Reflection – 09 January 2022

Here is my reflection for 09 January.

Wherever you are in the world you can join in with the worship using this link to Zoom – https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84890359132 – worship starts at 11.00 GMT.

Mark

Call to worship

Light! Light, light and more light!

Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of God has risen upon you.

Nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem,

wise men came from the East, saying:

Where is he who is born king of the Jews?

For we have seen his star in the East,

and have come to worship him.

The wonderful light of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

Let us pray

People of God, arise, shine,

for your light has come!
The light of Christ has come into the world.
Immanuel.
God with us.

So arise, shine, for your light has come!
And we will follow the light–
when it shines brightly in the night sky
when it glows dimly on the horizon.

We will follow the light–
when it leads down familiar paths to expected destinations
when the road is unfamiliar

and the star rests above a dubious-looking home.
We will lift up our eyes and look around.
And when we see the Christ child,
may our hearts be overwhelmed with joy.

When we are in the presence of Immanuel,
may our knees bend in worship.
When our journey brings us, finally, to the heart of God,
May our hands open in generous sharing;
May our mouths open in generous praise.

The Lord’s Prayer

Good morning.

So the last time I was with you it was still two weeks until Christmas, and today it’s just over 2 weeks since Christmas Day.

Do you notice how as soon as it’s Boxing Day Christmas seems to have come to an end? For example from early December onwards if you listen to the radio the proportion of Christmas based music, whether it’s pop music, Christmas Carols or Classical music, goes up and up until on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day it’s almost 100%. And then on Boxing Day – nothing.

But in the traditional calendar of the church Christmas doesn’t start until Christmas Day. The Twelve Days of Christmas run from Christmas Day up to the Epiphany (on January 6th). Just as I think it’s important to not skip over Advent I also think we shouldn’t skip over the end of the Christmas period at Epiphany – when we remember the coming of the Wise Men.

Let’s be honest Wise Men are fairly thin on the ground so when they do come along we ought not to ignore them.

Let’s read the story of the Wise Men from Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew 2:1-11

Visitors from the East

Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard about this, he was very upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the Law and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

“In the town of Bethlehem in Judea,” they answered. “For this is what the prophet wrote:

‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    you are by no means the least of the leading cities of Judah;
for from you will come a leader
    who will guide my people Israel.’”

So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9-10 And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 11 They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him.

Another reason not to let Epiphany pass by unnoticed is that if we do we lose the annual chance to sing one of my very favourite hymns – Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining;
low lies his head with the beasts of the stall.
Angels adore him in slumber reclining,
maker and monarch and Saviour of all.

Say shall we yield him in costly devotion
odours of Edom and offerings divine,
gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
vainly with gifts would his favour secure.
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Now as you’ll all remember from last week Martin and I have started another series of services for the New Year on a particular theme.

Does anyone remember what it is?

<Pause for blank looks>

Yes thank you – we are talking about the 7 places in John’s Gospel where Jesus says ‘I am…’

Last week Martin looked at I am the bread of Life from John chapter 6. This week I’m moving on to the next one ‘I am the light the world’ from chapter 8.

Now it’s interesting isn’t it that only John’s Gospel records these ‘I am’ sayings.

Well I think it’s interesting anyway!

There’s nothing at all in Matthew, Mark or Luke to say that Jesus said these things.

Now that doesn’t mean, of course that Jesus didn’t say them, that John made them up, but as we’ve talked about before the 4 gospel writers all had their own reasons for writing their versions of the Jesus story.

What’s for sure is that John’s version of the significance of Jesus is different in it’s emphasis. Not for John stories of Jesus’ birth – he doesn’t mention a virgin, shepherds, Wise Men, Bethlehem. Instead how does John start his story of Jesus – by going back to the beginning of everything, the time before the world existed:

In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

In this wonderful opening to his Gospel (that we do often hear at Christmas) what John calls ‘the Word’ is Jesus. He’s saying that Jesus was there with God, as part of God, right from the beginning – but in a much more beautiful and poetic way than that.

The Word of God is Jesus, John says. The definitive Word of God is this person Jesus – not the Bible. We should listen to what Jesus says – because what he says is what God says. And if what we read elsewhere in the Bible seems to go against what Jesus says – well we’d best go with Jesus then. That’s so important.

Anyway I’m going off at a bit of a tangent. Back to these ‘I am’ sayings.

I want us to watch a film clip now. It’s from an animated film called The Prince of Egypt. You’ll soon recognise the story

Clip from the Prince of Egypt (watch up to 2:25)

When Moses asked the burning bush ‘Who are you?’ he gets the response ‘I am who I am’.

Now that might be thought an example of the blindingly obvious. And also as not getting Moses very far forward. A bit like that saying of Theresa May’s from a few years ago ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ You don’t say.

But anyway that’s what God says to Moses to identify himself – ‘I am who I am.’ That’s all you’re getting Moses – it’ll just have to do.

So if John is saying in his Gospel (as he clearly is) that Jesus and God are the same thing perhaps that’s why he has Jesus saying all these ‘I am’ statements. It couldn’t be clearer could it that the statement ‘I am’ carries with it to the Jews the clearest possible reference back to this encounter of Moses with God. A God that’s saying to Moses – I’ve seen my people suffering and I’m going to do something about it?

OK – so we’ve gone back to look at the origin of ‘I am’. What about this particular statement ‘I am the light of the world?. Let’s hear the saying in its context.

John 8:12-20

Jesus the Light of the World

12 Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”

13 The Pharisees said to him, “Now you are testifying on your own behalf; what you say proves nothing.”

14 “No,” Jesus answered, “even though I do testify on my own behalf, what I say is true, because I know where I came from and where I am going. You do not know where I came from or where I am going. 15 You make judgments in a purely human way; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I were to do so, my judgment would be true, because I am not alone in this; the Father who sent me is with me. 17 It is written in your Law that when two witnesses agree, what they say is true. 18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me also testifies on my behalf.”

19 “Where is your father?” they asked him.

“You know neither me nor my Father,” Jesus answered. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

20 Jesus said all this as he taught in the Temple, in the room where the offering boxes were placed. And no one arrested him, because his hour had not come.

Let’s have another hymn

Christ is the World’s Light

Christ is the world’s Light, Christ and none other;

born in our darkness, he became our Brother.

If we have seen him, we have seen the Father:

Glory to God on high.

Christ is the world’s peace, Christ and none other;

no one can serve him and despise another.

Who else unites us, one in God the Father?

Glory to God on high.

Christ is the world’s life, Christ and none other;

sold once for silver, murdered here, our brother-

he, who redeems us, reigns with God the Father:

Glory to God on high.

Give God the glory, God and none other;

give God the glory, Spirit, Son and Father;

give God the glory, God with us, my brother:

Glory to God on high.

I think it’s fairly clear what Jesus is saying in our gospel reading. He’s very clear – he’s been sent by the Father – he’s speaking not just with his own authority but with the authority of God the Father too. He’s effectively claiming to be part of the Godhead. Blasphemy to the Pharisees – but he doesn’t get arrested by the religious authorities at this point.

I will shortly – I promise – actually get around to talking about what this particular ‘I am’ might indicate – what Jesus might mean by saying “I am the light of the world”. But I just want to dwell for a short time on one other thoughts about this passage. Jesus says “Whoever follows me will have the light of life.” What does follows me mean?

Well I think we can learn something from Facebook. If you follow someone on Facebook you do it because you’re interested in what that person has to say, you want to be kept up to date with their thinking, you don’t want to miss out on anything.

But what you will hopefully do before you follow someone is to try and establish if their opinions are actually worth listening to.

Let’s take an example – entirely at random. Who shall I use as an illustration?

I know – Novak Djokavic.

Now if your interested in improving your two-handed backhand you’ll probably be on fairly safe ground listening to Mr Djokavic’s advice. Why not follow him on Facebook in the hope of improving your game. It’s clear enough that as far as tennis goes he knows something – he can speak with authority.

But if you want to know something about whether it’s a good idea to get vaccinated against Covid you might want to look elsewhere. Because on that subject Novak is completely untrustworthy.

So if you’re going to follow someone you need to be confident that they know what they’re talking about. But once you are you need to focus on the content of what they have to say. It doesn’t matter how fervently you believe that Djokovic is the best tennis player in the world – you might be that chairperson of his worldwide fan club –that belief won’t make you a better tennis player. But if you listen to what he’s got to say about playing the game, watch what he does and try your best to learn from that – well then you might improve a bit. You’re not going to be as good as him – you know that – but you’ll be moving in the right direction.

And just to take the metaphor one step further – you might actually think that Rafa Nadal or Emma Raducanu have something to teach you about tennis too. And you’d be right.  I’ll let you think about the implications of that.

And finally we’ll talk about this:

“I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”

As I’ve waffled on so much already I’ll try and be brief.

Light is a very interesting metaphor. It can mean so much.

What does light do?

  • Well it illuminates of course. It allows you to see things you wouldn’t otherwise have seen. You can be literally enlightened, transformed, by the light.
  • And it doesn’t take a lot of light to change things. If you strike a single match in a dark room the room is no longer in darkness. The character of things, the very nature of things has changed. However much darkness there is it can’t extinguish the light.
  • But there might be some things that you’d really like to have remained in darkness. Things you’d rather not have the light shone on
  • Light can dazzle too. It can be too bright to look at. Too much light can be harmful. Staring at the sun can actually make you blind can’t it. Perhaps light needs to be moderated for it to be useful to human eyes.
  • Light can be a warning –  a lighthouse shines a beam around to warn ships to keep away from the rocks. But it also allows you to navigate – to know where you are and to be able to work out the direction you need to go. Like the star did for the Wise Men.

How many of these meanings are included in what Jesus meant when he said he was the light of the world. Maybe an element of all of them? Why not go away from this morning’s service and keep thinking about this image of the light of the world. You will probably be able to come up with lots more examples of what might be meant. If sometime during this week you come up with something interesting please share it with me.

I want to finish with one last short Bible reading from the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:14-16

14 “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. 16 In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

This is a remarkable text in the light of what we’ve been talking about isn’t it?

In John’s gospel Jesus says ‘I am the light of the world’.

And here in Matthew – in that most powerful section the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus uses the exact same words about us!

He says we are like the light of the world. Speaking to the crowds in Israel all those years ago but speaking equally to us now.

Jesus is the light of the world. But we are also the light of the world.

What an honour.

What a responsibility.

And now let’s close by singing again –  Shine Jesus, Shine

Lord, the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness, shining
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

Lord, I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

The Grace

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