First Sunday of Epiphany

9th January 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7 

Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,

I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;

I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;

bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–

everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendour.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 8:14-17

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection 

Last week, Epiphany Sunday, we heard of the glory of God that rises above us when we are in darkness and which draws together the peoples of all nations along with the abundance that the earth has to offer. And we had the image of the star shining down over Bethlehem where God had become incarnate as a human child, attracting the attention and the worship of kings and the offering of gifts on such as scale as to unnerve the then Judean King, Herod. 

Today’s psalm looks to the natural world to describe the glory of God. This glory – this weightiness, this honourableness, this splendour, this abundance and dignity (recall how rich the Hebrew  word is) – is like the thunder of falling water, the breaking of cedar branches (think of the strength needed and the loud cracking noise), the liveliness of hills and calves, the energy of fire and storms! This description of glory sounds both energising and terrifying. Yet Isaiah also talks about the glory of God. He tells us that we humans are loved by God, that God knows us and calls us by name, and that he has made us for his glory! We should not underestimate how wonderful humanity can be, nor the the power of God’s presence. God knows how risky and dangerous and unpredictable life can be, and therefore God will always be there for us.

The ministry of John the Baptist was equally electrifying and terrifying. A figure standing out in the wilderness challenging people to reflect on the quality, the rightness of their lives, to be honest and own up to their failings, their greed, their apathy. His earnest desire was that they should not be going unprepared when the glory of God would appear in their midst. He doused those who were repentant with water to assure them that their past sins were expunged – but he also warned them of complacency. 

‘I may be washing your sins away, he said, but beware that  you do reform your lives, because there is one who is coming who will deal not in water but with fire! His will baptise with the Holy Spirit!’

The writer of the gospel then tells us of Jesus’s own baptism. The heavens break open and he is filled with the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven  You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

To be baptised with the Holy Spirit is to filled by – engulfed by – the glory of God. It is to experience that God know us and call us by name. It is to be empowered to live life as God’s children. 

The word Greek word translated as open also has the meaning of disclose which is a reminder to us that this is the season of Epiphany. Let us be willing this season to be open to the wonder – even the shock – of the glory of God that is being revealed to us. And to let that glory transform the way we respond both to God, to our neighbour and to the world around us. 

Marking Epiphany

Reflections and house blessing

Matthew’s Gospel portrays the Holy Family as living in Bethlehem in a house rather than travellers staying over for a few days –  in a stable or otherwise

Why are homes important? Think how we use the terms such as ‘coming home’ or ‘home-coming’, ‘make yourself at home’, ‘being at home with yourself’, ‘homely’ etc.

What makes a home a home? Is a home a particular house or can it be something more intangible?

In both Old and New Testaments God promises to dwell – to make his home – with his people.

Ex 29: 45 ‘I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.’

John 1: 14 ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

Rev 21:3 ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…’

To what extent are our homes places where God dwells?

Home Blessing: “A part of church history is the custom of blessing homes at the New Year. A family would hold a short service of prayer to ask God’s blessing on their dwellings and on all who live, work with and visit them. In this way, we invite Jesus to be a “guest” in our home, a listener to each conversation, a guide for troubled times, and a blessing in times of thanksgiving.

    “Chalking the door” or the door step may be used as a way to celebrate and literally “mark” the occasion. In the Old Testament the Israelites were told to mark their doors with the blood of the lamb on the night of the Passover to ensure that the angel of death would pass them by.  Deuteronomy says ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart … and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 9)

    Chalk is made of the substance of the earth and is used by teachers to instruct and by children to play. As the image of the chalk fades, we will remember the sign we have made and transfer it to our hearts and our habits.’

    From the (now former) worshipwell.org web page.

A traditional way of doing this is to write above the home’s entryway, 20 + C + M + B + 22 The letters C, M, B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.” 

Prayers

Reader: “Peace be to this house and: to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord.

All: Blessed be God forever.

Reader: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things come to be through him, and without him nothing came to be….. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3.14) 

Using chalk, write outside above or next to the front door:-

 20 + C + M + B + 22

All: Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may go out to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

May this home be glowing with warmth 

in the chill of winter

And a cooling shade 

in the heat of the summer sun,

May it be a place 

where one awakes with eagerness,

And a haven from stress, 

when the work of the day is done.

May God, our Mother, 

safely cradle this house in her strong arms,

And breathe the comfort of her love 

through every room.

May God, our Father, fire the minds 

of those who dwell here with hopeful dreams

And give them the strength 

to make those dreams come true.

May God, our Companion, 

fill this home with laughter

And weave a satisfying peace 

in times of solitude.

May the cupboards be forever full,

And the table spread with welcome cheer.

May friends come often through the door,

But yet the need for privacy 

be respected here.

May the wild beauty of God,

May the indwelling peace of God

May the surprising mystery of God

Inhabit this home.

Amen.

(Prayer by Jean Gaskin, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.91)