The January Pastoral Letter from the Rector
My dear friends,
Firstly a very Happy New Year to you all.
At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, we long for light. Often the days are dark and grey. The sun seems to have lost its strength and the light is weak. It is now just over two weeks since the winter solstice and there is slight, almost imperceptible, lengthening of the day. This brings a feeling of hope. The sun will return, and heat and warmth will once again stir the cold earth.
Five thousand years ago, ancient peoples built burial chambers that would be illuminated by the sun on the shortest day, such as at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley in Ireland. The sun shone along a carefully fashioned stone passage and illuminated the entire chamber where human remains had been placed. Did such building projects originate from the desire for the return of light and warmth of the sun or was there a primitive understanding of a rebirth after death? We can only speculate. These stone monuments still evoke a sense of wonder and mystery as they are illuminated on the shortest day. Looking towards the eastern sky in the morning, it is a great sign of hope when the sky begins to brighten. A modern hymn opens with the words, *Longing for light, we wait in darkness*.
As we wait for the light to return, so the people of Israel waited for the light of a Messiah who would proclaim a new kingdom and give people a new promise. AS we celebrate the Fest of the Epiphany this month let us remember that it proclaims that Christ is the Messiah, the glory of God, who is like light breaking into the night and who gives a new hope and rebirth to the people that walked in darkness.
We come to the crib and look into the manger to see the Christ child lying in the feeding place for the animals. He is our food for life. With childlike wonder we look into the crib and see the kings gathering to worship this child and bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are gifts of great extravagance fit for a king and God. The gift of myrrh is a sign of suffering and the anointing of the dead, and so a shadow falls over this scene of joy and hope. The fulfilment of the life of this child will be poured out on the cross so that we can have life, with our sins forgiven. The cross stands over this scene of Christmas and promises victory, hope and rebirth.
Another shadow falls over the scene. It is the long shadow reaching from Jerusalem and the court of Herod, who lives in the fear of a new king who will replace him and usurp his throne. Herod*s desire to speak to these travellers from the east was not out of curiosity or love but rather full of malicious intent. The recently completed Temple of Herod, glinting in the sun with its golden roof, was one of the wonders of the world, to be admired and wondered at by the many pilgrims to the city of Jerusalem. A child who would be king of the Jews might threaten Herod*s power and his corrupt and oppressive reign. From the backwater of Bethlehem there comes a new king and a new shepherd of Israel. The magi worship and adore the Christ child in all his fragility, vulnerability and innocence. He becomes the new temple before whom we bow down and worship.
After the hectic celebration of Christmas, this feast helps us to grasp more deeply the gift that has been given to us and the revelation of the Christ child who will save us and who desires that all people hear his message of hope. What difference does this birth make to our lives as we resume our regular timetables and schools reopen? Perhaps we may have a new desire to speak of the birth of Christ? I want to encourage you, even challenge you, to share the joy of the Gospel with people you meet. To help someone to find new meaning because of the celebration of Christmas. The Epiphany invites us to find a new path and a new route as we begin this year. The Gospel message calls us to be more open to people who are fragile and vulnerable, weak and poor, and in this way we can share our hope and joy with others.
Yours friend and priest.