning back briefly to the gospel reading there is another type of calling: The first thing we see Philip do as a disciple is to call Nathanael to follow Christ by saying ‘come and see’.
Nathanael wasn’t called by Jesus personally but he was called by another disciple to come and experience something of the Jesus that he had discovered. I suspect that may be the way many of us first heard the call of God – from another disciple saying ‘come and see’ and, of course, it is a way that we, as disciples, can call others to see the Lord – ‘come and see’.
Of course the callings of Samuel, Philip and Nathanael are not exhaustive of the way in which God calls his people – the bible is absolutely full of different ways and, I suspect, that God speaks to each of us in the way that we need. If you are bookish and quiet and prayerful then God will likely call you in quietness, if you are loud and active then God may have to speak a little louder.
So why are we here? Because God has called each of us in myriad ways to gather together around the word of God, and everyone here has responded to that call. That is an awesome thought. But God does not call us to sit still and he continues to call each of us in our different ways.
As individuals and as a church we could do a lot worse than to follow the example of Samuel and say: “Speak, LORD, for you servant is listening” and to your friends, “Come and see”.
Sunday 10th January 2021
Readings Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11
I started trying to write this sermon on Thursday morning, not knowing quite how the world would look whenever, or indeed if-ever, I finished writing it, never mind by the time we came to this morning.
Generally speaking I try not to talk about the sermon writing process when I come to preach. After all, when you are eating sausages and eggs, or tofu for the vegetarians, you don’t normally want to know where they have come from or how they been made.
But I don’t mind saying that this is the hardest time I have ever known to try and write. After 10 months of the ups and downs of dealing with the covid situation, which have included isolating twice because of family members having symptoms and not being able to get tests or results quickly, this third lockdown, and the other events of the past week, has hit me quite hard.
Why is that, I wonder, surely I should be used to it by now?
I think it is because over Christmas we had the choir back in church, the vaccines were promised and I dared to hope, for a moment, that we were on a smooth slope back to normal life.
And then, of course, like everyone else we spent the week between Christmas and New Year stuck at home unable to go and see all our family and friends, which was a bit of a downer, and then it was only on Monday of last week that the new national lockdown was imposed.
My particular struggle, with the new lockdown, was what to do about in-person worship in church. Unlike the first lockdown
the government did not ban communal worship and the bishops were leaving it up to individual clergy and PCCs. You all know where we got to on that and, as I said on my round-robin email, no one gets ordained in order to ask people not to come to church so that has been a real, almost existential, issue. I have no regrets about reaching that decision, and doing so quickly in the circumstances, but it gives me no joy to be in an empty church building once again. I know that the true church is the living stones who are you out there, but that doesn’t make it any less empty in here. I want nothing more than to have you living stones back here and for the place to resonate with your voices once again.
But the new lockdown has also had other personal implications such as the children being home from school, possibly for many weeks, and considerable uncertainty about Annabelle’s end of year exams.
That was Monday and Tuesday.
Wednesday morning was a good and productive time in church, not only celebrating communion, albeit into a camera on my own, but also being able to serve at least five families from the foodbank. Although tragic that we have to do that it felt good being able to do so.
On Wednesday evening, which for me is last night as I write this, we had the incredible images from Washington DC of the mob urged on by Trump to invade the Capitol building. Such sights I never thought to see outside of a movie. People wearing Nazi T-shirts and carrying confederate flags storming the home of American democracy whilst elected senators feared for their lives. Unbelievable.
By Thursday afternoon, things in America appear to have calmed down a little and Congress has formally certified Joe Biden as the next President, although what Trump’s next move will be is anyone’s guess.
But the new covid death figures have just been released and, as I write, it is over 1100 people dead in 24 hours and a nursing home in Crowhurst reports that it lost half of its residents to covid over the Christmas holidays.
It is tough to concentrate on writing a sermon.
There is just too much big stuff happening all the time.
But something else also happened on Thursday at 4.00 pm.
I joined a Zoom call with 55 other members of the Sodality of Mary, many of whom are from the United States, and we prayed a rosary together for the healing of that nation.
And as we prayed I was, to use C.S. Lewis’ phrase, surprised by joy.
Our two readings today have one person in common. It is not Paul or Apollos or John the Baptist or even Jesus.
The one person, and I use the term advisedly, who appears in both the reading from the book of Acts and the Gospel of Mark is God the Holy Spirit, and does so in the context of Baptism.
In the book of Acts Paul returned to Ephesus, which is in modern-day Turkey, and there he spoke to 12 followers of Jesus who had been previously baptised. It does not expressly say that they had been baptised by Apollos, who has gone off to Corinth, but that is the strong implication. It turned out that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit and that they had only received the ‘baptism of John’, as they put it. So Paul baptised them again, presumably using the Trinitarian formula, and this time the Holy Spirit arrived in power and they started prophesying and speaking in tongues.
Why did the baptism of John not work for the disciples in Ephesus? We can only speculate but in today’s Gospel reading John the Baptist himself said that his baptism was only with water, whereas Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit. Of course, John’s baptism worked for Jesus, but then the whole Trinity was present so John feels almost redundant in this process.
Why did Jesus need to receive John baptism of repentance, when he was without sin?
Again, without knowing the inner mind of God we can only speculate but we know that the one who was without sin would also take on the sin of the whole world and, importantly, as Jesus was baptised with water he was also visited by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father announcing that this was his beloved Son.
Today we are remembering not only the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan but also the baptism of the 12 disciples in Ephesus and also, of course, our own baptisms.
And when we remember our own baptisms we are viscerally reminded that we follow where Jesus has gone before in this and in all things. We are baptised with water and the Spirit because he was first, we share bread and wine because he commanded us to do likewise, we are resurrected because he was first and we are lifted into the life of God because of his ascension.
But today we should especially remember that because of our baptisms, performed in the name of the Trinity, we too receive the Holy Spirit – that very same person of God who alighted on Mary, on Jesus, on the disciples in Ephesus, on the church at Pentecost and on the church throughout time.
The Holy Spirit dwells within all the baptised, bringing forth fruits and gifts, which include not only prophecy and tongues, but also joy. And when we make space and time for God, chiefly through prayer, so they gifts and fruits can show more and more fully in our lives.
Whilst it has undoubtedly been a difficult and sometimes shocking and sometimes depressing week I have kept praying – by myself, with others on Facebook and with my sodality priest friends. It is only through that constant cycle of prayer and the constant exposure to the psalms and to scripture that I remain constantly exposed to God and to the work of the Holy Spirit in me. And that is why, in the midst of it all, I can still be surprised by joy.
Remember your baptism. Remember the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us because of our baptism. That Holy Spirit draws us together and points us always towards Jesus who lifts us to the Father. Pray constantly and ask the Holy Spirit to bring forth all the gifts and fruit he has in store for you.
Prepare to be surprised by joy.
Sermon Sunday 3 January 2021
The Feast of the Epiphany
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
As most of you probably know, before coming here as Vicar I was a curate in the village of Woodchurch. One of the lovely peculiarities about Woodchurch, which you may not know, is that it is situated in one of the least light-polluted areas of Kent. There are so few streetlights there, or anywhere nearby, that at night the sky is truly dark and the stars can be seen properly.
One of the side-effects of it being so dark is that we soon learnt to take torches with us whenever we went out at night and it took a little getting used to not having to do that when we got to Hadlow. But that’s another story.
Because the sky is so dark in Woodchurch it became the meeting place of the Ashford Astronomical Society. Being a person of curious mind and many interests, I joined them for a while, and ended up with my own small telescope. I think that some of the other members were a little non-plussed at being joined by a person in a dog-collar as they assumed that Christians couldn’t contemplate the age and size of the universe without having our faith shaken. I soon put them right on that score. In fact, I became quite good friends with the chairman and when he wrote a novel which included some religious elements he asked me to proof-read it for him. But, again, that is quite literally another story. Oh dear, I seem to have gone a bit Ronnie Corbett today.
Anyway, I soon learnt to enjoy spotting the planets in our solar system and the first time you can see the rings of Saturn for yourself it really is quite something. Even now it is good to look up and be able to see Mars or Venus against the background of constellations.
Of course, the reason I am thinking about this now is because just before Christmas there was an extremely rare alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, which made them look like one bright star. It was soon dubbed the ‘Christmas star’ and there was plenty of speculation about whether it was an alignment of planets like this which was the bright star followed by the wise men from the East.
It is always interesting to speculate but, in the same way that our faith should not be afraid of science nor should we feel the need to explain away the miraculous in purely scientific terms. The fact that the universe is billions of years old need not challenge our belief that it was created by a God who flung the stars into space and the fact that the prophecies of the wise men may have been fulfilled by an alignment of planets does not mean that it was not God who either inspired their prophecies or aligned the planets. Or perhaps God did what he did with Mary and the Shepherds and sent an angel to lead the way.
The point is that the wise men were lead towards their Epiphany of recognising the Christ child by being sensitive and obedient to the signs they were sent, regardless of the physics behind those signs. God works in the world both spiritually and physically and we need to discern and respond in both ways too.
This morning’s reading contains not simply an epiphany to the wise men but it also contains, I think, an Epiphany of Herod, but he chooses to react rather differently.
The Herod we are talking about is Herod the Great, not to be confused with Herod Antipas who was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded and played a role in the crucifixion of Jesus.
Although Herod the Great was King of Judea he was only a client-king of the Romans, who could remove him at any time. Although he rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem he was not much loved by the people who saw some of the Temple systems of money changing and so forth as favouring the rich over the poor. Herod sat between his Roman overlords and a sometimes restive people who would love to see the restoration of Sion that Isaiah talks about and it seems this made him something of an insecure ruler.
Into this context there arrives in Jerusalem an unknown number of unnamed travellers from across the deserts in the East. This, of itself, would not have been uncommon, I’m sure. But they arrive asking a rather strange question:
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at it’s rising and have come to pay him homage.”
It is interesting to note that the wise men do not say that they have come to bring gifts to the child, but to pay him homage. This means to bow down, as one would before a king or a God. This is an important word which we shall see again.
We don’t know how Herod came to hear of these men with their unsettling question but when he did what was his reaction?
“…he was frightened, and all of Jerusalem with him;’
One can see how an insecure King might be frightened by the news of a new king being born but why ‘all of Jerusalem’? Although those words are not explained one can only speculate that Herod was such a tyrant that if he was afraid then everyone else had reason to be afraid too and, as we shall see, there was good reason to be fearful.
The wise men from the East had travelled many hundreds or even thousands of miles, as an act of faith worthy of Abraham, to pay homage to Jesus and yet, in his homeland, the news was greeted with fear. His own people did not accept him, as the Gospel of John would have it.
Having heard the question from the wise men Herod gathered together his own band of wise men – the chief priests and the scribes. He asked them not where the king of the Jews was to be born but where the Messiah was to be born. This shift in language indicates that Herod understood that the men from the East were not just talking about Herod’s successor as client-king but about the one who was anointed by God to save his people.
Herod’s wise men did not consult the stars but the scriptures and the prophets and they confirmed that the messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.
What was Herod’s reaction to this news? Interestingly he could have sent either his troops or his own wise men to go and discover the messiah for themselves. But he doesn’t do this. Why not? Perhaps he is afraid that if his chief priests go and find the messiah that they will turn against him and his rule will be undermined.
Instead, he secretly summoned the wise men and told them to go to Bethlehem. He said:
“Go and search diligently for the child: and when you have found him bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
There is that word homage again. However, on Herod’s lips and in the context of his fear it rings hollow.
The wise men set out from Jerusalem towards Bethlehem and then, once again, they see the star. When they see it stop over the right place we are told that they were ‘overwhelmed with joy.’
The wise men reacted with faith at the rising of the star and with joy when it reaches it’s goal. How different to the fear and weasel words of Herod.
The wise men enter the house, note that Matthew does not talk about a manger, and they see the child, not the baby, Jesus with his mother Mary. There is no Joseph and no farm animals in this account, just Jesus and Mary. What is the first thing the wise men do? Of course, they knelt down and paid him homage. This was the king of the Jews, the Messiah, whose star had risen in the East, and who they recognised, yes, through their actions and their gifts, to be king and God and one destined to die for his people.
Having paid homage they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and they returned home another way. Although today’s reading ends there, we know that the story did not end there. When Herod learned that the wise men had pulled a fast one on him and not retuned to Jerusalem with the news about where to find Jesus he was infuriated and he ordered that all the infants of two years and under in Bethlehem be killed. But he missed killing Jesus as his family had been warned to take him down to Egypt. This may well put us in mind of the story of Moses and Pharaoh who also ordered the killing of children. This is not a part of the Christmas story we see on cards or stamps but it is an important part of the story nonetheless.
So we have the same Good News – the Messiah has been born in Bethlehem. But we have very different reactions. The wise men have the faith to follow the star, they react with joy and they pay him homage. Herod’s reaction is not faith but fear and not joy but fury. Jesus is a king who came to die for his people whereas Herod was a king who ruled by killing his people.
This season we have all heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, we know that he is the light come into the world and that the glory of the Lord has risen upon us. But God never removes our ability to choose how we respond to that Good News. Do we stand in the darkness with Herod, clinging on to our false security and reacting with fear and fury to the prospect of change or do we travel in faith like the wise men and greet Jesus with joy and homage?
We all know what the answer is supposed to be to that question but I suspect that we all have something of the Herod in us – our real epiphany and homage comes when we can acknowledge that but ask God to do his best work in us anyway.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
24 windows around Hadlow will be decorated throughout Advent with a Christmas theme. On each day of December a different window will be unveiled.
Follow the trail around Hadlow. Downloadable map here.
The windows will be lit from 4pm until 9pm. Trail maps are also available in St Mary’s Church, Hadlow Parish Council Office and some village shops.
View the windows open so far: Advent Windows Gallery
|1||14 The Forstal||13||9 The Maltings|
|2||Hadlow Pharmacy, High Street||14||15 Smithers Close|
|3||27 Maltings Close||15||25 Tainter Road|
|4||12 Littlefields, High Street||16||37 Maltings Close|
|5||Court Cottage, Court Lane||17||32 The Forstal|
|6||Court Cottage, Court Lane||18||6 Smithers Close|
|7||ASW, Latters House, High Street||19||Church Place, Church Street|
|8||Parish Office, Old School Hall||20||Hadlow Bakery, The Square|
|9||Natal House, High Street||21||38 Carpenters Lane|
|10||10 Carpenters Lane||22||Walnut Tree Cottage, High Street|
|11||19 Great Elms||23||Lyndale, Court Lane|
|12||13 Maltings Close||24||St Mary’s Church|
CDs also available by emailing: email@example.com or by telephoning 07570 941809
Do you have a window that could help light up Hadlow this December?
We are looking for homes to take part in an Advent calendar with a difference.
We need up to 24 windows in the village that can each be seen from the street, decorated with a scene on a Christmas theme. On each day a new window will be revealed – just like an Advent calendar.
Get the family involved! We want to make this a real community effort.
For more information or if you are interested in taking part, please contact Janice Massy or email: firstname.lastname@example.org