January 5, 2020

Thoughtful spot – 8.00 am – Epiphany – Revd Michael Beesley

Passage: St Matthew 2: 1-12

“THOUGHTFUL SPOT”  -  05.01.20 “Epiphany”

Isaiah 60 vv.1-6: The prophet declares that the Light of God has come to Israel and the people who live in darkness will see the glory of God’s Light shining among them. People from all the countries around them will be drawn to this Light in Israel, some bringing gifts to honour God’s royalty and divinity.

Ephesians 3 vv.1-12: St Paul tells, from his suffering in prison, how, after his experience of the resurrected Jesus, he was commissioned by God’s grace to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles so they may know God’s eternal purposes for the world and be blessed with God’s promises through Jesus.

St Matthew 2 vv.1-12: St Matthew tells us, as Isaiah predicted, how wise men from eastern countries were drawn by the light of God’s star to witness the birth of Jesus. They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; and refused to tell King Herod where Jesus was, because they were warned in a dream that to do so would threaten Jesus’ life.

Epiphany means being given a sudden insight, like a light breaking through darkness to reveal a new understanding about something. Today’s readings are all about God’s light coming into the world to banish the darkness caused by evil human behaviour which threatens the life of all people throughout the world.

The prophet Isaiah, full of hope, predicted the light of God will shine for the people of Israel. He said people from the surrounding nations will be attracted to see in Israel how God wants all people on earth to live. This will inspire them to want to live in the same way. Some will even bring gifts to show they recognise God’s royalty and divinity at the heart of the Jewish way of life.

St Paul, writing from his suffering in prison, recalls how, on the Damascus road, he experienced the risen Jesus speaking to him, and was commissioned to bring the Good News of the light of Jesus to the Gentiles. That meant to people of all races and creeds beyond the Jewish nation and religion.

And then, St Matthew told us how Isaiah’s prediction came true as wise men from far eastern countries were guided by the light of the star to witness the birth of Jesus who was born to transform the world. They brought with them gifts of gold to honour Jesus’ royalty and kingship; frankincense in recognition of Jesus’ divine connection with God; and myrrh, a sign that he would have to face great suffering at the hands of the worst kinds of human evil.

Yes, the glory of God’s light shone through the birth of Jesus into a dark Jewish world, with severe poverty for many people, under the rule of self-seeking religious leaders and subject to the ruthless occupation by forces of the Roman Empire with its dictatorial governors, like Pontius Pilate.

Yes, through the birth of Jesus, the light of God came to shine, in Isaiah’s words, for a people living in darkness.

He brought the light of God’s love through his care for the poor, the sick and disabled. He brought the light of God’s forgiveness, not only through teaching in his parables like “The Lost Son”; but especially, by example, in the way he prayed for forgiveness for the soldiers nailing him to the cross, saying “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

His light shone in the way he brought together twelve ordinary, mostly uneducated people. He inspired them by his life, death and resurrection to bring the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness to people throughout and beyond the Roman Empire. This Good news resonated down the centuries to us.

Jesus’ teaching, example and message of God’s light, love and forgiveness have shone through the centuries to people of all countries, races and creeds.

It is given to us to reflect it to all whom we meet who are living in darkness.

There are certainly many people living in darkness in our United Kingdom.

Here are just some examples of the “darkness” some people face in the UK.

The Children’s Society tells us 4 million children live in poverty in the UK, one of the worst rates in the industrialised world.

In 2018, the BBC reported that 22,000 children leaving Primary School were “severely obese”. 40% of children in England's most deprived areas were overweight or obese, compared with 27% in the most affluent areas.

The latest NHS statistics tell us that people in England face the worst waiting times for treatment since targets were set. This includes the highest proportion of people waiting more than four hours in A&E since 2004, and the highest number of people waiting over 18 weeks for non-urgent, but essential, hospital treatment.

Our prison population in England and Wales is almost at its highest level ever at 80,000, with 112% capacity, meaning that many are overcrowded and often in appalling conditions. This tells us the crime rate in our country is very high with many people motivated by immoral, extremely selfish and often violent attitudes, sometimes inflicting great suffering on their victims.

I’m sure you can think of many other kinds of darkness in which many people are living today.

So, what signs, if any, are there of God’s Epiphany Light and Love shining today into the lives of these people living in such darkness?   Here are some for those I’ve mentioned.

For children living with poverty and obesity, there is a movement in some Primary Schools to ban packed lunches and give a nutritional lunch to all their children, and to use this time of eating together with their teachers to teach about healthy lifestyles.

In many hospitals, we see extraordinary selfless commitment by consultants, specialists and nurses, giving extra unpaid time to meet their patients’ needs.

In one prison, over Christmas, some chaplains and prison officers gave time and money to provide decorations for prisoners in their cells and common areas. In this way, they were shining God’s light of personal care into their dark prison world.

So, what can we do to reflect the Light and Love of God through our faith in Jesus?

One way is to support “Routes-to-Roots” and our local foodbank in Longfleet Road; another is to hold our Government to account to keep their electoral promises to increase the number of consultants, nurses and GPs in our communities; and a third might be to pray for our prison chaplains and overworked prison officers.

Now, in a minute of silence, let’s bring to mind what we and our Christian leaders can do to reflect Jesus’ Light and Love, and pray it will shine through our actions and those of all in authority to bring the Epiphany Light to all who are living now in any kind of darkness.

(1 minute silence)

So, let us pray: may the Light of God’s Love shine through us to bring Light to anyone we meet who is living in the shadow of darkness.