Message from Bishop Rachel, 9 January 2024

Published: Tuesday January 9, 2024

In these early days of  2024, I have enjoyed the beauty of creation whilst also being aware of the devastation of wind and earthquake, and storm and flood, not least within our diocese. Indeed, I’m sure that each of us has begun this year acutely aware of the pain and turbulence in our world, whether that be locally and in our own lives, or whether it is the horror of what is going on in Gaza and across Israel and Palestine, or in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Last week, I was struck by someone saying how they were beginning this new year feeling overwhelmed by everything in the news. Then in contrast that same day, someone else expressed how overwhelmed they were by their relentless ‘to do’ list and the ever-growing pile of administration as 2024 began. She said that she wished she had a New Year magic wand.

Well, there is no magic wand to remove the world’s pain and our engagement with it; and there is no magic wand to wave over all that needs to be done, however mundane; but there is the possibility within it all of lifting our eyes to the mystery of God so that we see differently. I am therefore grateful that the New Year ushers in the season of Epiphany, which invites us to do just that. We are invited to learn more about moving our eyes, hearts and minds between the looking down and the looking up and out. To see and sit with what is before us and around us, but to resist deluding ourselves that we have the whole picture or can ever be in control or can find simple solutions to everything.

Epiphany encourages me not to clutch at answers and solutions but to wonder more deeply and to look more intently because sometimes our ‘eyes down’ perspective will not enable us to live life in all its fullness. Our lack of curiosity, or our desire to run from that which is uncomfortable, or our assumptions and our unwillingness to look at things differently, sometimes means that we miss out on the rich abundance of God’s mysterious grace, mercy and love, even in places of pain.

I love the fact that in this season of Epiphany, our gospel readings nudge us from looking downwards at the dusty path of journey and the stuff of the earth to see differently. To look up to the mystery of a guiding star, and to see beyond the presenting face of a young child and the immediate sight, touch and smell of myrrh, gold and frankincense, to see our God, as child, king and priest destined to die and rise again. And then there comes the lifting of our eyes from the earthly water of the river Jordan or that poured into jars at a wedding, to look upwards to wonder at the mystical dove of the Holy Spirit descending, and the mystical work of God transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. And as we look up so too we look out to a vision for the future, which we inhabit in the present because of what God has done through Christ in the past.

For me, the films, stories, music and advertising so prevalent over Christmas confirmed people’s desire for mystery – whether it be the wondering about what might be out there in space; or the attraction of magic and mystical beings; or a fascination with sci-fi and fantasy. Yet, it seems to me that too often, as the Church and Christ’s followers, we fail to engage with this longing within people, and perhaps sometimes we are too ready with answers and propositions.

In this season of Epiphany, I pray that individually and together we will immerse ourselves in the pain and joy of the world and in its beauty and brokenness whilst ever more lifting our eyes to the mystery of God with a yearning to see more of God’s glory. May we hold fast to that big kingdom-of-God-vision, seeking to see even now where God’s justice, peace, hope and love are breaking in, and where heaven is touching earth, even in the darkness. Thank you for the many different ways you participate in this.

Our gospel reading on Sunday (John 1:43–51) includes those mysterious words of Christ about angels ascending and descending, resonating with Jacob’s dream hundreds of years before. The mess and beauty of this world is touched by heaven, and in the most fractured and broken places of our lives and world, the hope of God, whose kingdom is here and is coming, cannot be thwarted.

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory:
through Jesus Christ your son our Lord
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
(Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany)

With my thanks and prayers as you journey into 2024.

+ Rachel

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