Readings, prayers and reflections are available below.
CHRISTMAS I SUNDAY 27th DECEMBER 2020
O God who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we who know you now by faith, may at the last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
May we now bring to the Christ child our gifts of love and reverence.
As the Wise Men were led by a star to Bethlehem guide your pilgrim Church to worship in holiness and truth.
We pray for Christ Church School for all who will be teaching and learning in difficult circumstances this week.
Give wisdom to the rulers of this world and especially to Elizabeth our Queen.
Look with mercy on all whose journey through this world is hard and full of sorrow. We pray for the sick and especially for Mary Maxwell and Paul Evans.
Receive the souls of the departed into the Kingdom where all journeys end and all worship is fulfilled in glory. We pray for the soul of Alexander Rudelhof, recently dead.
One of the most beautiful Romanesque capitals in Autun cathedral in Burgundy is a carving depicting the Three Kings. I must have first seen it over forty years ago and I have never forgotten it. It shows the Three Kings apparently tucked up in bed together, like travellers in some medieval inn, but still wearing their crowns. An angel lightly touches the little finger of one of them and points to a star.
The Epiphany is about showings and manifestations. The Magi are important figures. That there were three is a late Western tradition born of there being three gifts. Their names date from the seventh century, Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar - names still much beloved in Middle Europe. Their presumed bodies have, appropriately enough, travelled too - from Constantinople to Milan and then from Milan to Cologne, where they rest today in the Cathedral, still wearing their crowns.
All sorts of customs have been associated with this feast. There was the "Bean King" in England, when on the night of the fifth of January the one who got the bean would be the king of the feast of the following day. In France bakeries will be full of Gallettes des Rois, the Epiphany cakes with their crowns (available in Hampstead at Pauls, of course). You must take great care when eating them for they contain a "bean", nowadays fashioned in ceramic. One of my teeth is chipped after an encounter with one in France a few years ago.
The Twelve days of Christmas end at Epiphany. The Forty Days of Christmas end at Candlemas. The decorations come down, although the evergreens were traditionally left up. The progression of the liturgical year was announced, the priest used to sing the dates of the moveable feasts, of Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension and Whitsun. In parts of Poland, and in the more extreme Anglo-Catholic Vicarages (usually renamed Presbyteries), chalk is blessed and the faithful write up the names of the Magi on or near the doors of their houses to welcome other travellers and to bless their own doing out and coming in.
It is a feast of journeys, both physical and spiritual. Two events in Christ's life are associated with the Epiphany season.; his baptism and the changing of water into wine.
The Eastern Orthodox throw a cross into seas and rivers and the young dive in to retrieve it. My friend the Rector of St Magnus the martyr, London Bridge, usually processes with some pomp to the middle of London Bridge and blesses and throws into the river a floral cross. I cannot imagine anyone being so foolish as to dive in after it. All this recalls that in going into the waters of Baptism Christ blesses thewater so that water might bless us. Creation is restored it its loveliness and freshness in contact with the Creator.
Later at Cana of Galilee that essential to all life, water, was ennobled into wine. This life is given not for survival but for abundance. Water is a necessity, wine is a luxury and celebration.
But we do not always live on the level of perception and experience .We know only too well how events can overtake us which can shatter our lives and the life of the our world. The doubts creep in hand in hand with the problems and the flatness of humdrum lives. The wineskins of celebration stand empty. The need for survival and expediency keep us locked up in limitations, admitting no messages of hope.
It is then that the journey of the Magi takes over again and we have to labour out, faithful to the vision and the promise, and perhaps in a strange way comforted by the complexities and questionings and the pain, which lead us relentlessly to seek for something more beyond our little lives.