Here’s the sermon I preached this morning for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.

Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12

+ In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

If I may, I’d like to begin with a poem by Wendell Berry.

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

I was out walking my greyhound Judy yesterday morning. After a couple of days of dismal rain, snow and sleet, during which neither of us felt like spending much time outside, the appearance of blue sky was a welcome relief. So we headed down to Holyrood Park where she can have a proper sprint.

We walked along some of the lower paths under Arthur’s Seat which were still shaded in the morning light, but as soon as we stepped out from the shadow of the hills, the sun burst brightly between Arthur’s Seat and the Crags, temporarily blinding me. And for the rest of the walk, especially as we walked into the sun, Wendell Berry’s poem and the lines from Isaiah, Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you kept circling through my thoughts.

10897790_10155026449625596_5414918508239885278_n-2

This seems to be the season of traveling. In our gospel readings Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem and then flee to Egypt after the birth of Jesus. Shepherds travel from their fields to visit the stable. Magi travel from foreign lands to kneel before the holy child. The Old Testament Isaiah passages are about traveling, too, return from exile, families and communities reunited.

And for us: we, our friends and family, and various loved ones travel to be together for the holidays. And now as 2014 has come to an end and 2015 begins, we travel from one year over the threshold into another. And, of course, here at Old St Paul’s, we have traveled in our procession, symbolising our communal journey of faith.

It’s easy at this time of year to romanticise these travels. To fall into the cliched language of ‘journey’ which has become so much a part of our vernacular that it’s now even used commonly in corporate speech, in marketing and advertising, in any kind of setting which wants to reference a kind of pseudo-spiritual, individualistic process.

‘Journey’ has, in fact, become so familiar that a recent article in The Guardian included it alongside words like ‘passionate’, ‘vibrant’, ‘creative’, words which have been appropriated by businesses and management in the name of productivity and financial gain that they have lost their meaning through overuse.

But anyone who has ever been on any kind of actual journey — a road trip or long-haul flight, a pilgrimage, a long walk in the hills — knows that it can be far from idyllic. Far from peaceful. Far from a spontaneous adventure. The freedom comes with great cost.

The long tedious hours. The aching body. The boredom. The frustration. The silence when we long for company. Or the noises when we long for silence. Or the noise we create to try to drown out the silence. We always seem to encounter our true selves, the best and worst parts of ourselves, on long journeys. And if we’re traveling with others — well, we certainly encounter the best and worst of them too.

And there are also the travels upon which we wish we never had to embark. The ones that take us through grief and separation and disappointment and hurt, all of life’s many exiles.

This, the end of an old year and a beginning of the new, is a time when we often pause to reflect on the miles we have traveled, the thousands of steps we have taken. We stop to catch our breath and rest our bodies before resuming our journey.

In the Church calendar, Epiphany is a season during which we allow the sun towards which we have been walking to light up the path we have been on. We have walked in what has felt like darkness with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and Magi, following angels, following stars.

And now that the child is here, his light, God’s own glory, illuminates the world, illuminates people, illuminates us, illuminates our past, illuminates blessings we walked right past without noticing.

Arise, says Isaiah. Shine. See and be radiant.

This light doesn’t shame us. It doesn’t make our shadows darker or our sins more obvious, though it does make us see ourselves more honestly. Its divine glow makes us see the world differently. We see the light and find ourselves radiating too. As if some ancient spark caught fire and now burns in the presence of the epiphany.*

It is impossible to know what the coming year will bring. We hope for light. We hope to continue to feel the radiant warmth on our faces as we turn again towards the sun. We know that the liturgical calendar promises more traveling — journeys of love and abundance and joy. But in life and in liturgy, there are also inevitably times when darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.

Now, in this season of Epiphany, rest in the presence of the Word made Flesh, God with us. Rest in Christ’s light. Rest in the blessings it reveals and the blessings it conceals. Rest at the side of the manger where the one who is Love lies. Like the Magi, our travels will continue, not back the way we came; but soon the darkness of the sun’s brightness will beckon us onwards, calling us home by a different route.

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

 

 

_______________________________________

* This paragraph is a mixture of ideas from Rowan Williams and someone else whose work I now can’t find. I think it may have come from an old post on ekklesiaproject.org or possibly something from Working Preacher. In any case, it’s not mine — I found it amongst notes from a couple of years ago!

And the Wendell Berry poem comes from his book of poetry Given.

2 thoughts on “sermon: that blessed light

  1. Thank you for this Kate

    Another poem that I like. by someone form Bolivia, and exisiting in a couple of different translations, is this one. I find it comforting at times when things seem to have gone wrong, and, as most of the time in my life, not according to plan.

    We Make the Path by Walking

    Antonio Machado / Paulo Freire

    Walker, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more.
    Walker, there is no road, the road is made by walking.
    Walking you make the road, and turning to look behind you see the path you never again will step upon.
    Walker, there is no road, only foam trails on the sea.

    Walker, there is no road, the road is made by walking.

    But at the same time, there is a bleakness about it. I first came across it when someone used it in a talk addressed to part-time PhD students!

    Jenny

    1. So sorry to be so slow replying to this, Jenny. But thank you for sharing that poem. There is a wonderful balance of hope and bleakness about it. It’s definitely one I’ll be returning to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s