As the light has dawned in a new year and on a new decade. I don’t know about you, but I am more conscious of the fragility and uncertainty of our world than ever before.
I am very concerned about the escalation of hostilities following the death of Iranian General Soleimani. It is a powerful reminder that peacemakers really are blessed, and how much harder this peaceful path can be. We need world leaders with the calibre to be able to walk in the footsteps of those who have sought peace throughout the ages: people of courage, discretion and wisdom.
Climate change is very worrying too, of course, and with many signs of its effects showing themselves here at home, and abroad, over the past months, reaching a tragic crescendo in the fiery skies of south east Australia, the need for honesty and authenticity in the minds and hearts of the leaders of the nations is exemplified still further.
Last Sunday we celebrated the great feast of the Epiphany. In the Collect we heard “God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth”, addressing a God who reveals himself in Christ at Epiphany.
The word ‘epiphany’ comes from the greek verb meaning ‘to reveal’, and contains a wonderful breadth of meaning including the experience of insight, and the showing forth of divine glory.
The Magi, wise leaders from the East and stars of the story, were called to come and worship the Prince of Peace, representing the universality of Christ’s reign and God’s inclusive love for everyone.
In a world where the leaders of the nations are constantly having to manage the temptation of seeking glory for themselves, we might reflect for a moment on the nature of this glory. The Epiphany Collect encourages this with a petition that we “may at last behold (God’s) glory face to face”.
In the ancient world, ‘doxa’, translated as glory, referred to the athlete who had just won a great victory. The athlete for a moment becomes more than human, elevated above us as an objective fascination and adulation, and we can’t wait to hear news of this greatness in our midst. And we can find ourselves circling around such glorious creatures like moths around a flame.
For us Christians, the challenge of this word ‘doxa’ is its derivation from a meaning where glory is won in combat, one over against the other. The glorious Christ, whose life, death and resurrection we see witnessed to in the gospel, is the Jesus who walked the way of the ultimate loser, apparently failing in his mission, betrayed by his disciples, tortured and murdered.
The challenge of this glory continues, as we witness a resurrected Christ, entering the room of his faithless disciples, hiding to save their own skins, perpetuating their betrayal of him, and empowered by this same Lord who bids them peace, and sends them to share his love and forgiveness.
The season of Epiphany continues in our church, and churches throughout the world, through Candlemas and until the beginning of Lent. The Sunday before Lent begins will see us reflecting on the gospel story of the Transfiguration, when the light of God shines out of the Son on Mount Tabor, revealing his true glory. This is a glory that transfigures and transforms, a glorious light that brings hope, casts out fear, a light that ensures the reign of the Prince of Peace will never be overcome.
For much of this Epiphany season, the crib stays in church, reminding us of a God reaching out and offering us himself as a tiny child.
I encourage you, in a quiet moment, to spend a few minutes before the crib in prayer, and ask that you might pray for peace in our world; for the leaders of the nations, that they might receive the insight they need to help transfigure the places and situations over which they have been given the burden of responsibility; and to pray for us all, that we may love the earth that we are created as part of, and may know our rightful place within it, respecting and cherishing its beautiful fragility, nurturing it with patience and hope.
And I ask that you may pray insistently, and with a belief in the power of prayer, trusting that what you ask for will be granted in God’s good time. Perhaps our prayer is needed at the start of this decade more than any other, and let’s set to it hopefully and faithfully.
With the assurance of my Epiphany prayers for you all, and those whom you love