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Epiphany – The Reverend Catriona Cumming

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Epiphany 2019

6 January 2019


They say that a preacher has two, maybe three sermons.

And every sermon they ever preach is a variation on those two or three.

At the heart of most of my sermons are these questions:

Who is Jesus?

What is Jesus like?

The whole of this season is essentially a time for the Church to ask these questions?

And added to this… And so what?

Om Christmas Eve I held the figure of Jesus – the bambino, in my arms, and took him to the crib in the Lady Chapel.

And this I know: though ‘his yoke may be easy, and his burthern light,’ to quote Matthew’s Gospel and evoke Handel, our Lord’s likeness is pretty heavy.

Holding a baby in your arms you are very aware of their weight. The solidity of them, and their fragility – both together.

You’re aware of their smell.

That new baby smell which binds them to their family, strong and fragile.

Jesus is small, and weighty, and fragile.

He, like all babies, is full of possibilities for the future, and yet his world is about the present – he is concerned with the business of growing, of becoming.

Jesus is present in the world.

He is engaged in the struggles of living a life which consumes all of who he is.

When I was in theological college we would describe times when we were doing ordinary stuff – reading the paper, doing the laundry, propping up the bar (I will leave you to imagine what I did most frequently), as being “incarnational”.

It was an ironic way of saying ‘I am avoiding doing all the things I should be doing like papers, or revision, by engaging in displacement activity, and it’s FINE, because I’m being “incarnational”.’

The incarnation is the fullness of God dwelling with us: God present in the whole of human existence, enlivening and enriching and transforming that existence so that all is holy – precious in God’s sight.

Jesus, present in the world, transforms each breath, and makes it holy.

Who is Jesus?

What is he like?

Jesus is something else.

It’s interesting to me that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel refers to Jesus at the beginning of this chapter by name.

But in the next eleven verses he is referred to as the child, the Messiah, and described as a ruler.

He is the subject of prophesy:

so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Jesus is light, and hope.

He is the focus of expectation, and the dreams of his people.

The light and hope this child personifies is strong enough to reach out into the darkness – to other nations, drawing wise men from far away.

It is extraordinary to think of the weight of those expectations and dreams, resting on this baby.

This afternoon, at Evensong, we will bring gifts to the bambino in the crib.

With those gifts we bring our own hopes and expectations, which we lay on Jesus, and our own ideas of how that hope will be realised.

But we also bring our doubts, and fears.

Who is Jesus?

What is he like?

It is said that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Underlying the Gospel passage is a sense of fear.

Herod, hearing the wise mens’ message is frightened – and all Jerusalem with him.

Jesus’ presence doesn’t merely inspire fear in the ruler, but in the whole city.

Because Jesus’ presence means something new is happening.


Something which we still fear.

If this baby was the signal of something new, then what does that mean for the rulers, and the ordinary people, of this city?

Of this world?

If the life and ministry of Jesus, if the incarnation tells us anything, it is that God does not, will not, operate within the confines, the norms of our politics and society.

God in Jesus will not be confined.

Jesus is honoured as a ruler – and yet will be seen as a rebel.

The Incarnation is described as a mystery.

In fact it is bewildering.

It is bewildering that the Creator of the stars of night should dwell with us, should come to us fully divine, and yet unable to hold his head up.

It is bewildering that one who inspires fear in kings and cities, draws wise men from afar, should be found in poverty.

It is bewildering that after 2000 years, we still find ourselves drawn to this child – despite not quite grasping what this means in this world, here and now.

When asked who Jesus is, and what he is like, a number of answers and images may spring to mind.

One is what we see now in the crib in the Lady Chapel: Jesus as a baby, weighty and fragile, arms outstretched, unable to lift his head.

Another is the cross: Jesus with his arms outstretched again, this time in pain and suffering.

One who is fully divine but unable to lift his head, apparently weak and helpless.

In neither case can we fully answer who Jesus is, and what he is like.

For this season though, I will hold in my mind the weight of the bambino.

The solidity and fragility of a child.

I will hold the thought that the baby Jesus, being, growing, was perfectly himself.

I will call to mind the concentration and determination it takes to be alive in this world, and remember that in Jesus God has been and remains present in the every day struggles, challenges, triumphs of each person’s life.

I will balance the hopes and fears I have for the year to come, with the hope that God is present, and is doing something new on a cosmic, and also at a personal, cellular level.

There was another question I asked right at the beginning of this sermon.

Who is Jesus?

What is Jesus like?

The whole of this season is essentially a time for the Church to ask these questions?

And added to this… And so what?

What does it mean for us, that our everyday existence has been shared by God?

What does it mean for us that the King of kings and Lord of lords lived as he did?

These questions do not have easy answers.

In a year of uncertainty, as we try to work out our place in the world, perhaps the Church can ponder these questions, and the hope we might bring to this city, this nation, this continent, this world.


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