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The three lights of the Epiphany

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord (Mattins)

We’ve passed the winter solstice and the days should be getting lighter. The trouble is that, at this stage, this gradual lightening isn’t very noticeable. We tend to see the effects most as we head into February and March. In the eyes of the secular world, Christmas has come and gone, New Year’s Day has come and gone and this seems to be the end of the festivities. All this build up, and the world is back into the darkness and drudgery of living. No wonder February is said to be the most depressing month!

For behold, darkness shall cover the Earth.


Here lies the shame of it. All over the world, people celebrate Christmas. The National Grid struggles to power the various illuminations and neon Santa Clauses and robotic snowmen outside people’s houses. All is garish, all is very bright indeed. And then Twelfth Night happens and everyone turns the Christmas lights off, and the secular world plunges back into the darkness of winter.

And what of the Church?


This feast of the Epiphany is the day that we truly do see the light, for God in Christ is revealed to us through the Magi journeying to Bethlehem based on the study of their star charts; He is revealed in the Word from on high at His Baptism; He is revealed turning water into wine at Cana. The light for the Magi shines in their study, but it isn’t their study. The light for St John the Baptist shines through the water, but it isn’t the water. The light for those at the wedding shines in the wine jars, but it isn’t the wine jars. Their light has come and in it the glory of the Lord is revealed.

We do have to ask ourselves where we see the light burning strongest. The lights of the world have shut off by the 5th January, but our light should not, otherwise we descend back into the gross darkness that covers the peoples.

Too often, we identify the light of God with what it shines through. This is why the Enlightenment has not been good for Christians. Too often, Christians see the light of Reason and think that Reason must be the only source of light. We see people who call themselves Christians undermine the very faith that they are supposed to grow in pursuit of the light of Truth. We cannot think our way to heaven. The light of our minds is not strong enough to penetrate the darkness. This is why the Magi need God to shine His light for them so that they can see Him in person, not as a paper god. If Reason alone were strong enough then we would all be Christians for the arguments would all be won.


Too often, we read the Holy Scripture and think we understand it. We see the light that carries us on in our faith, but disagreements arise about interpreting the text. We see people who call themselves Christian seek to change the meaning of the text in order to justify themselves. That’s exactly what Arius and the Gnostics do. Marcion is even worse because he likes to cut bits of the Bible out and throw them away because they don’t fit the message. The word of Holy Scripture is fulfilled in the Word of Christ as He reveals Himself to the Church just as the word comes down from on high to ratify the testimony of the last prophet, St John the Baptist. The light of our interpretation of Holy Scripture alone is not strong enough otherwise Christianity would not be divided.


Too often, we rely on old stories which are only half true. There weren’t three kings or three wise men as far as we know. The number isn’t mentioned in Holy Scripture! Looking at the original language of the story of Our Lord’s birth, the Greek suggests that Mary and Joseph weren’t staying in an inn, but in a private house and that there wasn’t room for them to have a proper bedroom and so had to make do with the front room of the house in which the animals stayed. Too often myths build up around what is true. The light of our traditions alone is not strong enough to show us the truth about Our Lord. We need the water of these stories to be transformed into the strong wine of God’s loving truth.


The way we seek God’s truth for us is in the use of Reason from the Tradition of the Church built upon the Holy Scriptures. These are the media through which God has communicated His Eternal light to us. We know that Our God is the Trinity through the testimony of our reason. We know that Our Lord Jesus lives, dies and rises again through the testimony of the eyewitnesses passed down through the Gospels. We know what is right and what is wrong through the interpretation of Holy Scripture by the Church. This is how we can trust God’s revelation to us.


And what of our experience of God? Is that as authoritative?

No. All our experience of God needs to be passed through what we do know. Scripture, Tradition and Reason help us to see whether our experience is the neon light of the present age which will be switched off, or whether it is the Divine Light of Christ which will never dim. Our experience of God is vitally necessary for in it we can arise and shine ourselves with His light. We just need to be sure that it is His light. For many who say that they are in the Church, they find themselves in the neon light of their own making. This is why the Christian Church is getting smaller as people find that their light is actually a deeper darkness leading to confusion and error. This is why we need to be on our guard and faithful to God, seeking His light in all of the means that He provides for us. He reveals Himself to everyone, but not everyone will receive His light but rather blunder on in their darkness.

Arise, shine, for your light has come and, through His Church, God will ensure that you behold His glory.

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