Homily, 8 January 2017: The Epiphany of the Lord
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Homily, 8 January 2017The Epiphany of the LordIsaiah 60:1-6; Psalms 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6; Matthew 2:1-12—————Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God;But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries …(Elizabeth Barrett-Browning)—————The magi said, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at it’s rising and have come to do him homage.”It’s the Epiphany of the Lord, when we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. But that’s a historical description of the Epiphany. What does mean for us personally – besides packing up our Christmas decorations until next year?“We saw his star at it’s rising and have come to do him homage.”Epiphany reminds us to keep watch and respond to what we see. That’s what the magi did. Elizabeth Barrett Browning understood it this way:Earth's crammed with heaven,And every common bush afire with God;But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries…That’s the problem, isn’t it? Too often we don’t see, so we can’t respond, we just pluck blackberries.—————How do we see?If you want to see, to discover that every common bush is afire with God, you have to be intentional in your desire. The magi certainly were. The magi were searching the heavens for a sign and that search had become for them a vocation. Thus they saw the star, but apparently no one else did – certainly not the people of Jerusalem.—————There is a British documentary about developing the proper disposition for finding God – although, since God isn’t lost, it might be better to say it was about paying attention to God. Anyway, it’s called “The Big Silence.” It documents a 3-month project of Abbot Christopher Jamison’s to introduce the ancient Christian practice of silence into the lives of 5 volunteers. His hope was that silence would be transformational for them, and the heart of the project was an 8-day silent retreat. Abbot Jamison said that “the very simple outline of the project is: silence is the gateway to the soul and the soul is the gateway to God. But having said that very simple statement,” he continued, “it’s a lifetime’s work to arrive at the silence that leads into the soul, that leads to hearing the voice of God.”So he hoped that at the end of the retreat, the participants would have some experience of God and come to understand that developing a relationship with God requires developing a habit of quiet meditation and prayer.The five people who participated in the project -- two men and three women -- led very normal, modern lives. That is, they were very busy, just like us. Only one of them was religious. The rest had fallen away from whatever faith they had as children, if they had any at all.One of the participants was Jon, who was once a very troubled teenager and now a very successful businessman. Yet he was still discontent and still looking for meaning in his life. Near the end of the retreat, he said something very remarkable: “I had my first brief conversation with God this morning… and I don’t care if you think I’m mad… it was just a gentle voice that said ‘whilst you have been looking, I have been here. And I have always been here, you just weren’t listening’.”That’s the lesson of the magi: if you want to encounter God, you have to take the time to look and to listen. For us, that means finding regular time for quiet prayer. You won’t see if don’t stop and look. You won’t hear if you don’t stop and listen.—————But it’s not enough to simply “see.” Like the magi, you have to “see” and “respond:”“We saw his star at it’s rising and have come to do him homage.”In the original Greek, the word that is translated here as “doing homage” really means to “prostrate oneself,” that is to lie face down on the ground as an act of reverence. Earth's crammed with heaven,And every common bush afire with God;But only he who sees, takes off his shoes …By the end of The Big Silence, all the participants’ lives were transformed to some extent. One decided to be baptized, one returned to Church, and Jon decided he would shutdown his businesses and become a counselor. All of them knew they had to establish a habit of silence and prayer. In a way, they all became religious, even if some disliked the word. No longer could they just sit and pluck blackberries.Without some kind of religious practice, without ritual, without the support of others, what those people found in their retreat would fade away. What they had discovered demanded a life-long response.—————See and Respond.For us that means prayer and worship. Make time for quiet prayer so that you can see and hear what God is telling you. Respond by receiving the Sacraments and worshipping with others so that you can sustain your life in God.Learn to see that every bush is afire with God, and then take off your shoes and worship.That’s the lesson of the Epiphany.