In the Spotlight
Minister: Revd Dr. Ian Tutton | ‘…Arise, shine, for your light has come…’ (Isaiah 60, 1a)
This year, the first time for many years, 6thJanuary is a Sunday. 6thJanuary is 12thnight – the day after the 12thday of Christmas, cue the echoing away to nothing of drummers drumming and everything else round down to the partridge & the pear tree – and on the 6thJanuary those Christian traditions more liturgically minded than our own celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. But as it is a Sunday, even we ought to pause and reflect on what we understand by the ‘Epiphany.’
It is understood to mean the revelation by God of the Divine nature of Jesus the Christ to the Gentiles as personified in the visitation of the Magi – the so-called ‘Wise Men’; astrologers, stargazers, whoever,- actually Magicians’: Magi is the root of Magic – a Magus was/is a Zoroastrian Priest, a follower of the teachings of Zoroaster, a shadowy figure who lived somewhere between 1,000 and 500 BCE, founder of the religion that bears his name, the predominant religion of the Persian Empire, what we know today as Iran – and the names traditionally attributed to the Magi – Melchior, Balthasar and Caspar can be traced back to Iranian roots.
But whatever the particular historical context, there is an underlying truth that is being illustrated. The Christian faith asserts that from the outset it was God’s intention that the Divine self-revelation embodied in the human Jesus, the incarnation of the Eternal Son of God, that this Jesus was and still is destined to have universal appeal – to reach beyond His Jewish heritage, whilst sanctifying it by His birth being consecrated to Jewish religious ritual and practice, to embrace the Gentile world…’To save His people from their sins’…His people comprise each and every one of us because in the Incarnation, Jesus in taking on human form self identifies with each and every one of us by virtue of our being human. If He had come as a prophet or even as a King, then His ministry, His Kingdom would have necessarily been confined within the politico-religious tradition into which He had been born. Indeed, as the Gospel narrative unfolds there are many instances when His disciples, His hearers, His protagonists assume that this is who and what He is without ever grasping the essential truth that what was being enacted in 1stCentury Palestine was to have Global significance. It took the genius of Saul of Tarsus – the paradigm representation of a Jew – to realise, as Paul the Apostle that this was so…and this only because of what he experienced during his own Epiphany when travelling to Damascus. Nowadays the idea of an Epiphany has become a byword for any moment of enlightenment; that time when all of a sudden the penny drops: we get it, we understand it, we work it out; when it all suddenly makes sense; and in such an obvious way we find ourselves asking how could we not have realised it, how could we not have known it, how could we have been so naïve, so stupid, so blind. What some people refer to as a ‘light bulb moment’. Jesus described Himself, amongst other things, as ‘The Light of the World.’ Or as Isaiah had foretold, ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in deepest darkness upon them has the light shone.’ The Incarnation, God taking on human form, the birth of Jesus, the Epiphany of the Lord; this is the light bulb moment for the whole of creation.
The New Testament doesn’t hold back as far as the extravagance of the claims it makes as far as Jesus is concerned. Paul declares that ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for in Him all things were created…all things were created through Him and for Him…For in Him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.’Believing that Jesus is the Son of God, the Saviour of the World; the One who makes possible the forgiveness of sin, the One in and though whom the promise of eternal life is secured, the One whose example in word and deed is the perfect pattern for living…believing all this can be for each of us our ‘light bulb moment.’ When it happens, we will wonder why it took us so long. Well for so many the reason is that they would rather stumble about in the dark, too proud to acknowledge that they cannot see their way ahead. Even When the light has been switched on, still their eyes are tight shut refusing to acknowledge that this need no longer be the case. ‘He came to His own and His own received Him not’, and we are all ‘His own’ – ‘But to those who did receive Him He gave the power to become children of God’– and we can all receive that power, we can all know ourselves to be ‘children of God’. And when that happens, a ‘State of Grace’ becomes a ‘State of Mind’ and it will be for us as if it had always been so. But then there is flip side to all this…The same Jesus who described Himself as ‘the light of the world’ says to us, those of us who believe in Him, those who comprise the Church that bears His name, ‘You are the light of the world.’ We are called to light up the world of today; to be its ‘light bulb moment’, to bring it to its senses; to confront its excesses, to denounce its corrupt practices; to expose its blasphemy, its deceit, its decadence; to call the world to repentance, to reach out to it in love; to proclaim forgiveness, to offer healing, to provide sustenance. For the Church of God throughout the world, for every congregation of God’s people, for every Christian, there is the encouragement to be an ever-present Epiphany at the heart of the community to which we belong. The light is shining in the darkness, the darkness will never overcome it.