We celebrate the Epiphany today. The word “Epiphany” means the “Showing Forth”, the manifestation to the world – to people of all nations, colours, languages and even creeds. To all who will listen or see Jesus for what He is – the Son of God.

And so we have the familiar story of the Wise Men following the star – possibly from Iran or Iraq as we know them today – following their beliefs that our fortunes are in the stars. The New English Bible actually calls them “Astrologists”.

So they came and ended up first of all in Jerusalem, where they consulted the King – Herod, who was dismayed to hear of another King’s arrival – Jesus. People in power are always frightened of rivals, just as people who are rich are frightened of losing their wealth and create barriers to keep others out: “gated communities” is a misnomer as isolation and segregation must be the reality such barriers create.

Herod’s advisors told him of the prophecies that said Bethlehem would be the birthplace of this new King. The City of David – Bethlehem, which means “the house of bread” or “the place of basic nurture”. And so the Wise Men continued their following of the star, and came to the house where Jesus was, and offered their strange gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then they went on their way.

In today’s world they could have instead embarked on a virtual quest rather than a physical one, with apparently less personal danger and without involving difficult face-to-face encounters with such as Herod.

It was very challenging to see the front page story in Saturday’s newspaper about the US drone strike and then to turn to read an obituary in the very same newspaper about the Iranian general who had been killed – someone considered by his compatriots as a genuinely wise man.

Born in 1957, one of nine children in a peasant farming family in a mountain village in Eastern Iran, who at the age of 13 left home with a cousin to try and earn enough money to repay the $100 agricultural loan his father had taken out from the Shah’s government when his father couldn’t make the repayments himself. Qasem succeeded in restoring the family honour:

“At night we couldn’t fall asleep with the sadness of thinking that government agents were coming to arrest our fathers,” he recalled. “Our bodies were so tiny, wherever we went they couldn’t hire us.”

Eventually, they helped to build a school. Eight months later they returned home through the snow with money to repay the debt. He went on to work for the local water board, but later joined the Revolutionary Guard after the 1979 uprising…

He was clearly not a saint, but he was once trusted enough by the West to be welcomed as leader of a delegation of Iranian diplomats to meet with US officials in Geneva following Nine Eleven. This looked like a hopeful collaboration until in 2002 President Bush included Iran in his “Axis of Evil” speech and all trust immediately broke down.

Clearly, General Qasem became a man of war not of peace, but one must wonder about the wisdom of simply “taking out” someone like that just because it is technically possible.

I feel violence can never be the answer. Just as we are outraged by King Herod’s massacre of the Innocents, so we are surely called to travel home another way than this…

The Epiphany season invites us into our own journey of discovery about the significance of Jesus – that God’s Son is not just born as the saviour for the Jewish people – God’s chosen race – but for all of us, all humanity. We are no longer to live as a gated community, locked out of God’s grace and favour. Whoever receives and accepts Jesus is a member of God’s family. Gentiles (we who are not Jews) can become the new Israel, upon whom God’s favour rests. As our epistle reminds us – now we have access to God in boldness and confidence through our faith in Jesus, who promises to be beside us in our searching and journeying through all the risks we take and whatever dangers we are exposed to as part of the universal human race this new year and beyond…

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:5-6

I fear wise men may be in short supply among those presently in positions of great power on all sides. Let us pray for true wisdom, discernment, restraint and compassion to be cultivated in the world’s leaders of our generation.

May the golden allure of admiration craved by powerful rulers be melted down into shining acts of kindness and generosity; may the fragrant incense that comes from discernment of true worth be offered by taking time to act only in godly righteousness and in seeking lasting peace on earth, and may the sufferings of this present time be ultimately soothed by the transformative myrrh of human compassion and hopefulness now and always.

Vicar’s Letter January 2020

Those who write catchy slogans or create successful marketing ploys will no doubt already have declared this to be the year for aspiring to 2020 Vision, once thought to be the norm for optimum clarity and focus in human eyesight!

Realistically, most of us live with less perfect levels of perception of the world around us, often needing help to see the bigger picture or the finer details of life. As Christians, none of claim to be perfect and most of us fail to see the wood for the trees at some time or other. However, there is this strange verse in our Gospels which is attributed as one of the sayings of Jesus: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!” This verse was literally carved in stone below the east window of Emmanuel Church, Forest Gate, the parish where I served as Vicar between 2000 and 2003, and the church where Dave and I were married at Epiphany nineteen years ago.

The stained-glass window above the inscription showed a humble but colourful nativity scene, with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus all being welcomed by the shepherds who had rushed down from the fields to greet the promised Christ child. It always seemed to me a bit incongruous that the call to “Be perfect…” was directly aligned in Emmanuel Church with what must have been the chaotic, obscure, messy, unwelcome and even dangerous circumstances of Jesus’ birth.

But in actual fact, it does make perfect sense! If we believe God in Christ was humble enough to step down from the exalted heavenly realm into the far from perfect world epitomised by that first century unequal, cruel and oppressive society, then quite simply the perfection God calls us as Christians to emulate is that same divinely inspired desire not to stand aloof from messiness and pain, but to get involved right at the heart of things, and somehow to try to see our way clear to make an amazing difference for good in the midst of a whole variety of otherwise hopeless, unglamorous or unpromising situations. In the second century, St Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” The angels must surely sing with joy once more “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!” whenever we display even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion in response to catching sight of both the obvious or more hidden needs of those around us, whether in our own community or glimpsed fleetingly in transitory heart-wrenching stories flashed up on our TV screens or on social media.

Whether we consider ourselves as ordinary and a bit on the edge of things, like the shepherds, just about making ends meet, or whether we count ourselves amongst the more privileged and comfortably off, like the three wise travellers, who can afford to risk going on adventures in life – whichever may be the circumstance into which we were born, consider that God may be calling each of us to come a bit closer to Christ as we enter this New Year. Think of how a young baby at just six months of age gazes so seriously and intently into your face, before breaking into a smile of recognition and delight! At this coming Epiphany season, may we increasingly see ourselves as God in Christ sees us, considered no less his beloved child than was Jesus himself, revealed at his Baptism in the turbulent waters of the River Jordan. And responding to the forgiving and gracious gaze that God eternally bestows on us, however insignificant or undeserving we may feel, may we have the insight to view others around us equally as our neighbours and companions along life’s way, however difficult the journey may be.

The first miracle that Jesus did according to the Gospel of John is the one often recalled at weddings in church – Jesus turning the water into wine! This story is one of the Epiphany season readings and reminds us powerfully that God desires all human society to be celebratory and rich in meaning and purpose. Too often we find ourselves more conveniently ignoring the hints and nudges of those who have noticed a real need or an impending crisis, like Jesus’ mother Mary did when the scandal of inadequate provision of hospitality threatened to embarrass the bridegroom’s family on that memorable occasion in Cana of Galilee. At our own wedding, sadly no-one noticed (not even the new bride) that all Dave managed to find left to eat at our splendid wedding buffet (provided by our lovely friend Eileen Williams) was just one vol-au-vent!?!

The Epiphany season, which lasts through to the Feast of Candlemas on 2 February, reminds us, as we approach Ash Wednesday at the end of the month, that we are called to delight in God’s world and sacrificially to enable others to do the same. If Christmas is for children, then Epiphany is for grown-ups! May our vision as the Anglican Church of God here in this community ever remain unclouded by selfishness and insularity, and may we ever be alert to responding in love to the needs of the world, starting with our nearest and dearest and then looking beyond them to help relieve the plight of the poor. May God grant us clarity of vision this New Year and always!


Epiphany Party 2019

Each year we hold a party in church for Praise & Play Children and all our younger church members including the families of children recently baptised

Three Wise Travellers… and a Star

In France and Belgium it is customary to serve une galette de Rois on the feast of Epiphany. It contains a little charm, and the person whose slice contains the charm is allowed to wear the crown!

A photograph taken by Veronica – see previous post!

Epiphany at Chester Cathedral

The Wise Travellers have arrived!

These figures, only a little smaller than life-size, were created from beaten copper and bronze by sculptor Tony Evans from Kingsley, near Frodsham. The original nativity scene was created in 2013 and the travellers (with their camel) were completed in December 2015. The sculptures stand in a prime position in the Nave of the Cathedral during the Christmas and Epiphany season.