Sermon at St James, Epiphany, 2 January 2022
Isaiah 60:1–6; Matthew 2:1–12
To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:
The first Christmas card I opened this year from a former colleague had a short message inside “I shall be so glad to see the end of 2021” and then went on to mention a few things that had happened in his family, as well as this wretched Covid pandemic. I guess many of us share the same sentiment. What an awful time it has been. Yet, I say to myself, it has not been as bad as in the two major pandemics of bubonic plague in 1346 and 1665, when 80% of those who contracted it died. Imagine the fear of everyone looking out for the horrific symptoms of boils on their bodies, as well as the kind of symptoms linked to Covid. Horrendous. Remember the story of the villagers of Eyam in Derbyshire, who chose to lock down their village once the black death reached them in a bale of cloth from London in 1665 and self-isolated themselves, so that surrounding villages could be spared. Imagine again the fear, terrifying fear, of the 800 men and women in that village, as they went about their daily lives not knowing how the disease was transmitted. Of those 800, 260 people died, the equivalent of 800 deaths in Colwall.
We have had a lot of fear in the past year, even though our scientific knowledge has reduced it. We all know that fear is not good for us. Not only does fear affect our immune system, but it knocks our confidence and damages our mental health. So, we look back over 2021 glad perhaps that it is over and with the fear behind us.
So what about 2022? What can we look forward to and where can we find hope and optimism?
The answer has to be right in front of us and we only need the eyes to see it. Christmas and the Epiphany, which we celebrate this week, have a simple but profound message, which many people ignore. The message is that God cares, that God loves and comes into our world to share our pain and our sorrows, as well as our joy and happiness. He did not choose to come by way of power or hierarchy. He chose to come to the margins of society rather than to the centre of things, to an outhouse of a village pub, where he was greeted by small holders, who had been with their sheep in the fields and then by some pilgrims bearing gifts – wise men they may have been, kings also possibly, but what they definitely were, were searchers, determined searchers, who overcame anything which interfered with their search. Undaunted by king Herod, these wise men found their way to Bethlehem, to the child destined to be God’s greatest revelation of his love and when they heard that Herod was out to get them, they simply reset their satnavs and went home another way – as coolly as that.
What is so heartening and uplifting here is the confident determination of these travellers and their faith that they were on the right track. They seem to have had no fear at all, no quaking anxiety leading to indecision, just a confident pursuit of their goal.
A woman was on the telephone to her electricity supplier. She had suffered several power cuts and was ranting and raving at the unlucky agent at the other end. At the end of her rant, she shouted “when will I know that my lights are back on?” There was a moment’s silence and then the reply came back, “It will seem much brighter than it is now.”
With the birth of Jesus and the visit of the wise men, our world does seem much brighter than it did. We have no reason to be fearful anyway and every reason to be confident as we renew our faith. We should feel at one with those seekers, the wise men following the star, searching for the Divine, searching for God and finding him in a simple family and a simple stable: God’s revelation of himself.
As Isaiah wrote in our first lesson, “Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen among you.” Let’s hope that 2022 will seem much brighter than it does now and with much less fear.