Reflection for Epiphany 2014

On the first Sunday of each month at 9.30am we have a brief celebration of Holy Communion. This is an intimate gathering of usually around a dozen people and takes place without music. It typically includes a reading of a psalm, some prayers of approach and a Gospel reading, a short homily followed by the communion with intercessory prayers. At these communions we always gather in a circle around the table and break the bread together. We also share the common cup.

Everyone is welcome at all services in Greyfriars, the hospitality is not ours but Christ’s and we encourage people to see full participation in communion as a way to deepen our faith and understanding. We don’t believe you have to be qualified or worthy before you receive this grace, it is a free gift.

 

Sunday 5th January 2014

Today is the Sunday before Epiphany, (celebrated on the 6th of January, the 12th day of Christmas). Traditionally, this is the day on which we remember the visit of the wise men to Jesus’ crib bringing their remarkable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is the festival of the manifestation of God in the person of the Christ child of Nazareth, a day of light and revelation.

Frederick Buechner has suggested that the story of the wise men is a wonderful illustration of the foolishness of the wise. These men went to the Herod to ask about a king that had been born the King of the Jews (Herod’s role), presumably to usurp him. When you think about it, they were remarkably naïve. As he writes, “it did not even strike them as suspicious when Herod asked them to be sure to let him know when they found him so he could hurry on down to pay his respects” (Peculiar Treasures – A Biblical Who’s Who, Frederick Buechner, Harper One, 1979, p55.) Thankfully, they were warned in a dream to beat a hasty retreat from Bethlehem and have nothing more to do with Herod and so made their way home by another route.

Being the first Sunday of the month we have three services in Greyfriars, Holy Communion, the Morning Service at 11am and our weekly service in Gaelic at 12.30pm.

At 9.30 am we read the prologue to John’s Gospel with these words, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

John 1: 10.

In the short reflection I told a Jewish proverb in which an old Rabbi, Zusya says that, “In the coming world they will not ask me, “Why were you not Moses? They will ask me, “Why I was not Zyusa?”

There are many reasons why we are not ourselves and why we pretend to be the people we are not. Not only do we sometimes fail to be ourselves, we also frequently fail to recognize others for who they are. This is what John seems to be suggesting about Jesus. What was it in people that meant that when they met Jesus, “they knew him not”?

We are often insecure, feel unacceptable and inadequate and we can pretend to be someone quite different to the person we were made. We can also be full of prejudice, fear and anxiety when it comes to other people and do not always see the other for who they are too.  

The complex theology of John can be seen as a reflection of something quite straightforward in human life; that in the midst of our fears, our refusal to accept who we are or our failure to see others as they are we can end up missing out on authentic human exchange. Life is full of pretence, prejudice, fear and invention and it often seems that if only we could meet eye to eye, face to face and flesh to flesh we would discover our common humanity and get along so much better.  Two things come to mind. One is the way in which we so readily use labels to categorise people, so the homeless beggar is just that and not a person. The other pitfall is illustrated by a well-known politician of whom it was said once that he was the sort of person who would always be looking over your shoulder at a party to see if someone more interesting and important had come into the room. To live your life as though the person you are with at any particular moment, regardless of their station in life, is the most important person in the world is a rare and wonderful gift. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it.” John 1: 5.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was filled with controversy, but one episode I heard about was an effort by a British soldier to meet at a human level. The commanding officer of the Black Watch Platoon that was the first to enter the city of Basra took a decision to remove his helmet and googles when he entered the city. In his view, the allies had no disagreement with the Iraqi people. He was sure that there was a need to meet at a human level. It would be all too easy to hide behind the masks and helmets and armour. Somehow, he created the ground for a human exchange and on that day no shots were fired in anger.

Do we have the courage to meet in the light of the person we are, without pretence, and to meet others as they are too? John suggests that if we accept the grace we are offered, accepting ourselves as we are and other people as they are too, we can become children of the spirit. 

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