We’ve journeyed from Christmas to Epiphany – 12 days that have taken us from shepherds to kings by way of a star. 12 days that remind us, yet again, of the enormity of the Incarnation, that moment when the world really was changed.
Just over a week ago, during the first services of the Christmas season, we heard one of our best loved passages of Scripture, St John’s revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation – in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Our Christmas celebrations began with a reminder that the truth about God is a revelation, that this is all about mystery; that it’s a truth we know in our hearts rather than our heads.
This morning, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, our focus is on sharing more widely the revelation that Jesus is God incarnate. That revelation is represented by the arrival of the Magi who have moved into our crib scene to give us a visual reminder. The essence of the revelation is spelled out to us in our reading from the letter to the Ephesians. The revelation this writer is referring to is of the mystery of God, the otherness of God, the inclusive nature of God.
This is the moment in the Christmas story when it is spelled out, more or less in words of one syllable, that the Incarnation is for all humanity, that, as St Paul said in the letter to the Galatians, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female… The mystery of God was revealed to and for the whole of humanity, without difference, without any kind of hierarchy, without comment. The Word didn’t become flesh as an end game; the word became flesh as a starting place, the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the relationship between God and humankind.
One of the tasks of this Cathedral is to share the story of the Good News with people who visit our building. Not just those who join us for worship, but the many people who come into this building, perhaps as part of their exploration of our city; people who come looking initially at what we have and who, in that pursuit, may discover something about who we are. Our challenge, I suggest, is for our visitors to both see and experience something of interest, something that touches them and makes a difference to their spiritual lives.
This is not just another venue on the tourist trail, it’s an active and living place of worship, a building whose primary purpose is to glorify God and to support people in their own journeys towards engagement with their God.
I like to observe people as they arrive in the building when there isn’t an act of worship underway. People find their way through the glass doors and they almost always are stopped in their tracks. Whatever they had anticipated, it’s not what they find here. The sheer scale and proportions of the building speak for themselves. People arrive at the West end and they can’t help but look up. At the moment, they see Mike Appleby’s sculpture – the star of Bethlehem leading to the crown of thorns, the baby in the manger who will within months be remembered as the Crucified and resurrected one. People stop because the physical surroundings cause them to stop, but I think it’s something more than that. People stop in their tracks because there is something intangible that they meet as soon as they come into this place. This is a place that seeks to say something by its very existence.
When those people orientate themselves, most of them then do one of two things. They may stop at the candle stands and light a candle, say a prayer, perhaps even sit for a time. Others wander around, looking at the art and the windows and the altars. Most of them will find their way to the painting of the Presence in the North Aisle here. Some people come specifically to see that painting. It’s a painting that tells us something about the Epiphany, tells us something about what the revelation of God is about in this place. The painting shows the grandeur of the building, it tells us something about the human response to God, the use of gifts and skills to create somewhere that speaks of something and someone far beyond itself. But it also speaks about the mystery of God, the God whom we encounter when we least expect it, the God who seeks us out even when we don’t think we’re looking in that direction.
The Presence reminds us that a part of our mission in this place is to find ways to say something about the revealed mystery of God, to be sure that we are alert to the possibilities that arise to share more than the glory of our building, but to point people towards the glory of God.
This morning’s reminder is that God is the God of all people – whoever and however they are. There is not a chosen elite, each of us is invited to make a choice – a choice to follow in the footsteps of the Magi, to travel this particular path alongside the earliest believers and disciples; to follow the light and the word, journeying towards our God, allowing ourselves to open our eyes and hearts to the revealed mystery that is told and explored within our Scriptures and in our lived experience.
The painting of the Presence has two points of focus. There is a strong and compelling light over the High Altar, a light that draws us to that place where the bread is taken and broken – for every one of us. And at the same time, our eyes are drawn to that place at the very back of the Cathedral where the Christ is fully present. Fully present for every one of us.
The daily celebration of the Eucharist in this place is a reminder of the offering of self that God makes to us. The bread and the wine are blessed and consecrated, they become for us something that is holy, our spiritual food and drink, the means of physical encounter with our Incarnate God.
At the same time, the moments of silence and reflection that we can find here enable us to access the God who is always present in this place, present in the beauty and the holiness, present in the Word and in that Word made flesh.
It’s easy for us to take this place for granted, to forget to look and to reflect because this is where we’ve made our spiritual home. And so I’d like to suggest that we each set ourselves an exercise over the coming weeks – to come into the building as though it were for the first time. To come into the building slowly and prayerfully and to allow ourselves to be drawn into the revealed truth that is in these very stones, the revealed truth that God offers to each of us.
Let’s allow ourselves to be drawn into that Presence, both at the altar and as we light a candle. Whether we identify with the shepherds or the Magi, our Incarnate God is waiting to greet us.