Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Today's gospel: "Who touched me?" (Mark 5:25-34)

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with crowds. They can be terrifying, but they can also be great reservoirs of energy. When we're with a lot of people, the push and shove becomes part of the big day out. 

That’s what it was like when Jesus came to town. 

I remember when I first read this story being struck by the irony of how Jesus looked around at the jostling crowd and asked, “Who touched me?” 

The disciples reacted predictably. But what we see clearly is that a supernatural encounter had taken place in which JESUS KNEW THE TOUCH OF FAITH. 

For me, the lady with the gynecological bleeding problem ranks among the greatest of the Bible’s heroes. 

Not only was she desperately sick. She was poor, having spent all her money on doctors “and was no better but rather grew worse.” Also, she would have been treated by society as “unclean” according to the law and custom of the day. So, she'd have been lonely as well as sick . . . in fact, an outcast. I'm sure there were times when she wished she could die. 

But she heard about Jesus . . . about his love, about how he was going around teaching, preaching and healing. What she heard awakened a spark of faith within her. And by faith she could just manage to see that her life could be different if only she got to Jesus. Surely he would do for her what he had done for so many others. 

She was determined to get to Jesus. But she had to avoid being noticed, because in her condition she could be stoned to death for touching anyone at all. She would have crawled on the ground, in the dirt, through the crowd, because that's where she had to be to reach the hem of his garment. 

And as she got closer she said to herself, “If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." 

Can't you imagine her repeating over and over again as she strained and reached out with every ounce of strength she had left, “If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." 

That affirmation of faith in Jesus was her strategy for battling discouragement. 

The lady in today’s Gospel did well with what she had.

What about us? What about OUR struggle to get to Jesus? Do we repeat affirmations of what Jesus can do, or the promises he has made, under our breath - or even out loud - when we are struggling? All too often we forget to keep on saying to ourselves the things we know to be true that will build up our faith, and before long we are crushed by discouragement.

Holding on to the promises of God n our darkest moments can actually be therapeutic, and help us rise above despair. 

IT HAPPENED! Against all the odds the lady–actually made it to Jesus, touched the hem of his garment, and the bleeding stopped. Her life was changed.

But she got more than she had bargained for. We have already said that Jesus felt a surge of healing power flow from him. In other words, it was REAL! It wasn’t “just symbolic", any more than the sacraments are “just symbolic"! Jesus wanted the lady to face him and acknowledge what had happened to her. No sneaking off anonymously as she probably wanted to do, and as we might well have done! Jesus turned around and said, “Who touched me?” 

She “fell down before him” in “fear and in trembling.” This is an interesting expression. It is used elsewhere of humility before God (cf 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5; Philippians 2:12). It indicates the lady's response of awe and gratitude. Jesus then addressed her affectionately as “daughter”, and told her to go in peace. He said to her, “Your faith has made you whole.” 

That is a really BIG expression in the original language, for it goes well beyond the physical healing of one ailment. It is about the totality of her life.

The important thing for us is to understand that when we gather as a church community, by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the outward and visible signs appointed by Jesus himself, we encounter him in as real a way as the lady in today's Gospel, and we receive his love and healing. So, in Holy Communion, in the sacrament of anointing, in the laying on of hands or when we go to confession we really encounter Jesus. If we believe that, we will be open to ALL the possibilities, including miracles.

In the Sacraments, Jesus is objectively present to share his life with us. We don’t “create” his presence by our faith. But, as with the lady in the Gospel, IT IS BY FAITH THAT WE DRAW ON THE BLESSINGS he has for us.

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole."

Praise God If everything is going well for you at the moment. But if like that lady you're as low as you can be, and you feel as if you're more or less dragging yourself along the ground through the dirt as she had to do, at least drag yourself in the direction of Jesus! And when you get yourself up to the altar for Holy Communion, draw on the healing power of his presence in a new and deep way by faith, believing his promises, whatever your deepest needs. The Lord loves you more than anyone else ever has, and he wants you to break through to him afresh by responding in your heart to his Word, and by touching the hem of his garment, expecting to be made whole. It might happen right away. It might take place over time. But that encounter with him is life-giving because Jesus is "the same, yesterday, today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8).

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole."

Monday, January 30, 2017

For the commemoration of Charles, King & Martyr

This icon of Charles, King and Martyr at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, was blessed at Evensong yesterday. 

Today at 12.30pm there will be a said Eucharist celebrated in the Chapel Royal for the commemoration of Charles the Martyr, according to the 1637 Scottish Prayer Book. The chalice and paten used with be those presented by his son to the Chapel. Entrance via Tennis Court Lane.

Here are links to useful articles on Charles, King and Martyr:

Here is the well known hymn by Dorothy Frances Gurney, 1858 -1932, usually sung to the tune Redhead No. 76 (English Hymnal 477):

Royal Charles, who chose to die
Rather than the Faith deny,
Forfeiting his kingly pride
For the sake of Jesu’s Bride;
Lovingly his praise we sing,
England’s martyr, England’s king. 

Mirror fair of courtesy,
Flower of wedded chastity,
Humble follower day by day,
Of the Church’s holy way;
Lovingly his praise we sing,
England’s martyr, England’s King.

All the way of death he trod
For the glory of his God,
And his dying dignity
Made a bright Epiphany;
Lovingly his praise we sing,
England’s martyr, England’s king.

Bless we God the Three in One,
For all faithful ’neath the sun,
For the faithful gone before,
And for those our country bore,
Chiefly him whose praise we sing,
England’s martyr, England’s King.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

St Thomas Aquinas' day

St Thomas Aquinas, painted by Carlo Crivelli in 1476 (in the National Gallery, London). Although he is often shown with a sun on his chest (a symbol of sacred learning), and a pen, in Crivelli ‘s painting he has a book instead. And he is holding a church with chipped masonry and plants growing out of the brickwork. But its spire has been repaired.

In the middle of the thirteenth century, an aristocratic southern Italian family had an ambitious plan for their son’s future. Thomas, born in 1225, was initially educated at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, which had been founded by St. Benedict. It was clear to Thomas’ parents that their son was focused in a special way on God, so they intended to use their influence to have him made Abbot of Monte Cassino, a position, they thought, fitting for the son of so noble a family.

Before that could happen, Thomas needed to complete his studies. His father sent him to the University of Naples. It was there that he came across members of the new, dynamic and unconventional order known as the Dominicans or Order of Preachers. They inspired him greatly, and much to the disappointment of his parents, Thomas, joined them. He grew quickly in holiness and the knowledge of God, being nurtured by St Albert the Great who was one of his teachers. Eventually, Thomas became professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Paris at the same time as Bonaventure, who belonged to the Franciscan order. 

Thomas died in 1274. He is recognised as a Doctor of the Church and as one of the most influential Christian teachers of all time, believing that all truth is God's, and that we should seek its integration. His teaching had a strong influence on the Counci of Trent. Known primarily for his philosophical writing in his multi volume “Summa”, Thomas also wrote commentaries on various books of the Bible. Yet in his time he was chiefly known as a man of prayer who deeply loved the Lord, and followed him. Indeed, he had famously written, “Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.” It is said that even Thomas’ philosophical study was drenched with prayer, and that this enabled him to discern what was wheat and what was chaff in the ideas of his time, and then integrate the wheat into the Christian tradition. In particular, he showed how much of the thinking of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, could be beneficial in the presentation of Christian theology, although his approach had its opponents.

Thomas died in 1274 while en route to the Ecumenical Council of Lyons. We celebrate his feast today.

There is something more to be shared if we are to really grasp the kind of person Thomas Aquinas was. He had filled thousands of pages with words about God, significant words and arguments that would light the way for waves of enquirers down through the centuries. Yet, before his death, he entered into what is sometimes called “his remarkable silence.” This has caused speculation as to whether Thomas might have had a stroke. But most commentators believe that he had a vision of God’s glory and love which transcended even the very best of what Thomas could write about him. Bishop Robert Barron says: 

“In Naples, on the feat of St Nicholas, December 6, 1273, Thomas was, according to his custom, celebrating Mass in the presence of his friend, Reginald. Something extraordinary happened during that Mass, for afterward Thomas broke the routine that had been his for the previous twenty years. According to one source, he ‘hung up his instruments of writing,’ refusing to work, to dictate, to write. When his socius encouraged him to continue, Thomas replied very simply that he could not. Afraid that his master had perhaps become mentally unbalanced, the younger man persisted until Thomas, with a mixture of impatience and resignation, finally replied, ‘Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me . . .’”

Here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ translation of St Thomas’ poem to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament:  ADORO TE DEVOTE

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight. Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cultural "relevance" and evangelisation

A great deal is said these days about the need for the Church to become more relevant to the world in which we live. We are often encouraged to embrace totally the culture around us in order to make ourselves attractive, especially to young people. We are told that more will then accept the Gospel message and become worshippers. At the very least, we are told that we will be spared the ridicule of our culture!

Now, it is obviously important for clergy and laity alike to connect with people around us in real friendship and genuine respect if we are to be of any use at all in loving the world back to God. At the same time, it is not possible to read the New Testament and avoid what the Lord himself said about the world (sometimes) hating his followers just as it hated him. This is surely part of what St Paul meant when he spoke of sharing in the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10 & Colossians 1:24). (Of course, I know that here’s no excuse for Christians, when in a minority, becoming bitter, twisted and hateful when the same Lord also told us to love our enemies and pray for them - a command conspicuously obeyed by countless generations of Christian martyrs at the very point of their death.)

There are times in history when this or that culture has been heavily influenced by the Gospel and the faith, and sometimes even solidly based on it. Don’t we all long for that to have been true for our time! Commenting on this, Fr Gavin Ashenden has recently been pointing out in the media how very powerful both secular humanism and militant Islam have become. Given the strength of each, Fr Ashenden chided the Anglican establishment for adapting itself to the role of chaplain to a decadent hedonistic culture, rather than taking a stand against the culture when required, in order to be faithful to the Lord and truly loving to those around us.

I think that there will always be some large churches. And what we have known for hundreds of years as a parish church may well continue into the future. But the nucleus of the church in this or that neighbourhood - whether meeting in an old church building or in somebody's house - is likely to be a smallish almost monastic like community of people who love the Lord and each other, who seek to build each other up for the challenge simply of worshipping, living and witnessing in the world, sanctifying their own little bit of it with their prayers. (Some readers will remember that Pope Benedict, when he was a young priest, spoke about that particular development in the West, and how it would make us all depend much more on the grace of God and not artificial "props". He also said that the Church will get through that period, writing in way similar to T.S. Eliot's words quoted in the previous blog post.)

For many years I have been interested in the writings of Robert Louis Wilken. Originally a Lutheran, he became a Roman Catholic in 1994. When he was Professor of History at the University of Virginia, he gave an interview about the lessons we can learn from the way in which the early Church impacted on the culture of the Mediterranean world. Dr Wilken challenges many of the cherished opinions of those who for decades have formulated church policies, including some still trying to adapt the Church to the 1960’s, as well as others who think the Church should conform its moral teaching to that of today’s secular West. 

Specifically, in Roman Redux in Christian History Vol. LVII, No.1, because Wilken views today’s evangelistic challenge as not very different to the one that faced the early Church, he asks whether the example of the early Church has anything to teach us in our witness to Christ in a post-Christian culture.
In the interview, Wilken talks about the role of apologetics, martyrdoms, and “everyday evangelism.” He then considers the ecclesial dimension of early Christianity - the tightly knit sense of loving community Christians shared together, and the strong leadership of the bishop as priest and teacher, the one who presided over the life of the community, assisted by his deacons and presbyters, with bishops of different regions working with one another, organising themselves across the Empire. Wilken points out that there are no real parallels to this among any other people in the ancient world.

Then, says Wilken, there were the Scriptures, which grounded the Christian gospel not in myth but in history. This was especially true with regard to the community’s central belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. The ancient world had stories of gods coming back to life and miraculous happenings. But to talk about such things as if they happened in real history was unparallelled. This is what set Christ and the Church apart. It was a belief Christians were willing to die for. And it was a belief Christians didn’t soft peddle. Furthermore, we know that those who tried to adapt the Gospel message to movements of thought inimical to Incarnational Christianity got short shrift from the Church as a whole. 

Wilken draws some fascinating lessons from the early Church for our consideration today. He points out that “witnessing” to the culture (and even “apologetics”) was basically an explanation of what Christians believed and practised. Justin Martyr, for example, simply gave an account of Christian worship, and talked about baptism. Wilken thinks that modern Christians should do the same: familiarise people with the Christian story, and talk about the things that make Christianity distinctive, on account of many people today being both unaware of the basics of the Christian Faith, and more curious than we give them credit for.

Wilken goes on to talk about the essence of evangelism and conversion:

“Apologetics then and now must speak what is true, but finally the appeal must be made to the heart, not the mind. We’re really leading people to change their love. To love something different. Love is what draws and holds people.”

This leads to the whole question of the tightly knit early Christian community of love:

“How did the early church build their community? It built a way of life. The Church was not something that spoke to its culture; it was itself a culture and created a new Christian culture. There were appointed times when the community came together. There was a distinctive calendar, and each year the community rehearsed key Christian beliefs at certain times. There was church-wide charity to the surrounding community. There was clarity, and church discipline regarding moral issues. All these things made up a wholesome community.”

In speaking of the community’s worship Wilken says:

“Did the church strive to be ‘user-friendly’? Not at all - in fact, just the opposite. One thing that made early Christian community especially strong was its stress on ritual. That there was something unique about Christian liturgy, especially the Eucharist. It was different from anything pagans had experienced, architecturally, and in terms of the various ingredients of the worship. Worship was something that baptism gave one the right to enter into. Prayers and hymns were taken out of the Bible, a book foreign to pagans. And then there was a sermon, an unusual feature in itself, with historically grounded talk of a dying and rising God. Pagans entered a wholly different world than they were used to. Furthermore, it was difficult to join the early church. Besides the social and cultural hurdles: the process for becoming a member took two years.”

Now, this runs counter to what many so-called experts tell us today. In fact, Wilken thinks that modern “user friendly” churches have a completely wrong strategy:

“A person who comes into a Christian church for the first time SHOULD feel out of place. He should feel this community engages in practices so important they take time to learn. The best thing we can do for “seekers” is to create an environment where newcomers feel they are missing something vital, that one has to be inculcated into this, and that it’s a discipline. Few people grasp that today. But the early church grasped it very well.”

This is an important point. So many churches expect every aspect of their worship to be intelligible to those showing up for the first time, when we would never expect to understand the cricket the first time we go to a match, or a code of football different to our own. But that doesn't stop the constant flow of new people becoming fans.  

All of that is very interesting. It certainly squares with my experience over nearly 40 years of ordained ministry. Genuine friendship and love in a parish community, together with clergy and laity alike being brave enough to bear personal witness to Christ at home and in the work place, draws people to the Lord. And I know that this happens even in some “traditional” parishes which, from the point of view of many modern “experts”, ought not be attracting newcomers at all! 

Long term readers of this blog know that I refrain from criticising other Christian traditions (except, maybe, on occasion, hopeless liberals!). So, I sincerely say “praise the Lord” for every person who is converted to Christ through “seeker friendly” services, “emergent” churches, “church plants”, evangelistic outreaches, “cafe churches”, Gospel rock music, or any other means. God uses all sorts of things to attract our attention. But the cogency of Dr Wilken’s argument remains. We should not be dumbing down worship and teaching, thinking that by doing so we will make it easier for people to believe (when very often it is those genuinely seeking God who we turn away!) Nor (as Fr Ashenden has pointed out) do we make ourselves or the Gospel more attractive or convincing by embracing the ethics (and bioethics!) or the relativity mindset of a culture that has discarded the Christian revelation. 

I finish today with an extract from a later article of Dr Wilken:

“At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life, the culture of the city of God, the Christian republic. This is not going to happen without a rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture. The unhappy fact is that the society in which we live is no longer neutral about Christianity. The United States would be a much less hospitable environment for the practice of the faith if all the marks of Christian culture were stripped from our public life and Christian behavior were tolerated only in restricted situations.

“If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Proclamation of Jesus

The Church of the Ascension, Lavender Hill

Two days ago I had the honour of celebrating and preaching at the Church of the Ascension, Lavender Hill (just near Clapham Junction in south London). It’s always inspiring to visit that parish (which has never NOT had the full Catholic Faith!), whether on a Sunday or for a weekday Mass. Lots of people of all age groups, faithfully worshipping, growing in the Lord, and reaching out to others!

The Gospel for the day was the call of the first apostles and the beginning of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God in the exact place where the “Davidic kingdom” had begun to fall apart around 740BC at the hands of the Assyrians who invaded the area of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. We noted that between then and 720 the local inhabitants were marched off into captivity (see 2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26). The complete crumbling of the Davidic kingdom took another century and a half - when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians, and the remaining tribes exiled between 597 and 581. 

Sunday’s first reading (Isaiah 8:23-9:3) foretold that the region first “brought into contempt”, would see the light of God’s salvation. Matthew’s Gospel emphasises Jesus fulfilling that prophecy near the start of his ministry. In other words, he announces the coming of God’s kingdom right where the Davidic kingdom had begun to crumble.

We also noted that the region was known as “Galilee of the Nations” or “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Vital trade routes passed through it, from Egypt and South Palestine to Damascus, as well as from the Mediterranean to the Far East. It had become a meeting place of cultures and peoples. There was a strong Gentile presence there, and Greek was widely spoken (as well as the indigenous Aramaic). Jesus begins preaching the coming of God’s Kingdom, not just where the old kingdom had begun to fall apart; but in a multi-ethnic region that was looked down on by the religious purists. 

It is here that Jesus calls his first disciples, two fishermen who, he says, are to be “fishers of men” with a vocation to draw others into the kingdom. We considered how the whole Church is “apostolic”, not just because it is built on the original apostles and has the “apostolic succession’’ (vital as those things are), but because the WHOLE Church, the “many-membered Body of Christ”, is sent into the world to continue the ministry of Jesus drawing men and women into the kingdom of his love. That means each of us, in our “ordinary” lives.

In thinking about the context in which WE are called - a sort of “post-Christian" society still boasting that it doesn’t need Jesus - we finished with a quote from T.S. Eliot, who prophetically understood both the difficulty of our witness to the Gospel in a crumbling civilisation, and the importance of our being faithful, whatever the cost:

The Universal Church is today 
more definitely set against the World 
than at any time since Pagan Rome. 
I do not mean that our times are particularly corrupt;
all times are corrupt. 
In spite of certain local appearances, 
Christianity is not and cannot be 
within measurable time, ‘official’. 
The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form 
a civilized but non-Christian mentality. 
The experiment will fail; 
but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; 
meanwhile redeeming the time: 
so that the Faith may be preserved alive 
through the dark ages before us; 
to renew and rebuild civilization, 
and save the World from suicide.

- T. S. Eliot, from Thoughts After Lambeth (1931)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

At All Saints' Twickenham

Today I had the joy of celebrating and preaching the Epiphany Mass at All Saints' Twickenham. Beautiful church building, friendly people, inspiring worship, and truly spectacular organ postlude. The Mass included Epiphany prayers at the Crib, the sung Proclamation of the date of Easter and other moveable feasts, as well as the blessing of chalk for the use of the people in dedicating the year to God by asking his blessing on their homes and on all who live, work or visit them there.

The Wise men Following the Star (John Keble)

John Keble, priest, theologian and poet, was born in 1792. He was a leading figure in the “Oxford Movement” (otherwise known as the “Catholic Revival”) in the Church of England, which Newman always regarded as having begun with Keble’s sermon in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on 14th July, 1833. He famously preached on “National Apostasy.” Keble was a fellow of Oriel, who in 1827 had published "The Christian Year", a popular volume of poems for Sundays and festivals. He was also Oxford’s Professor of Poetry from 1831 to 1841. 

Keble, Newman, Pusey and others published Ninety “Tracts for the Times”, hence the reference to them as “Tractarians.” They sought a spiritual revival by recalling the Church of England to its true Catholic heritage. Their followers became known as “Anglo-Catholics." They had a lasting influence on the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion. 

After 1841, Keble retired to his country vicarage in the village of Hursley, near Winchester. He wrote tracts and hymns. He was above all a devoted parish priest, who modeled the pastoral ministry for which the Catholic Revival was renowned. Keble famously said that if the Church of England collapsed, it would be found in his parish. He was at the same time shy and reserved, and forcefully strong-minded. He preached earnestly and affectionately. He was buried in the Churchyard at Hursley after his death in 1866. His wife Charlotte died a few weeks later and was buried with him. They had no children. Keble College, Oxford, was named in his honour when it was founded in 1869.

What follows is a semon Keble preached for the Feast of the Epiphany. It is from Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany by John Keble, published by James Parker & Co, Oxford, 1882.


“We have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

In all the history of our Lord’s manifestation on earth, and especially in the account of his childhood, there is a wonderful mixture of openness and reserve. There is a veil over the brightness of his presence, through which he allows himself to be seen occasionally only, and not by all sorts of persons, but by a few only of a particular class and character.

Thus, in his birth, how was the unspeakable dignity of the Son of God hidden and clouded over! His Mother, the wife of a poor carpenter of Nazareth; the chamber, a stable; the cradle, a manger: yet how wonderful the manifestation of his glory! Angels coming in brightness from the heavens to announce him — a thing which had never been known or thought of before, since, on the birthday of the world itself, “a the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 28:7)

Again, when he was circumcised, he seemed like one among many sinners, having need to be admitted into the Lord’s earthly family: but great indeed was the token of his majesty, in having his Name twice brought by an Angel from heaven; and that, the Name JESUS, which declared him the Saviour of the world. Then he was brought to the Temple, in the usual way, with simple offerings, as any poor man’s child might be: but he was received with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit of prophecy, so many hundred years silent in that place. Still, however, the Spirit was vouchsafed only to quiet and meek persons, and his message spoken of to those only who looked for redemption; even as before, his birth was made known to the shepherds only, watchfully doing their duty; and the secret of the name JESUS, brought from heaven, was known, as far as we can tell, only to S. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin.

The next event in our Lord’s childhood is the Epiphany, or visit of the wise men, which we commemorate this day. And here, surely, we may plainly perceive the same rule or law to have been kept. On the one hand, how clear and glorious the token from heaven! A new and wonderful star, appearing so far away, and inviting even gentiles to so great a distance, not merely to see, but even to worship him: on the other hand, when he is found, he is a meek and lowly babe, resting on his Mother’s knees, as any other child might do, in a poor cottage of a humble village. And the immediate consequence of their visit is, that he is forced to fly for his life; or rather his Mother and Joseph are forced to remove him by night, as if he were helpless, like all infants, and could do nothing for himself.

They worship Him, owning his Godhead : He flies, confessing Himself a true child of man, as we are.

Thus the Epiphany, like the other manifestations of our Lord, partly veils and partly discloses His glory.

As in those other instances also, the disclosure is made to persons of a certain character, and to those only. It is not hard to see what sort of mind thesewise men were in; ; how earnest, not only in obtaining what heavenly knowledge they could, but also in obeying what they knew. They lived in a country, and most likely belonged to a profession, in which the observation of the stars was great part of their daily business. And as the shepherds, when the Angel was sent to them, were watching over their flocks by night, that is, in the honest exercise of their daily calling ; so this star was ordered to meet the eyes of these men, so learned in the signs of the heavens. It seems in both cases to signify that God loves to visit, with His heavenly and spiritual blessings, those whom He sees diligent and conscientious in their daily duty.

Now the star was of course something extraordinary, something different from other stars, as indeed the whole course of this history shews it to have been. There can be little doubt that it was a glory, a miraculous appearance, sent from heaven for this very purpose. And it might be, the wise men had heard or read of that old prophecy, which mentions that a Star should one day rise out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17). For Balaam, who uttered that prophecy fourteen hundred years before, was himself one of the Wise men of the East, and his words might be known and remembered,especially as Moses bad set them down.

However, either by that prophecy, or in some other way, God had made known to these wise men, when they saw the star in the East, that it was a token of the birth of One, who should be King of the Jews, and they set out at once on their long journey to worship him. The length of the way did not keep them back, nor yet their having to go to Jerusalem, which was at that time thought little of among all the nations of the world. They were of a sort of persons renowned for their wisdom, yet they were not ashamed to ask for guidance of those who were least esteemed in the world, because they knew they were the people of God.

And God encouraged them: they-found the place which they sought. Herod, and the chief priests and scribes, enemies of our Lord, and designing to slay Him, told them, however, where to find him, and directed them to the old prophecy concerning Bethlehem. This was great encouragement: to find that the Scriptures of God, as interpreted by those whom God himself had made guardians and expounders of them, guided them onward, instead of checking and disappointing them. And it was still greater, even miraculous encouragement, when immediately on their setting out for Bethlehem, the star which they had seen in the East appeared again: and now it disappeared no more, till it “came and stood over where the young child was,” marking out the very cottage in which the Holy Saviour might be found.

Thus they could have no doubt: they were quite sure it was he whom they sought. They were as certain as the shepherds, when they had come there obedient to the voice of the angel. It moved them not at all that they saw but a little Child, resting on the bosom of a poor maiden, with an aged man waiting by. Their faith had brought them so far, under direction of their heavenly guide, and they were not now going to swerve from it, and begin indulging unbelieving thoughts. They fall down at once, and worship the young child, and offer him the very best that they have to give, the treasures and gifts which they had brought with them on purpose, “gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”

Having thus done, the wise men receive another warning from God in a dream, which way they should go home; a favour which shewed that he was graciously pleased to accept all they had done hitherto. And having come home, they lost not their faith, but, as ancient tradition relates, were ready to receive the preaching of the Gospel from S. Thomas, when he came into that country, some years after the ascension of our Lord. These wise men assisted that apostle in bearing witness to the Cross among their own countrymen in the East.

Such were the persons who were honoured by our Lord to be the second set of chosen witnesses, invited by miraculous guidance to see him in his childhood. Are we not, so far, all of us like them, in that, when children, we too have a sort of “star in the east” to guide us towards the cradle of our Lord? We are carried to Church, we are taught to pray, we learn more or less of Scripture words and histories: (S. Chrysostom, Homily vi. on Matthew 5). God gives us notice, in various ways, of that wonderful child, who was born at Bethlehem to be King of the Jews: various things happen, from time to time, which give us a sort of blind indistinct feeling, that there is within our reach, we know not how near us, a great and heavenly Being, could we but feel after him and find him.
How these notices and feelings, if they are indeed sent by the Most High, as the star was sent to the wise men, will guide us, more or less directly, to Jerusalem, that is, to the Holy Church of God, the city set on an hill which cannot be hid. We indeed are in that Church already, by the Almighty’s especial favour, ever since the moment of our Baptism. And still as we search after the truth, our thoughts are brought back to the same Church; and Providence teaches us, as the star guided the wise men, to go to Jerusalem, the Church and city of God, and ask where the Truth, that is, Christ, is to be found.

And the Church, like a gracious mother, will be ready at our need. She will guide us, as herself is guided, by Holy Scripture. She will send us to Bethlehem, because it is so written in the prophets: Bethlehem, which is, being interpreted, the House of Bread, and which therefore is an apt figure of the place where he gives himself to us, who is “the true Bread which cometh down from heaven, the Bread of God which giveth life unto the world.” (John 6:32,33) The Church, in short, being guided by the Scriptures, will send us to the Holy Communion, there to worship and receive Jesus Christ. What have we to do in this world, but to prepare ourselves, and follow that heavenly guidance? And we are so far rightly preparing ourselves, as we really from our heart are endeavouring to copy the wise men in their search for the new-born Saviour.

The wise men were ready to follow wherever God’s providence might lead them, however slight and even doubtful the notices of his will might be. They follow the star, not knowing whither it would take them, much as Abraham had done, from nearly the same country, two thousand years before. So ought it to be enough for us to know the next step in our journey, the next thing God would have us do, with something like tolerable certainty. One step before them, is as much as sinners in a troublous world should expect to see.

The wise men did not mind the trouble of their journey to find our Lord. Day after day they went on, and still the star, as it may appear, or at least some providential sign, shewed them they had still further to go; and they did not grow weary, nor turn back, nor say, “Why could not we as well have honoured the young Child at a distance, in the sight of God Who knows our hearts?”

This surely may reprove our indolence and want of faith, who are so seldom willing to leave our homes, and go ever so little way, there, where we are sure the young child is to be found, but rather put up with idle excuses, the more profane because they make a shew of respect, of God being in one place as much as in another, and of our being able to serve Him at home as acceptably as in Church.

Neither, again, did those wise men shrink from their long journey, nor fear to ask about our Lord,or to go where they heard he was, or to worship when they had found him, lest they should he wondered at, and thought strange, and pointed to, as wilfully and fancifully making themselves unlike other people. No such thought, it would appear, came at all into their minds: they just followed the star and the prophet, whether those who looked on derided them or no. Will it not be a good token of our faith, when we too make up our minds to obey the Church, and serve God as we best may, not regarding what kind of talk people may at first make about it?

I say, at first, because in no long time, if we let them alone, they will let us alone. It is but exercising a little courage and perseverance at first, and taking care not to disgrace our profession by wilful sin; and we shall quickly find leave from the world to serve God regularly in spite of her scorn.

Further, the wise men were not ashamed to acknowledge and honour Christ as especially present in a poor cottage, and as a young child: neither let us doubt, but take him at his word when he says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40); and again, “Whosoever shall receive one such little child in my Name, receiveth me” (Matthew 18:5). As ever we desire to find Christ truly in his Sacraments and his Scriptures, be it our care never to forget him in his poor, if we can relieve them; or in his little ones, if we can help them to continue his, at least by not doing or saying any thing to corrupt them in the way of bad example.

The wise men, being bidden by an Angel not to return to Herod, obeyed, and went back as they might some other way. They did not stumble at the command, though it might seem strange to find so sacred a person in danger, and his life made to depend on any thing they could do. They did not say, “How is this? that he should be the Son of God, and yet we must go out of our way to save his life from the tyrant?” But being bidden, at once, without objection, they obey the bidding. It will be a good sign when Christian persons, having found truth, shew themselves worthy of it, by the like obedience to plain commands, without asking questions.

Lastly, the wise men grudged not the holy child the best and most expensive gifts they could offer, though it were hard to see how some of them, at least, could be of any use to him. But they were full of adoring love, and a heart where love dwells cannot stop to consider the use of things. Does not this tell us something about our way of serving and honouring Christ in his Churches, and in all that appertains to them, especially in whatever belongs to the services of the Holy Communion? Ought it not to be all as handsome as we can make it? Ought we nicely to count the cost, or measure the good done, when we are bringing our offerings for such purposes? Are we used to do so, when we are bringing tokens of affection to those whom we most love and honour on earth? Did David so behave? or S. Mary Magdalene? or these wise men? or any of those whom the Bible mentions as honouring God and being honoured by him?

For indeed these wise men were greatly honoured by him; especially if, as was of old believed, they became afterwards disciples of his apostle, ministers and stewards of his mysteries. Think what a glorious ending, from a beginning in appearance so slight and seemingly accidental, as their observing a particular star, religiously taking it to be from God, and with all perseverance inquiring its import, and following after its course.

Let any Christian child, or poor person as ignorant as a child, only go on doing his best in silence, God for his part will most surely keep and perform his part of the promise. Let the star, the lesser light you have, guide you to Christ here, that you may after this life have the fruition of his glorious Godhead.

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The village of Hursley is very near Winchester. Today I drove a friend there to visit the church and John Keble’s grave. I’ve been there before. Each time I have found the church open, and although it’s not really a “shrine” - there is almost no Keble memorabilia on display, - it is a lovely house of prayer. Just being there, reflecting on the challenge that lay in front of the fathers of the Oxford Movement, together with the crises of our own time, it was natural to mumble the invocation “John Keble, pray for us”! Here are a couple of photos: