I know that journeying can be an overused metaphor when we talk about faith, but it seems a good one as we begin a new year and recall the visit of the Magi and the unfolding of the season of Epiphany.
I have done a lot of journeying recently – some of it good and some of it more challenging due to adverse weather conditions, train delays and unexpected incidents. I think a five-hour journey to travel from Down Ampney, near Cirencester, back to Gloucester in the mid-December snow might be something of a record; and for various reasons Guy and I experienced a lot of uncertainty in our travelling over the Christmas period. Amid it all we commented on the time we spent on Christmas Day with Iranian Christian brothers and sisters enjoying an English Christmas meal with generous friends at St Lawrence’s Barnwood. We reflected a little on the poignancy of their journey as asylum-seeking Persian Christians as we recalled the Christmas journeying of the Persian Magi seeking the Christ-child. All of it full of uncertainty and yet much faith.
As Guy and I and experienced frequent unexpected changes to travel plans with many hours of waiting, we repeatedly commented with thankfulness that at least we knew our destination and the warmth awaiting us. Furthermore, our longing for home and resolution was nothing compared to the many people across our world fleeing in fear, journeying with no sense of destination, and facing uncertainty regarding the future.
As we all venture forth into 2023, we are surely aware of much uncertainty regarding what lies ahead not least with so many national and global issues, the challenges facing the National Church, and all we are immersed in concerning the people and places of our local contexts. Perhaps some of it seems confusing and bewildering, yet let us not allow that to close our inner selves to holy mystery.
The very meaning of Epiphany challenges us to look beyond what seems to be, and to open our hearts and minds to the mysterious presence of God, and to yearn to see and hear the signs of God’s certain kingdom.
Every New Year’s Day, I remember that poem by Minnie Louise Haskins which was quoted by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast (it has been said that the late Queen Elizabeth II handed it to her father as a child):
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.
Amid all the knowns and unknowns of the coming year, let us not forget the certainty of our home in God, and may that certainty give us peace amidst anxiety and restlessness. Hundreds of years ago Augustine of Hippo famously wrote ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.’
I hope and pray that as we journey into 2023 we will marvel afresh at the journey of those restless, curious and faithful gift-bearing Magi who were utterly focused on following that mysterious star as they sought out the new-born King; and that we will keep our minds and hearts focused on the mystery and wonder of God’s certain love and forgiveness. It won’t remove all the pain, uncertainty or struggle, but it will free us to be joyful in the unchanging hope we have in Jesus Christ. My prayer is that we will be generous in living and sharing this transforming hope in our various contexts. It is a gift more precious than gold, frankincense and myrrh. May we carry it with us as we journey through the coming year.
Bishop Robert and I give thanks for the privilege of journeying with you in the months ahead.
With my thanks and prayers,