HOMILY FOR ZOOM SERVICE 3 JAN 21 from JANE WALTON
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
A few years ago, with friends and family as crew on different legs, Tony sailed our boat down the French and Spanish coasts and across the Mediterranean to Turkey. It was a long journey – several weeks in fact, with many memorable moments. I was on watch late one night on the return journey, right in the middle of the Mediterranean; everyone else had gone to bed. The light of the chart plotter was turned down low, and the engine muttered quietly as we made our way slowly westward. The sky was like black velvet with more stars than I had ever seen before – and they were dazzling, so bright that it felt as if I could reach up and touch them. Suddenly a mass of bright lights, looking like a floating block of flats, came into view, then just as quickly passed by. It was a cruise ship, lit from end to end with the brightest of artificial light. I felt so thankful that I was in our dark, slow-moving little boat, feeling dwarfed, humbled, awed and privileged to witness the majesty of God’s creation in that dark velvet awesomely lit Mediterranean sky.
My daily IBRA bible reading notes, back in October, were written by an Anglican priest and his wife, an astro-physicist, an unusual but spiritually dynamic combination. One day, the commentary was on Job 38, that wonderful chapter where God reminds Job of all he has done and continues to do on the earth and in the heavens. It includes the words “Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens?”
The bible notes say: The Gaia spacecraft studies the Milky Way by mapping out the positions and motions of a billion stars, and will release this data in 2021. The many years put into planning and executing this state-of-the-art mission allow astronomers to study the Milky Way with unprecedented accuracy, but the billion stars mapped by Gaia still constitute only one per cent of the estimated 100 billion stars in our universe. *
Staggering, isn’t it? And yet, the God who created this enormous, glorious, unimaginable universe is the God of each one of us, knowing us individually, since before we were born, knowing, we are told in Psalm 139, what we are going to say before we even speak.
Some of you may have managed to glimpse, on an unfortunately cloudy late afternoon just before Christmas, the spectacle of Jupiter and Saturn, seemingly passing close to each other in the sky, what’s called a great conjunction. A similar event occurred 2000 years ago and is sometimes considered to be the star of Bethlehem. Wise men or magi of that period were held in high regard, second only to the king. They were deeply learned, astronomers, astrologers, academics combined, with a depth of knowledge of the constellations, the planets, the scriptures, and so much more. There were some rudimentary maps, drawn on clay tablets, at that time, but much more important was their knowledge of the stars in their seasons. Stars were as important to them as the road atlases, Google maps and satellite navigation systems of this modern age are to us.
For many years, Epiphany was the most important festival in the Christian calendar long before Christmas itself came to be celebrated. And the reason? – well, this was when the birth of a tiny baby, heralded by angels, but witnessed by just a few, suddenly became an international affair. It was the dawning of a realization that this tiny child was to be the Saviour of the World, born in poverty and obscurity, yet the most important event ever. So, the first – and most important- thing we should think about at Epiphany, is that revelation, that the child of Bethlehem is the Son of God and the Saviour of us all, black or white, rich or poor, young or old, Jew or Gentile. We pray that someday all the nations of the world will follow the magi, follow the star and join together to worship him, revelling in his light, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let us pray:
Father in heaven, hear our prayer.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart. ∞
Lead us in this work we pray. In the name of Christ. Amen
* IBRA Fresh from the Word 2020, published by Lion Hudson Ltd
∞ Poem by Howard Thurman Bread for the Preacher 2009