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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Sermon: Light-bulb moments

Here is my sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

Light-bulb moments are those occasions when the penny drops, everything clicks into place and understanding comes. It might be in relation to something which is puzzling us; a piece of work about which we were unsure, a puzzle or conundrum to be resolved. In relationships it could be when one person appreciates something about another for the first time or when a disagreement is resolved.

These light-bulb moments have a name. They are called epiphanies and they tend to creep up on us unexpectedly. We may have been puzzling over something for hours, then the answer hits us. We may wake up in the middle of the night because something in a dream has clicked or else something someone says triggers a chain of thoughts in our mind that results in a moment of revelation. It all makes sense. We can’t choose the moment this happens, but we can perhaps create the right environment to encourage it to happen.

Epiphanies are less likely to happen when we’re stressed, when we’re tormented by trying to find the answer to something, when we can’t focus on anything else. Sometimes that means we need to find peace and quiet, maybe by going for a walk or reading a book. Some people find there’s nothing better than having a shower or a relaxing bath. At other times it’s better to fill our minds with something totally different from the issue, maybe doing a Sudoku puzzle or watching a favourite TV programme. Then, out of nowhere, revelation comes.

One of those approaches I’ve described might work for you, too, but there may be others. It might simply be a case of going on to the next question in a test and going back later to what’s been puzzling you. It could be that music works its magic or merely closing your eyes and blanking your mind in meditation for a minute or two.

The 6 January is celebrated in the Christian church as the feast of Epiphany. The word ‘epiphany’ actually means a light-bulb moment and has a particular focus on revelation. The feast of the Epiphany is an opportunity for revelation about who Jesus was and is.

Having enjoyed the Christmas story of God sending Jesus to be born as a human being, a person like you and me, Epiphany is the day to be aware of all the implications of what God has done in that act. Using the story of the Magi – the wise men who came to see Jesus – we remind ourselves of the symbolism attached to the gifts the Magi brought: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold, the most precious metal, was a present for an important person, so gold signifies that Jesus comes as a person of power, a king, a ruler. But we can also think that Jesus comes to give something precious to others – himself, his own life. So, gold was a gift that said: ‘Jesus is a King who will bring love!’

Frankincense and myrrh were both very expensive perfumes made from the resin of trees. People burned frankincense in religious ceremonies. They believed the fragrance carried their prayers to heaven. By its use in worship frankincense shows that Jesus comes as a holy man, someone who is totally pure, who has no wrong side to him. Frankincense was also a gift that said: ‘Jesus will draw us close to God and bring joy.’

Myrrh was used in ointments to heal sore skin and wounds. It was even used in this way to reduce wrinkles on dead bodies. So, myrrh indicates that Jesus will one day die a significant death and that he heals. Myrrh was a gift that said: ‘Jesus will heal divisions through his death and bring peace.’

In these ways, at Epiphany, we try to understand again all that Jesus is and all he does for us. We make sure the penny has dropped, that everything about our faith has clicked into place, that we understand personally Jesus’ relationship with us. Our faith may start out with beliefs and ideas, but the epiphany comes when we realize that Jesus has something to do with us personally. So Epiphany is a time to connect Jesus with ourselves, in the here and now.


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