Friday, 28 January 2011

THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE 30 JANUARY 2011. Hebrews 2: 14 – end, Luke 2: 22 – 40, ROBERT

I think the first thing we need to do is to catch the atmosphere of this most beautiful and moving passage from Luke. A young couple bring their new baby (just over month old), 60 miles – probably walking most of the way – from Nazareth to Jerusalem to present their first-born, their pride and joy, to God in his most holy place, the Temple. Think of a couple proudly bringing their first baby to baptism here and you will imagine the picture. We don’t know what time of year it was, but always making sure the baby was warm and well wrapped up, and yet no doubt having something smart – probably handed down in the family like a christening robe – to wear for this very special occasion.

Under the Old Testament law, which Luke is careful to emphasise, they had to wait forty days for purposes of ritual purity before the mother would (so to speak) go public, and – under a separate Old Testament Law – the first born son would be dedicated to God. In theory, this meant that the child belonged to God and would spend his life in his service, but in practice the child would then be ‘redeemed’ – or ‘bought back’ – with a sacrifice (Lev 12:8), which would be a lamb for those who could afford it, or two pigeons or doves (as in the case of Mary and Joseph) who could not. It was symbolic, but behind is always the implication that our children really belong to God, and we are given the great responsibility of stewardship in bringing them up and sending them out into the world. This Temple ceremony would be very simple and no doubt routine for the Temple priests, but always special for the parents. How well I remember my own huge emotional pride in bringing our first-born daughter to our church for baptism.

They wouldn’t have expected anyone to take very much notice of them in the throng around the Temple courtyards – it was highly special for them, but not for anyone else – but, to their amazement, two old people pick them out as if by instinct and home in on the baby.

The first is the old man Simeon, who (we read) was righteous and devout, and was waiting for the ‘consolation’ of Israel. That’s a very interesting word to me, and often passed over. What does it mean in this context? What was he waiting for exactly?

He was obviously not one of the young hot-heads – the would-be revolutionaries, looking out for any opportunity to put a knife in the back of a Roman soldier, or trying to whip up a crowd to rebellious fervour.

This word Luke uses, translated here ‘consolation’ of Israel in verse 25 is very interesting. It refers literally to someone who is ‘called alongside’. It’s the same word as John quotes Jesus as using in John 14:16 in reference to the Holy Spirit. There Jesus says he will send down another ‘Comforter’ (AV) or more generally in modern translations ‘Advocate’ (NIV ‘Counsellor’) who will come to our aid. So Simeon sees in this baby the one whom God would send to ‘come alongside’ Israel in its suffering and oppression, not as a military commander, but as someone who comforts the suffering, brings relief to the oppressed, and speaks out on behalf of those who have no voice of their own. It has to me the same connotations as Matthew’s use of the word ‘Emmanuel’ – God is with us – alongside us – God is for us. And, of course, I see here also a reference to Hebrew chapter 2, our first reading (which sits so well with this Gospel reading), where Jesus is described as our ‘brother’ who shares out humanity and (v.18) - because he suffered himself when he was tempted - is able to help those who are being tempted, as we are.

Simeon is prompted by the Holy Spirit to come into the Temple when Mary and Joseph are there. God has promised him that he will not die until he has seen with his own eyes the ‘Lord’s Christ’ or God’s anointed one. Then – seeing Jesus – he takes him in his arms and praises God in the words so familiar to those of us who used to say Evensong – the Nunc Dimittis. Now he can die in peace because his eyes have seen ‘God’s Salvation’ – the Saviour sent by God to his people, and the one who will fulfil the task in which Israel had never succeeded – to be the light of God to the whole world.

Then Simeon blesses the child and turn to address Mary with words of prophecy that hint of suffering to come. Jesus will become a man who stands squarely across our path and whom we cannot avoid. And either we will be attracted to him and embrace him and follow him. Or we will find him an obstacle to our path and want to rid ourselves of him. And as we are compelled to make a decision about him one way or the other, so our inner thoughts and motivations will be revealed, stirring up either loving loyalty, or a road-block which can stir into hatred. Simeon sees in this moment of prophetic insight that

this Saviour, this Anointed One, must become therefore a focus of controversy who will inevitably bring his mother much grief and pain.

His words are immediately reinforced by Anna, who spent every day in prayer, fasting and worship in the Temple area. She comes up to them at that very moment and Luke tells us that she then begins to speak to everyone who will listen that this child would stand at the very focal point of what she calls ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’. The word ‘redemption’ speaks of sacrifice, as does our first reading from Hebrews,(and remember that the reason Mary and Joseph have come to the Temple is to ‘redeem’ – or literally ‘buy back’ Jesus with a sacrifice), but for Anna, everything centres on Jerusalem and especially the Temple where sacrifices were taking place every day. Could this Jesus become the one, great sacrifice which would eclipse all others and atone for the sins of the whole world?

It is such a powerful and human story, and so full of meaning, we have only begun to touch the surface in the time we have. But what can we take from it this morning? I want to suggest that we pause, firstly to look backwards and then to look forwards.

As we reach the end of Epiphany, look back to Christmas for a moment. This baby in the Temple was God coming to share our humanity from birth right through to death. As this passage from Hebrews chapter 2 says, ‘he had to be made like his brothers (and sisters) - (that’s us) - in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest...’ He was born to be, in Simeon’s words our ‘consolation’ – that is, the one who comes alongside to be our advocate before God; our comforter in sorrow; (remember that the word ‘cum-forte’ is Latin and means not someone who just sits and says ‘there, there’ but someone who comes with strength (like a fort) to lift us up out of the pit; our strengthener in temptation and hard times, our counsellor in times of trial, our true and constant friend. This was the baby who was to grow and become strong, and be filled with wisdom and the grace of God. And we thank God this morning for Jesus who is beside us in every experience of life.

And we also today begin to look forward, as we begin our approach to the season of Lent and Good Friday. For this is the baby who is himself to be the sacrifice (Hebrew 2:17) ‘that he might make atonement for the sins of the people’ and win for us forgiveness for the past, and hope and freedom for the future. This supreme sacrifice will not come without great cost – it cost Jesus his life and his Mary terrible grief. So, as we come to Communion, we thank God this morning for Jesus who is to die on the cross to redeem us all, and to be a light to all nations – and today to each one of us.

He stands across our path and brings us up short, just as Simeon predicted, and demands a response. And some will welcome him from the heart and become his loyal followers, and some will find him a road-block to be bull-dozed out of the way. Those two miraculously come together in the spotlight of the cross. But his presence in the world calls for a response from each of us, because (verse 35) he causes the thoughts of our hearts to be revealed. Do we turn out to be those who ‘speak against him’ because he has become a road-block? Or do we embrace him as our light and our salvation? Look back and embrace Jesus as your Brother in full humanity, and look forward and embrace him as your Saviour and your Lord.


1. What feature of this episode do you find most arresting? Why?

2. Why do you think Jesus was ‘destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed?’ (Verses 34,35)

3. Is this still the case? How and why?

4. How does this Gospel passage, read in conjunction with the Epistle Hebrews 2: 14 – end, help us understand better (a) Christmas and (b) Good Friday?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23 – Sermon for Sunday 23rd January 2011, Kim, Follow my Leader

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

‘Come, follow me.’ Jesus said. ‘But first let me explain how this works. ‘You’ll have to be in church by 10.30 every Sunday morning. You can miss the odd service but if you miss too many, the others may well begin to question your sincerity. They won’t mention this directly, of course, but trust me, word will get round!’

‘Yes, I know that you may well have something to do at that time. It’s obvious that your work schedule involves some commitment in the early hours of the day, but we trust you will find a way around that. This is, after all, the way that we have been doing it for years. It suits our schedule. It works for us, and we see no reason to change simply because the rest of society no longer sees Sunday as sacred. So leave the paper till Sunday afternoon, forget about the shopping, and find someone else to coach the local football team and Come and Follow Me.’ Tongue in cheek, may be!

I was reminded recent that Jesus only talked once during his ministry to being born again but spoke of the need to follow him on numerous occasions. There is an important point behind that observation, for this is a danger sometimes of making the moment of conversion all-important and forgetting that discipleship is, or rather should be, an unfolding journey. Peter and Andrew together with the rest of the Apostles followed Jesus not knowing what he was calling them to or where their response might lead. They responded in faith trusting that he would guide them and, apart from Judas, they kept on following even when it led to sacrifice, hostility, rejection, and the death of their master and friend on a cross.

How many of us would have followed through all of that? Would we still have been there by his side after the first altercation with the Pharisees? Would we have had second thoughts when Jesus spelt out the cost of discipleship?

Even the Apostles’ faith had its limits, of course, on the night of Gethsemane each briefly failing to follow. It needed the Risen Christ to greet them once more, speaking his words of peace and reaffirming his call, before they felt able to resume their journey. We too may encounter moments when commitment is tested and we no longer follow as we should, but Jesus will always be there, summoning us forward along the road of discipleship. Committing ourselves to Christ is a necessary step for all of us, whether that involves a dramatic experience of conversion or a gradual coming to faith, but it is only a first step. Don’t mistake it for more than that.

Have you ever tried sticking metal with wood glue, or plastic with wallpaper paste? If you have, then you will know it’s a waste of time, for you were using the wrong tool for the job. In fact you would need a glue like Redux 410 or something similar. Different glues are designed for different tasks, and what works for one may not work for another. Get it right, and you will create a bond to last.

Such should be the effect of the love we are called to share as Christians. The reality, sadly, is very different. For all the moves in recent years toward church unity, there are as many if not more divisions today than ever. Splinter groups breaking away, of questions of doctrine, worship and church practices, women bishops, and sexuality. Individual fellowships are equally marred by gossip, cliques, personality clashes, backbiting and so on. All too often, instead of testifying to the love of Christ, our relationships with other Christians speaks instead of our human fallibility, turning people away from the church instead of drawing them towards it.

There will always be those we are more naturally drawn too than others, that is a simple fact of life. Equally, there will differences of opinion and outlook among us, for we are all individuals with unique experiences of Christ. If though, we are truly ‘In Christ’. Then the faith we share should transcend such differences, the love that unites us is more powerful than anything that may divide. The true disciple is one who manages to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and speak his words in a world that is tearing itself apart and we do this generally, most of the time. Don’t we?

On another occasion, Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘follow me but first let me explain how this works.

‘The world, secular culture – call it what you will – is generally quite corrupting. So we expect you to leave that culture and join ours! You’ll listen to Christian music, laugh at Christian comedians, spend your holidays at Christian conferences and may even do Christian aerobics to Christian worship tunes. There will be Christian books for you to read, Christian films for you to watch, Christian fashion styles to which you must adhere, and we can even arrange for you to play cricket with your local Christian league. Corrupted by the world? You simply won’t have the time! So leave your friends behind and come and follow me.’

We have ‘come and followed Him’. So we can expect the journey to be eventful. We might encounter hostility, rejection, we may have to give sacrificially, it may cost us dearly. We can also expect Jesus to be there with us, loving, caring, forgiving us, willing us onwards. We will be expected to be Jesus to everyone we meet including the unlovable people in our eyes. We will be expected to share the love of God with others on days when we feel unlovable, when it feels like the world is against us. We will be expected to be all things to all men – with the help of God.

We will be expected to say to others ‘Follow me.’ After all that’s the invitation, pure and simple. An invitation to what? What will we be asking them to follow? To follow Jesus, or to join up with some specific church culture, to come and be a part of our Christian club? What are we asking and, more importantly, what are people hearing when we echo Jesus’ invitation to ‘Follow me’?


  1. What do you think of the Christian sub-culture – all those ‘blessed’ alternatives to ‘worldly’ activities?
  2. It is true that Christians often lose touch with their non-Christian friends when they get heavily involved in church culture?
  3. How does this affect evangelism?
  4. What can the church do to minimise this effect?
  5. Do we expect too much of people?
  6. Do we make ourselves too busy for our own good?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Sunday 16 January 2011, 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, John 1:29-42, Bruce

In this season of Epiphany we ask, “How is the glory of Jesus revealed?”

Last week we looked at the account in Matthew of how God spoke “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

This week we have read from John’s account, how the Baptiser passed on his revelation about Jesus to his disciples, and how they in turn peeled off to follow Jesus.

There is something exciting and touching about the way that Andrew gets so excited that he cannot keep it to himself: he simply has to go and find his brother Simon and drag him along: “We have found the Messiah”!

Paul writes to the Corinthians that they are those who “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” This is true of all of us who have received the good news that Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again to bring in the Kingdom and to enable us to be drawn into the life of God. We are all looking forward to Christ being revealed: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”

In the meantime, though, we have a vital task here on earth.

The main way that Jesus will be revealed, epiphanied, to people here on earth today is if we share the gospel with them. We need to aim for holy lives that fulfil our baptismal promises, and we need to seek for ways to share our faith with our immediate families, our colleagues at work, our friends and acquaintances that we meet at parties or share pastimes with, and those who live around us.

Some might be motivated by duty to do this: “Jesus says go into all the world and make disciples, and so I better do my bit”. Some might have a real concern for the eternal fate of those we witness to. Some might like the thrill of winning arguments. Some might feel bullied and made guilty by vicars who preach sermons such as this. I would suggest that none of these is an adequate motivation to share the good news ...

The most important motivation by far is that we have encountered God, that we feel that we have met Jesus, and our lives are changed forever. Part of our growth in Him will be to share our newfound faith and relationship with those around us. It will be love that impels us to share our faith, love for God and love for our neighbour.

This is not difficult. When a baby is born, the phone lines hum. When an exam is passed, a promotion gained, a new phone or gadget is purchased, we delight to pass on the good news.

If we find it difficult to witness for Christ, it maybe that we should look again at how much we have to witness to. What is our Good News?

The PCC has adopted as our Vision 2013:

that those who live in Camberley will find throughout the town a living community of people belonging to St Michael’s who are clearly living Christ-centred lives as

disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ

servants of the community

sharers of the faith.

We are not called to wait for people to just happen upon our lovely building and our thoughtful and reverent worship. We are called to be the church on the other side of the street, actively “being there” and “open for all who seek for” God.

Sometimes this will involve talking about our faith. Often it will be a matter of quietly but purposefully living in such a way that God’s Holy Spirit has opportunities to draw people as he sees fit. Thus some might be Street Angels, dispensing love, cheerfulness, lollipops and flip-flops and not preaching. Some might Adopt-a-Road, and take a prayerful interest in their neighbours. Some might find that at the school gate or the checkout counter they gradually get to know their neighbours there.

There are many today who “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” By this they mean that they would like to know something of God, but he seems remote, distant from their experience. Please join me in praying for them and in making ourselves available to them.

Dear Lord,

help us so to encounter you,

that we may daily grow in faith hope and love,

open for all that you have for us,

open for all that you would teach us,

open for all who seek for you,

and open to follow you wherever you lead us,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Questions for discussion

1. How did you first hear about Jesus?

2. Who have you talked to about Jesus recently, and who started the conversation?

3. Can you share the name of one of your neighbours on either side of where you live, so that we can pray for God to bless them? (If not, may we pray for helpful ways for you to meet your neighbours?)

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Sunday 9 January 2011 Baptism of Jesus, Acts 10:34-47, Matthew 3:13-17, Bruce

Are you ready for an Epiphany?

Epiphany is the season of Mission and reaching out with the gospel. The first story associated with this is that of the Magi as Kim talked about last week. Matthew is a gospel written for those familiar with the Jewish faith, but here at the beginning we have these non-Jews coming from afar to worship the new-born king. The gospel, Matthew seems to be saying, is Open for All. At the end, Jesus sends his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20)

The second story that we tell at this time is of the Baptism of Christ. We find three statements that are significant.

“I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” John is confessing that he also needs to repent and be forgiven; he needs the Lamb of God to take away his sins. He seems to recognise that Jesus, alone, is not in need of this but is the one through whom God’s love, forgiveness and Spirit will come.

“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Jesus is adamant that he must be baptised, but it can be a puzzle explaining why this was so. Primarily it was an act of obedience: he was sure this was what his Father wanted. He did not need to repent: “for he alone from first to last our flesh unsullied wore; a perfect life of perfect deeds”. It seems therefore to have been a deliberate act of identification with all people everywhere; we are sinful and need a Saviour, but Jesus does not arrive, as it were, with his cape flying in the wind, impervious to all harm and danger, to dramatically change the situation. Instead, he lives as one of us, and gently identifies himself as being fully human.

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We, and John, are meant to be reminded of Psalm 2:7 “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” and Isaiah 42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” This is a revelation, an epiphany of who Jesus is. Just as the coming of wise ones reveals him, and the turning of water into wine reveals his glory, so here the Father proudly says “That’s my boy!” to anyone and everyone who will listen. He is fully human, but also fully God. This is a slightly different focus to the words reported in Mark and Luke where it says “You are my Son ...” which would be reassuring and comforting to Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry that he is on the right track. Here in Matthew the words are also for us; make no mistake, do not be misled, this, THIS, is God’s best and only way of revealing his love and sharing his life with you. Many would like to know God and have a relationship with him; Jesus said of himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

How, then, do we receive this epiphany? How can we encounter God and grow in him?

First, how much do we want this? Is it our consuming desire to fulfil righteousness? Do we have a concentrated, un-distracted heart and mind that is seeking after God? Or is our interest in spiritual things something that must be fitted in to our family, our career, our hobbies and pursuits? Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8); pure here does not mean morally upright but rather settled and undivided; no distractions.

Second, are we prepared for an epiphany from outside our normal frame of reference? Last week we saw the glory of the infant king revealed through the most unlikely means, star-gazing travellers from afar. It may be that God is trying to reveal himself to you, but perhaps you are concerned that this seems strange or slightly way out? Take heart. Why would you expect an encounter with God to be familiar and comfortable? The recent BBC production of the nativity, for example, spoke to some people in a profound manner.

Third and coming from a different direction, are we prepared for an epiphany from that which is already known to us? From the familiar? For all we know, it might have been a profound shock to John that he was to announce as the promised messiah ... his cousin! He had always known, perhaps, that Jesus was devout, but was this taking things a bit far? Just like Israel wandering in the wilderness and revisiting the old places in order to learn the lessons God had for them, might it be that you already know all that you need to know to encounter God? In a situation where we were slow to respond to God’s love before, might he be visiting us again?

Fourth, we may have fixed expectations about what God is planning; might we need to open ourselves to God’s new ways? John expected the messiah, when he came, to be obviously in charge and superior; it would be John’s place to bow and receive baptism from this exalted one. Whatever Jesus was up to, this was not how John expected it; we see this later when John sends messengers from prison for reassurance that Jesus really is the one. In the passage from Acts, Peter and his colleagues have firm expectations that the gospel would never for be non-Jews, and God must take the initiative to shake him free and open his eyes. God does this by baptising the congregation in his Holy Spirit, so that Peter feels obliged to baptise them in water as a sign of their inclusion in Christ. The epiphany will by its nature be not as we expected it to be; if it were, how much of an epiphany would it be?

Fifth and last, how seriously do we take our own baptism? Jesus was baptised as sign that he was totally immersed in and surrendered to the will of his Father. We have sometimes allowed baptism to be relegated to that little ceremony near to when we were born, which has very little bearing on how we live our lives today.

This will not do. Baptism, which includes confirmation, is as essential as communion; the two go together as the only two ceremonies that Jesus commanded us to undergo. To miss out on either or to minimise their importance is to be disobedient. To be baptised and confirmed is to signal that we want to be deluged in God and bring our lives fully into harmony with him. It is not the ticking of a box but the committing of a life. It shows that we are concerned to fulfil all righteousness. It becomes central to our experience of God and a springboard to receiving the Spirit. Paul writes that “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.” (Romans 6:4) Every day we are challenged to reject the devil and all rebellion against God, to renounce the deceit and corruption of evil, and to repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour. Every day we turn to Christ as Saviour, submit to Christ as Lord, come to Christ the way the truth and the life.

Every day we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”; this is a prayer about God changing the world, but it is also a prayer about God changing us, so that we become more like our baptised, crucified, risen and ascended Lord Jesus. Every time we come to communion, we pray “as we eat and drink these holy things in your presence, form us in the likeness of Christ, and build us into a living temple to your glory.” Every day we look for an epiphany, a new revelation of Christ being lived though us. Every day we look to see our neighbours, friends, colleagues and relations encounter God and start to grow in him, through our prayers and changed lives. In the street where we live, the place of work or the college or school, in the places that we socialise, and in our homes, our baptism promises mean that we seek to be Christ centred, living as disciples and growing to be like Jesus, serving those around us as ministers of Christ, actively seeking to build community, and concerned to see others have an epiphany of Christ for themselves.

Questions for discussion
1. How much do we want to see God?
2. How prepared are we for a revelation of God outside our normal frame of reference?
3. How prepared are we for a revelation of God from within the sphere of the familiar?
4. What signs have seen recently of God at work in ways that have surprised us?
5. How are we living out our baptism in our everyday lives?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Sermon for Sunday 2 January 2011 EPIPHANY – Matthew 2:1-12, Ephesians 3:1-12, Kim

Picture the scene: a room with a large dining table. Three men in flowing robes are watching a fourth man, a servant, laying the table. Through the window, which by its shape tells us that this is a scene from the east, you can see a couple approaching in the distance, pushing a buggy with a child in it. One of the men explains the situation to the servant, who is looking a bit puzzled: ‘You see, last year we went to them, so this year they are coming to us.’

I admire the skills of cartoonists, who with a few strokes of the pen and some well-chosen words can make a comment about our human condition, and at the same time make us think about deeper truths.

Over the last few years, cartoonists have provided some interesting springboards for thought about this Epiphany story. The one I have just described latches on to a yearly anxiety about where parts of the family spend Christmas, and whose turn it is to be the host. With luck, we can laugh about it. But the deep truth about Jesus spending Christmas with us is that he comes every year, and stays with us all the time. So the real question is not about whose turn it is, but how we are going to respond to this amazing generosity of God in giving himself to us.

Familiarity, it is said breeds contempt, and if ever there is a danger of that it must surely be in relation to the Christmas message. We know the story very well – too well – having heard it so many times that we no longer take in sometimes what we are hearing. We listen to the words of scripture and sing well-loved carols, but they wash over us, no longer firing our imagination as they once did.

It is worth reflecting occasionally on those words of Herod, to the Magi as he sent them off to Bethlehem. The situation, of course, is different, in that they were seeking someone they had not yet met, encountering Jesus for the first time, but Herod’s words are nonetheless just as appropriate for those of us today who have known and followed Jesus for as long as we can remember. ‘Go and make a careful search for the child.’ Do that, not just at Christmas but every day, and what we find may still surprise us.

The Wise Men in the story responded by offering gifts to the Christ-child. Another cartoon shows them having a conversation with each other. Two of them are holding the traditional gifts, the third is holding an envelope. In response to their concerned looks, he says, ‘Yes, I know. But a token is much lighter.’ Will our response to God be a token gesture? Or will we offer something precious? And what precious thing have we got anyway? We need to be wary about using this story as if it is a prelude to a stewardship campaign – dig a little deeper into your pocket. It is more profound than that. The most precious thing we have is ourself. That is what God longs for us to give him.

We perhaps don’t always think of ourselves as precious: we are quite good at putting ourselves down. But the gifts the Wise Men brought are our gifts too. Each of us is precious to God – in God’s eyes each of us is pure gold. We may have to dig deep to find it, but that is God’s truth about each one of us. Offer the frankincense of worship, and as we attend prayerfully to God, and learn more about God and ourselves, we recognise God’s truth about us: ‘You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you’ (Isaiah 43:4).

That truth about being precious will be tested with the myrrh of suffering – all around us, and perhaps touching us more personally too. Faithfulness to God’s love is part of our response. As the carol puts it:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him –
Give my heart.

That is a response to God not just for Epiphany, but for every day. Another cartoon takes us into the vestry, where the vicar is holding open a cupboard door. At his feet, the tiny crib figures process past him and the caption reads, ‘So it’s back into the vestry cupboard for another year.’
Then there is the pithy little saying often still displayed around at Christmas time on church notice boards, car windscreens or suchlike. The words? ‘Wise men still seek him.’ And, of course, that is perfectly true, for there are many today, just as there have always been, who still search in vain to find faith. It is not that they don’t want to believe – quite the opposite – but there is so much in the world they cannot make sense of so, much that seems to contradict the God of love preached in the Christian faith. Having been sent by Herod two year previously; It would have been easy for the Wise Men to give up on their search, not least when they arrived in Bethlehem to find that no one had any idea who or what they were taking about. Could there have been some mistake? Had their journey been a waste of time? Yet they kept on searching and trusting until, finally, they came to the place where the child lay.
We, too, will reach our destination if we have the courage to keep on seeking. If we persevere on the journey, we will find our questions answered and the confusion resolved as we glimpse for ourselves the wonder of God revealed in Christ.

For some folk there will have been good intentions this Christmas, they will have come to a church service and listened to the words of scripture and joined in with the singing of the carols. And God will have blessed them and will have be glad to see them. We may well have made New Year Resolutions, one may well be to come to church more often or to pray more regularly and we may well have broken one or two resolutions already but God is asking to be more than a resolution, more than a fleeting thought, we is asking to be part of our lives, to be in relationship with Him and not just for Christmas. Making resolutions without Him is bound to fail. He has already told us we are precious, He has already mapped out His plan for our lives. It is now up to us!
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him –
Give my heart.
Has the celebration made any difference to us? The commercial world has moved on, Christmas has been put away, the crème eggs and hot cross buns are on sale. But Christmas isn’t over. God is with us every day, the baby grows into adulthood if we let him, and he challenges us to recognise him and respond to him in our daily lives.
As you seek the Christ Child, may your journey will full of surprises and may they spur you on into a deeper relationship with Him. Amen.