17th January 2021
Rev. Tom Mumford
I pray that I may speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
The Church year moves fast.
It felt like only yesterday, indeed it was only last month, that we were expecting the birth of Christ and blessing the baby Jesus’ crib. Only a fortnight ago did we celebrate the visitation of the Magi, or three wise men. And only
last week did we celebrate Christ’s baptism, marking the beginning of his public ministry. It’s commonly thought among scholars that Jesus’ public ministry began when he was around 30. And so what we’ve done, in less than 4 weeks, is essentially span 30 years of Jesus life. We’ve packed a lot in. But there’s a reason for this. This is the season of Epiphany, the season of revelation, the
season where we begin to understand who Jesus really is, and slowly but surely, what his presence among us reveals. So this passing of time is not a whistle stop tour through parts of Jesus life, so we can race on to Holy Week and Easter, but more a series of stepping stones, a series of events that show us how Jesus came to be seen and known.
And we do this by hearing stories.
On the Feast of the Epiphany, kicking off the season, we heard the story of the first Gentiles, the first non-Jewish people, the Magi, who got a sense of who Jesus is. The message here was that this person, this King, the King of all creation, God, born in a Manger, was not just here for a narrow religious group, but for the whole world. For every
person, of every place and every nation. On the Feast of Christ’s Baptism last week, we heard how John the Baptist pointed towards Jesus and revealed him to his followers as the Son of God. In this, he also pointed towards a baptism through which we, like Jesus, would also become
God’s children. It was here that the voice of God the Father was a revealed. A voice spoken from the heavens revealing who Jesus is, and that as Cheryl pointed out last week, speaks also to us.
‘You are my Son, you are my child, the beloved’ he says ‘in whom I am well pleased’ (and I don’t think this last part means he’s from Essex by the way…)
So what about this week? How is God revealed in Jesus in today’s reading? And what does this say to us right now?
Well, it might be useful to know that John’s preaching that we heard last week, John’s pointing to Jesus…well it worked. Immediately before our reading in John’s Gospel today, we hear that some of John the Baptists followers had joined Jesus, and had begun to follow him.
They then come across Philip who instantly seems to get who Jesus is, and tries to get that across also to his friend Nathaniel. Now, Nathaniel is a prickly sort of character. Sceptical, cynical. Not easily won over by Philip’s enthusiasm. You can see this in their interaction: ‘We have found him!’ Philip says. ‘It’s him, who Moses
wrote about, who we hear about in the Law and the Prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth!’ ‘Nazareth?! Are you kidding me?!’ Nathaniel says in a round about way. ‘Can anything good really come from Nazareth?!’
But despite his protestations, Nathaniel is either won over by the insistence of his friend, or was perhaps bored with nothing else to do. Whatever the case, he goes along to see. But what happens next totally confounds and transforms Nathaniel.
As Nathaniel and Philip are approaching, Jesus speaks to Nathaniel, knowingly. ‘Look who it is’ Jesus says. There’s a familiarity, yet Nathaniel hasn’t even got close to him at this point. Puzzled, Nathaniel responds ‘…Where do you know me from?’
Nathaniel feels seen and known. And then, someone who was seemingly about as sceptical as could be two minutes ago, does a 360 degree turn. Without so much as a few words passed between them, Nathaniel is not only seen, but he
also sees. ‘Rabbi, teacher, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’ – he adorns Christ with the highest honour. ‘You think so?’ Jesus responds. ‘You’ve seen nothing yet.’ And alluding to his death, resurrection and ascension, the full Epiphany or revelation of God
in Jesus Christ, promises a further and more beautiful revelation: ‘Truly I tell you, you shall see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
Now I don’t know about you, but I quite like Nathaniel. Perhaps because I see something of myself in him. Sure, Philip is the sort of person I’d like to be here, but I’m just a bit too suspicious, perhaps a bit too guarded, too cynical.
Really, I don’t like to suffer fools, and like my namesake ‘doubting Thomas’, and many others in the gospels, I like to reserve my excitement till I’ve seen a bit more of the evidence. But the challenge for types like me and Nathaniel, is that we can too often refuse to see God
in the world around us. Sometimes there are events in your life when it hits you between the eyes, sure, like it did for Nathaniel there – coming face to face with Jesus…well you’d hope it would.
But there are other times, times like we’re living in now, when the world seems so devoid of joy or beauty, that we can live our lives as if God has gone away… But of course this is nonsense. The God we believe in, the God we follow, is not far off, is
not separate, is not some distant bearded man on a cloud, but intimately a part of his creation. The God we believe in, the God we follow, is the source and sustainer of all life, he is in the breath we breath, the love we give, the love we receive.
And so he is there, he is here, with you, with us, right now. And so our task, particularly in this time, is to be vigilant, to be expectant, to see the inspirations of grace in the world around us, to see God breaking in, and to respond as Philip
did, and as Nathaniel came to do.
But during lockdown this is easier said than done. While we’re locked away, it can be easy to only look inward. We can end up only looking only inside our own head, or inside our own four walls. We can, if we’re not careful, become self-obsessed, anxious, withdrawn.
But there is another way. Just as on a cloudy day, there is still blue sky just behind them. So on days when it feels like God has gone away, we can be confident that he is still reaching out, overpouring into our lives. He’s still there.
And so our task, is to look out for signs of God’s Epiphany, of God’s revelation, as this season reminds us. It’s our task to see those signs for ourselves and for others and to point them out. This is what the three kings did, this is what John did, this is what Philip did and Nathaniel
went on to do. We can take heart in these stories. Because just as it is true with the story that sets all this in motion, the story of Christmas, so it is true now. God is not distant but near, God does not desert us when things get tough, but instead
comes to us, reveals himself even in the places where it seems the world is at its worst, where the world is at its darkest point. As the beginning of John’s Gospel, which we read to today says: ‘the light shines in the darkness, the darkness does not overcome it’
So where is it for you today? Where is God breaking through and overpouring into your life. Where is God present, offering you an opportunity to join in and greet him? Perhaps in the beauty of a sunset sky, perhaps in the laughter of a friend on the phone or on
FaceTime, perhaps it’s in the loving embrace of a household member or bubbled friend, perhaps in the grace of a Zoom Church Sunday service. Wherever God may be found, may his presence draw near and give you comfort, today and