Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Manifestation of Christ

We kept Epiphany on Sunday both in Holy Trinity Winchester (following the Western use) and in Lymington Parish Church at 8am (though since it was 1662 it should have been the Circumcision) following the use of Common Worship (ad lib).

So I preached a version of the same sermon twice; here for anyone who's interested is the longer (Holy Trinity) form:

This Mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit. Ephesians 3.5

Revelation is what we are concerned with today. It is the defining principle of Christianity. Ours is a revealed faith; one, that is, which we have been shown. The prayer book spells out the title of today’s feast; the Revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. The Missal amends this a little; the revelation of Christ to the World. Either way, Epiphany means just that; revealing, showing, demonstrating.

All through human history, people have invented religions for themselves. Mary Baker Eddy thought she had found THE KEY: the key to the scriptures she called “Science and health”. Still there are those whose faith is built on science: the Richard Dawkinses of this world who think their whole lives can be comprehended by discovering more and more of the fundamental laws governing the world. But the wisest scientists know that their understanding of the world is based on what others have done; they are standing on the shoulders of giants.

For us, we know whose those shoulders are; we are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone. Today, we give thanks that we do not depend on ourselves or our own logic and understanding. We celebrate the epiphany, in which God revealed himself to humankind.

During the next few weeks, we shall unwrap this little by little: next Sunday with the Baptism of Jesus, revealing him as only Son of God and Beloved; then the wedding in Cana, in which his glory was revealed, and so on… But today, the manifestation is to the Magi. These Easter sages represent the world beyond Judaism, making it clear from the very start that this child is not for just one chosen people, but for all humanity.

In the Orthodox churches of the East, Epiphany rates above Christmas itself, for it is seen as the completion, the summing up, of Christmas, its twelfth day. Here is how one group of Orthodox, in New York, will be celebrating:

On Tuesday, January 19, 2010, following Divine Liturgy at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Markella, His Eminence PAVLOS, the Metropolitan of America, will lead the clergy and faithful to the seaport where he will conduct a service to bless the waters of the great city. He will complete the blessing by casting a Cross into the icy waters. This symbolizes the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan at the hands of St. John the Baptist. Dozens of young men will dive into the harbor hoping to reach the Cross first and return it to Metropolitan PAVLOS.
This ancient, Holy Christian ritual, dating from the time of the Emperors in Constantinople, will be witnessed by the people of New York through the cooperation of the local authorities, and NYPD, FDNY, US Coast Guard harbor launches and scuba divers.

It sounds fun. Probably the waters of the Bosphorus in the time of Constantine were warmer than the Hudson River. For all that the American Orthodox will keep their tradition alive, even if it needs the Police, the Fire department and the Coast Guard to enable it to happen.
You notice that the celebration will not be until January 19; Our western Calendar was revised by Pope Gregory in the 1580s, many of the Eastern Orthodox stuck to the Julian calendar. That did not make the adjustments to Leap Years which has had the effect of pushing their Christmas further and further from the midwinter solstice. It is remarkable that despite the Reformation, England along with other Protestant countries accepted what Pope Gregory achieved, and so our celebrations coincide with those of the whole Western church. Today, there is another adjustment; we used to keep Epiphany on the twelfth day after the Nativity, that is, on January 6th. Now our church has once more agreed with Rome, and we move it to the nearest Sunday.
What we are doing is to give greater prominence to the Epiphany, by giving it a Sunday instead of a weekday. Our western churches have come to agree with the East, that Christ’s Revelation is of prime importance. Ours is not a faith which you could work out for yourself, Christianity is not meant to align itself with the politics or the sociology of one particular age. When Jesus taught, his teaching was a revelation for all time.
Our Church of England has never been in greater need of this truth. Parts of our Communion no longer believe that there is revealed truth; they prefer to think that all truth is relative, and they will even speak of “my truth” and “your truth”. This feast reminds us that the truth is one, it is the truth once revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and is not to be amended to suit our modern convenience.
Loving God is a duty, our first duty, not to be neglected when it does not please us. Loving our neighbour is also our duty, going hand in hand with that first duty towards God. It is not possible to love God, whom we have not seen, unless we also love our neighbour whom we do see. That is not the result of philosophy: it is revealed to us.
In the Epistle, Paul reminded his readers in Ephesus that he had been entrusted by God with the grace intended for them: that this mystery had been given Paul by revelation from God; and that this mystery, revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and Prophets in the church had been unknown to anyone in time past…. The nub of it being, that those who had been pagans shared the same inheritance with those who had been Jews, the same promise had been made to them – and so to us also – through the Gospel.
The Epiphany reminds us that no one deserves God’s promises; it is through his grace, entirely of his own will, that we are brought within the household of faith, members of the same body with the Apostles.

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