Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Epiphany of the Lord (January 7th 2007)

The journey of the wise men is a journey of faith. It is very much like the journey of faith which we may make today.

Firstly, the wise men are started off on their journey by the observation of nature. They are astrologers, and something in the stars, something in the natural world, stirs their curiosity and spurs their enquiry. So it is for many. The stunning wonder of the created world, the beauty of a sunset, the glory of a landscape, the kindness and generosity and self-sacrifice of another human being - all of these suggest to us that there is more to existence than just this brief life - all of these can stir within us a desire to seek the meaning of all things, the creator, the loving God.

And then, part of the journey completed, having trod the first steps of faith, the wise men listen to the words of scripture, 'for this is what the prophet wrote'. The next turning on the journey of faith involves encountering the revelation of God, listening to the writings which have been handed down. And so it is for us. Marvelling at God's glory in the world is one thing, but then we must seek meaning, hear the words of others and learn from them, seek understanding, hear the teaching found in the Bible and in the Church, to allow him to speak to us and for us to listen to his word.

And next, the third part of the journey, takes them beyond their own findings, beyond the words of prophecy, to a meeting with the child himself. Now they meet Him in person, and they fall to their knees and give him homage. The person hinted at by creation and their own wonderings; the person pointed to by the words of prophecy and the teachings of others, is now present before them, and they must worship him. And so too, for us. Faith is not found in nature - though it intrigues us. Faith is not given to us by scripture and the Church - though they instruct us. Faith is met in a person - who loves us, and we must worship him.

And this may seem to be the end of the journey: but it is not. Having found the subject of their faith, the wise men learn that they are now in danger, and must return by a different way. Faith changes lives, and lives of faith can be fraught with challenges, and dangers, and yes, even suffering - but also filled with great joy. For they have found the Truth, the Meaning of all things, the Word made Flesh, and worshipped him.

Christmas Homily

One of the most charming features of the Christmas season is the Nativity Play.
The children vie for the different roles in the drama: who will be Joseph, or Mary? Who will play the shepherds or kings? Who will be the angels, or the animals? Sometimes it can be very competitive - if not amongst the children, then certainly between their parents.

Let me ask a question. If we were casting a Nativity Play tonight, who would you want to be?
Mary, perhaps? Well, of course, many of the girls want to be Mary: to put on the simple blue robes, to rock the baby in front of the crib, to be the ultimate centre of attention. It is, after all the leading role - to be the one who shows their love for the child Jesus, and so represents everyone there.
Or Joseph? Yes, the lads might want to be Joseph. The most important man in the scene, caring for his wife with some tenderness. Looking on with wonder at the new born child.
What about a shepherd? or a king? Yes, the rest of the lads will fight over who would be a shepherd or a king. Lots of shepherds of course - and that’s easy: a towel for a headdress and some old pyjamas, just about suffices. Rough and ready, the shepherds: that suits most of the lads. The ordinary working folk who come to worship their maker.
And posher people can be the kings - well to do that you have to be a bit more clever. You have to carry important objects, and perhaps even speak, saying “where is the child?” and “follow the star” and remember to say “frankincense” and not “frankenstein”. It’s the kings who remind us this baby is the real Lord of heaven and earth.
And the rest of the girls get to dress up as angels. Oh yes, I know that in the Bible angels are always male, but in a nativity play what lad wants to dress up in a white frock with a halo and wings? Get me an old towel anyday! And so the girls serve as the angels, who bring the worship of all creation before its Lord.
And there are some other roles, especially for the also rans, the last ones to get picked for the team, the ones who can’t be trusted to keep still or who could never remember their lines. They get to be sheep and donkeys and - if they are really naughty - the back end of the camel. In their humility they remind us of the humility of God himself.

So who would you be? Which role would you like to take on?

I’ll tell you who I’d like to be: the innkeeper.

Not because he gets to look after the beer - though that has its attractions. Nor even because his inn is undoubtedly a four star trattoria of culinary excellence.

No - I would want to be the innkeeper because he is the one who gives the Son of God his first earthly home. Simple, basic and makeshift at that. But a roof over his head, a home nonetheless.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the innkeeper did not turn him away. Or ignore him. Or leave him for others to deal with. He welcomed him. Come, let us adore him.