Saturday, January 28, 2012

All Age Homily for Candlemass

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

Christmas is over...
Time to switch off the fairy lights, put the crib away and return firmly to everyday life, as most of the world has long since done.
The star no longer shines from our church I wonder if our neighbours and friends will even notice the church in the days ahead.
You see, as our building has stood here for almost 175 years now, it's surprisingly easy to overlook it. On the whole, most people don't notice the landmarks of their locality unless something happens to bring them to life...or something happens to remove them from view altogether.
We know we're here but I wonder if our presence really makes a difference to our community.
Perhaps we need to put the lights on.

Yesterday I had a wonderful time showing a group of Y8 students from Wycliffe round the church, explaining something of what we're about here, and answering their questions.
They were very intrigued by the idea of the parish system – that we continue, as a church, to exist above all for the sake of those who DONT come here to worship, and they wanted to know about some of the ways in which we interact and serve our neighbourhood.
Once I got started, you'll be encouraged to know that it turned out to be quite a long list.
And that got me thinking.

You see, there's no point in worshipping Christ in the manger if we ignore him in the streets, no point in celebrating the coming of Light into the world, if we still choose to linger in darkness.
And in the weeks since Christmas day, there has been a fair bit of darkness in and around this community, as in the wider world.
The darkness of death – for a tiny baby, for a dear friend from this congregation, for a one-time homeless alcoholic, who, almost miraculously, died in his own bed, in his own home, with a good friend nearby.
The darkness of loneliness for some.
For others, the darkness of poverty, illness, fear

We can't do anything to take away that darkness, even for those whom we most love...but we can shine the light of Jesus on all those dark situations, and that's what today is about.

We carry our candles, fill the church with their light as a reminder that Christ the light HAS come into the world.
But when we leave this building, - that's when the light we carry must really begin to act.
It's the light of faith and the light of good works.....the things we believe and the ways in which they lead us to live a different kind of life.
Light to be kindled with the flame of love...our love for God and God's love for us.
Light to show up whatever is grubby or broken or sad...but light that also, gradually, pushes back the darkness so that it is as if it had never been there.

That's the light we are each given to carry
Light that shines through our own acts of kindness.
Light passed on to others in a kind of loving relay, just as when we light our candles here we send the flame from one to another til at last the whole place is full of warmth and beauty once again.

The whole place full of warmth and beauty.

That's quite a goal, - for us, and for our community.
But I truly believe this is the point of our being here.
We do need to put the lights so shine with the love of God that our friends and neighbours can't help but notice, and be drawn in their turn to warmth and beauty beyond anything that we could imagine or attain on our own.

Today Christmas is over – but the light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never put it out.
The light from the stable is indeed, as Simeon proclaimed, a light to show God to the nations, and to bring glory to God's people...
And that light is ours to carry into God's world every day of our lives, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An answered prayer

"Lord, redeem my foul-ups" is often a good prayer to have on your lips...and two weeks ago, when it seemed to me that said foul-ups were reaching hitherto undreamed of depths, I prayed it alot..and then some more!
You know that a week is going badly when the funeral for a still-born babe is not the hardest thing you have to cope with...but why I'm blogging now is because, most wonderfully, my fervent prayer was actually answered.

You see, two weeks ago I discovered that I had been living inside my very own version of the Christmas edition of Rev
In case you managed to miss this (honestly - the series is far too searingly close to the reality of clerical life to count as comedy - it's far closer to documentary, imho) , poor, wonderfully human Adam gets so seasonally harassed that he fails to visit an elderly parishioner - until it's too late.
In the week before Christmas I received a similar request - from someone who spends most of his life on the edge of society, having been homeless for a long time, and with most of the associated problems.
And being over busy, and rather nervous of the prospect of visiting a somewhat volatile guy and his housemate on their home turf, I tried to phone once, failed to get through, and moved on to the next item on the "seasonal busyness" list.

And, just as happened to Adam, I was shown the flaw in my prioritising when a very angry visitor at the vicarage informed me that his housemate was dead - and what sort of a sorry apology for a priest did I call myself anyway!
And of course he was right.
Fear prevented me from doing the right thing.
I took refuge in doing other things and let my needs trump those of the people I am here to serve.
So, I felt pretty wretched.

But the following day I was given another opportunity to respond - and got to a bedside in time.
And then, wonderfully, against all expectations, I found myself trusted to take J's funeral.

It happened yesterday.
Just a small gathering in church...a  handful of volunteers and clients of our local homeless project; a community police officer; a wonderfully warm and gentle funeral director; and a sober and dignified friend.
The flower printed cardboard coffin which had seemed (if I'm honest) just a wee bit naff in the catalogue was reassuringly, delightfully homely and beautiful in reality. You could imagine it sitting comfortably in an ordinary room...not claiming false dignity or pomp...
"I'm here..part of life's reality you know...And it can be surprisingly beautiful".
I found myself touching it and interacting with it in ways that I rarely do with those highly polished coffins that seem to be set on hiding the truth of the death that lies within.
Somehow the beautiful fragility of the coffin, that mirrored the fragility of the life that had ended - a life of hardship, alienation, struggle and, I believe, acceptance.

J had loved flowers - and the church was still beautiful with the flowers left from a far grander funeral last week, which made me smile.
I wept too, as J's best friend read some wonderful words that J himself had written reflecting on his life, his future and his hopes.
A member of the "Marah" family talked of his memories and read to us from The Message
We sang and we prayed and we sat in silence.
Some of the language I use for more conventional funerals just didn't find a place...but the right words came from somewhere.
And then we followed J across town to the beautiful hillside cemetery and it was somehow incredibly right to be there, to take it in turns to throw handfuls of rich dark earth onto the coffin, to listen as S told us more about his friend, to delight as the sun broke through the clouds and the birds began to sing, a fragile chorus that promised spring to come.

We left S settling down with a drink in the sun...I pray that he'll be alright in the days ahead. Yesterday, we stood on holy ground together.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Words for J

Today I'll take a funeral for J, someone whose life was harder than I can begin to imagine.
He had been homeless, cut off from his family, suffered great physical damage on his way through his best friend reminded me very forcefully that the word "sad" had no place in J's funeral. Taking other constraints into consideration too, I struggled to find the words.
I hope and pray that these may do.

Jesus said “Don't let your hearts be troubled”
Trust in God and trust in me.
There is plenty of room for you in my Father's home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I'm on my way to get your room ready, I'll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I'm taking."
Thomas said, "Master, we have no idea where you're going. How do you expect us to know the road?" Jesus said, "I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You've even seen him!"

Don't let your hearts be troubled

That's not something that comes naturally to most of us.
We do worry...about what's going on in our lives, about the mistakes we've made, and the way that we may have been hurt or may have hurt others,about the here and now and about what might happen next.
Like many of you, I'm sure J knew a great deal about the importance of being on the right road, of finding somewhere safe to spend the night and, I'm told, he worried about whether he would have a respectable death....
but you know, dying in his own bed, in his own home with a friend close by is pretty much as good as it gets.
That was one worry that turned out to be unnecessary...and J had learned, along the way, that he could trust God for most things.
He knew where he was going, and was sure that a welcome awaited him...
Trust in God and trust me
There is plenty of room for you in my Father's house
Room for all of us, no matter who we are, where we come from, what is going on in life....there is somewhere that we can always be sure of, a home where we really belong.
That's something to look forward to, - specially if things are difficult here and now.

I guess that at times we all struggle with the meaning of life, and wonder if actually there's any point to our being here.
But Jesus tells us that there is a way to find meaning...the way that he took, based on the selfless, self giving love that lead him to the cross só he could SHOW us just how much God loves us.
That's the love that surrounds us and holds us no matter what.
I wish I could say that knowing about God's love would make everything easy for everyone, every day – but that's not how it works.
Believing in God does not often change our physical situation, won't automatically lead to a charmed life, though it may gradually change how we cope when things are hard, what we do when things are good.
When we can't feel God's love, perhaps we can try to trust in it anyway – in the same way that we continue to believe that the sun is still there, even on a cold and cloudy day when we cannot feel its warmth.

You see, God's love ensures that nothing and nobody is ever lost or wasted.
God's love meets us on our darkest days and carries us through the darkness to a safe homecoming
God's love, shown in Jesus, clears the road ahead for us, supports us as we travel and, in the end, is there to welcome us, as today God welcomes J.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory, loved by God and precious in his sight.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Water into wine

Homily for 8.00 Epiphany 3

This Epiphany season is full of wonders...
We are invited to marvel at them in the liturgy for the feast itself, and then in the weeks that follow they are unfolded to us, one by one.
The star over the stable – proclaiming Christ's presence to the Magi
The voice at his Baptism – proclaiming his identity as God's beloved Son
And now the demonstration – of his ability to transform the ordinary, the workaday, into something amazing, full of joyous celebration.
Wonders that show us, and all humanity, something of the truth of God with us...
A birth story, a baptism and now a wedding

I have to say that, as one who spends a fair bit of time involved in the fine details of wedding arrangements, I find them very nerve wracking affairs.
So much seems to ride on the success of the day, there is such a longing for “perfection”, that honestly it seems impossible that any mortal couple could ever live up to their own hopes and dreams – let alone those of the bride's mother.
It's bad enough if the clouds gather, or the florist fails – but I would really really hate to be too close if the wine ran out.

But, of course, this is exactly what happens.
A wonderful day of celebration transformed in a moment into a day of shame.
Family honour at risk.
Despite the best planning, the many attempts to ensure perfection, a roomfull of guests is faced with the exciting choice of water or water.
Human resources have failed.
But luckily that bride and groom whose names we'll never know had the good sense to invite Jesus to be part of their celebration – and in doing so, had, against all their expectations, brought God directly to their marriage feast.
So, when all they could offer was water – Jesus intervened and turned it into wine – and not just supermarket plonk but the finest vintage ever tasted.
How did it happen? I can't help with the mechanics of the miracle, and sadly I don't know how to replicate it, but at the most basic level it happened because someone had the sense to ask for help....a useful reminder for all of us. God is waiting, longing to bless us – but too often we try to struggle on, claiming our independence even as we fall flat on our faces again and again.
The God who in Jesus took the ordinary things of life and made them extraordinary is the same God who takes ordinary people – you, me and the lady down the road – and blesses us to be signs of God's kingdom.
We are utterly ordinary, each one of us....nothing to recommend us, nothing to make anyone take a second glance
and yet.........and yet, we can and will be transformed by God, if we can only find the courage to ask God to work with us.
The water that we bring is blessed and transformed into that we too can be a sacramental sign of God's presence – for that is what the church is called to be.
In a little while we will, together, celebrate another Sacrament, another sign of that transforming presence with us as we share bread and wine and receive with it God's true self...the essence of God's life and self-giving love given to us to share.
Truly, this is the season of wonders, as we continue to celebrate God with us, - in the simple things of everyday, - in men and women, water, bread and wine.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Work in Progress

"Not what thou art, nor what thou hast been, but what thou willt be beholdest God in his mercy".

I first came across those wonderful words in my childhood, when reading Rumer Godden's "In this House of Brede", - a book I loved partly because its landscape was the familiar expanse of the Romney Marshes (Brede was only a few miles away from my home, though the Benedictine community of Godden's work existed only in her imagination), and partly because I guess that even then a part of me was drawn to the idea of making my relationship with God the basis of my whole occupation...
Whatever the reason, I read a borrowed copy again and again and fragments lodged, unbidden, in my memory, to surface unexpectedly when needed.
These words, which I later discovered in "The Cloud of Unknowing", are a regular source of comfort as I fall into the gap between aspiration and reality in ministry once again.
Goodness, did I need them this week!

You see, sometimes even when we try our best, parish clergy get things horribly wrong.
We sleep through alarms and arrive at church 2 minutes late for an early Mass at which we are presiding.
We make choices based on what seems to be the wisest course of action, only to discover later that we should have headed in the opposite direction.
We say "Yes" to requests from people we respect, and find ourselves up to our necks in impossible situations.
We try to love all the people whom we encounter in the community where God has placed us, but some of them, specially when under the influence of drugs, scare us so much that we don't really want to visit we don't, and then discover that it is actually too late.
We get tired and forget things that matter.
We get so overwhelmed by the urgent that the important slips past unattended to.
In other words, - we are relentlessly, irritatingly, human.

Being human has, for me, meant that the past week has been full of failures.
But in all the failures, I know that God hasn't given up on me, and that time and again God works to answer one of my most beloved, if not poetically satisfying prayers,
"Lord, redeem my foul-ups".

Even in a week like the one I've just lived through, I am confident that he does.

Monday, January 09, 2012

More about buildings

Commenting on the last post, Still Breathing said
"The building should be there to further God's Kingdom which, of course, includes worship but it is a tool rather than an end product. Having said that just being there can, in itself, further God's Kingdom by being a visible sign of His presence"
and to that I'd want to say a huge Amen.
My experience is, always, that this is one of the major benefits of having a church building at all - and it is why I remain determined that such buildings should always be open, even if that means that their contents are stripped right down, to ensure that nothing vital goes astray.
When I was living and worshipping in the rural North Cotswolds, it seemed very clear that if a church were to close, there would be a general feeling that God was moving out of the village.
In a more urban context, it's harder to defend the concentration of church buildings, - though I'd argue that there is still quite a strong sense of place in more working class communities, so that the closure of a church building might well be a real bereavement, even for those who rarely cross the threshold.
I don't see any easy solution. The buildings both hold us back and offer us unique opportunities to offer Christian hospitality, so I continue to love them and wish they would miraculously disappear (without any hurt to those who love them).
It's imponderable, really - but it seems to me that all church buildings run the risk that confronted Peter on the mountain of the Transfiguration - that because they are places where we sometimes encounter God, they become in some troubling way almost a substitute for the encounter.
I found that I'd written about this some years ago, while still a shiny new curate. I don't think I've found a solution I'd better head off to put the church to bed now.
Someone has to look after the building!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

What about the building?

In response to my earlier post "In defence of the Parish System" many, both on the blog and via other media, pointed out to me that what I was really celebrating was the opportunity to offer pastoral care -and the role of the church building in enabling and focussing that. 
Of course you are right...but oh, church buildings are represent so much complexity.

This year sees the 150th birthday of one of my churches, and the 175th of the other...
And of course there is much to celebrate as we look as those beloved buildings, and imagine all those faithful worshippers who filled the pews before us.
Of course, there's always the possibility that they were as beset with doubts and questions - and felt as dwarfed by the building of valley church (designed to seat 500, til they thankfull removed the gallery, bringing it down to a mere 300) - as their contemporary counterparts.
But somehow as we remember our predecessors in faith, they seem to acquire a patina of holiness that may actually have only tenuous roots in reality. 
We won't know the truth...and we don't actually need to.
All we know is that they kept those buildings weather proof, were, it seems, generous with both time and money (think of the number of commemorative gifts in any average English parish church!) - and handed on the buildings to the next generation, and the next....til they reached us.
Yes, there IS something to celebrate.

But there is, also, something to lament.
Neither congregation that I serve is huge or wealthy - and that, of course, means that taking our part in handing on the building in good repair can feel rather overwhelming.
Then there's the added bonus or burden of the particular artistic and architectural merit of Church on the Hill - which attracts visitors from far and wide and means that we really do have to take our responsibilities particularly seriously.
It's a lovely building, with amazing glass - but that in itself demands so much of our time and attention that it can be hard to hang on to the knowledge that the building exists to enable encounters with God.
The extraordinary fund-raising efforts, the welcome extended to endless parties of visitors, the beauty of the flower arrangements - all are pointless if we lose sight of that basic truth.
The church building exists for worship.
Full stop.
If caring for our buildings hinders our primary calling as Church - to love and serve God with all that is in us, and in loving and serving God to love and serve our neighbour - then we are in serious trouble.
If we can find money to maintain our building but not to give to those in need...

Well, you know all that.
So do I....but it's a constant challenge.
I want to celebrate these two church buildings as a symbol of God's presence in our community...
but I want to be able, too, to recognise God's presence in the lives of those who meet there week by week.

If I can't, if others can't - then, for all their beauty and all their heritage, those buildings are just a waste of space.
Let's pray that this year we can rightly celebrate the Church and the church both up hill and down dale.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Defending the parish system - part 1 in an occasional (maybe even sporadic) series

Yesterday evening I had a phonecall.
Nothing remotely unusual about that...even when I've not just sat down with a large drink...but this wasn't an absolutely standard request.

B. was phoning on behalf of his grandma, who had recently moved into the sheltered flats opposite valley church.
Today was the first anniversary of her husband's death, and she wanted to spend some time with her grandson in a quiet place, praying and remembering.
Would the church be open when he was free to take her, after work?

Of course, I said it would be no trouble at all to delay locking-up time, explained where the votive candles were, and we parted amicably.
Except that, by one of those weird quirks of fate, though I warned everyone who might normally be expected to lock up in a fit of enthusiasm, I'd forgotten that there was a plan afoot to begin to take down the Christmas stars this the message didn't go nearly far enough.
Thus, just as I got in from the evening dog-walk, the phone rang: B & his grandma were down at church, but the door was locked.
When I met them, they were both ridiculously, unnecessarily, grateful...telling me that I was much too kind, that they appreciated it so much, that they just needed somewhere special to remember.
And no matter how much I tried to assure them that they were simply using the church for its prime purpose - as a place for people to get close to God - they seemed to feel that there was something remarkable about my willingness to open the door on a stormy January evening.

But the point is, the building was THERE...and they knew who to contact to ensure access.
A long time ago, I wrote of another church, that the community who live and work around it recognised, in their ancient building with its open doors, a reminder of the God who always welcomes us, and another place that they could call home.
And I don't know how to begin to assess the value of that.

Monday, January 02, 2012

You live and learn

Once upon a time, when I was Readering in a rural benefice in the Cotswolds, I have to admit that I was distinctly sniffy about "C and E" worshippers.
They, of course, are those who attend their parish church regularly - once or twice a year..
Perhaps it's Christmas and Easter, or maybe Mothering Sunday and Remembrance, or even (randomly) Palm Sunday (because of the donkey??) and Christingle...
They probably describe themselves as ""C of E on forms, identify the church and its priest as "theirs" but otherwise ignore all that goes on there through most of the year.
From the lofty superiority of a Licensed Ministry I felt qualified to cast all sorts of nasturtiums at "people like that"...

Now, as a real live vicar, it's startling how different I feel.
As I stood shaking hands at the door after Midnight Mass I was (and am still) genuinely delighted at the number of people who joined us for worship that night.
Families I knew through weddings or funerals, faces familiar from dog walks in the park or conversations at the Co-op, people whom I'd never encountered inside the church before.. but all apparently feeling thoroughly welcome, even at home in their parish church.
Those who stopped to talk said that they felt that they'd been doing something important...had touched base with something of value
Some even emailed me to say so
We really enjoyed the Mass of the Nativity on Christmas eve  gave us the opportunity to reflect and we both left feeling really positive. 
Positive feedback! How often does THAT happen in parish life?

If the church exists to serve those who are not yet members, then the same is true a thousand-fold for the clergy. Living as we do in the kind of interesting times that throw the whole nature of the parish system into doubt, and recognising that there are only so many ways to configure the deck-chairs on the Titanic, it's hard to know what to do with this.
At present my parishes, even working together, are only able to pay a little less than 2/3 of the cost of my ministry (and that's before you even consider the 2 NSM curates who work with me here).
We may be growing in faith, hope and love (I truly believe we are), our links with the local schools are stronger and healthier than ever, and there is a general warmth towards the church in the wider community that I couldn't put a price on....BUT for all that, I'm often run ragged and spend way too much time knowing that I ought to be in several places at once...
I have to choose, every day, where to use my time and my energy
Do I try to build up the life of the church, recognising that most of my core congregation are a long way from embracing mission as anything beyond an invitation to "come and see"?
Or do I do what I can to nurture the green shoots that may be emerging tentatively in the wider community?
Do I spend more time in school or in hospital visiting?
Perhaps, if we had world enough and time, those "C and E" attenders might get round to visiting a little more often. Once a month, and they'd find themselves chairing the PCC!

But in the meantime, I hope there will be a place with open doors, a place that they can visit in search of holiness, a place where, however loosely, they feel they belong.
I'm SURE that's what we're for...

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Janus moment - looking forward, looking back.

Tea-time on New Year's Day (not that I need to eat tea - I probably never need to eat again after all that has been consumed during the 8 days of Christmas which have already passed).
Time to see if I can actually revive this blog, and make it once again something more than just a holding place for sermons (though I suspect that the days of regular reflective blogging have been and gone).
Time to look back on the delights of Christmas and forward to the hopes of 2012.

Christmas first...
One of the things that I've found most confusing since I became a notionally grown-up vicar here, almost 4 years ago, is the huge variation in numbers attending worship. We can dip to under 40 or suddenly find ourselves soaring into the 80s with no apparent trigger for either extreme. We normally have a larger congregation for "Together at Ten", our informal Eucharist (which we used to call "All Age" til it was pointed out that calling one particular service "All Age" implies that all ages are not really welcome at other times)...but beyond that, there's very little rationale that I've been able to grasp. 
Last Christmas, with snow and ice abounding, we were expecting tiny congregations - and were pleasantly surprised by the numbers, though startled that almost none of our "regulars" made it through the doors. Reflecting afterwards, I decided that if you come to church pretty much every week then there's much less incentive to turn out in bad conditions......whereas if you only ever do church on Christmas Eve, it may take rather more to keep you at home. Who knows?
This year came the great excitement of a queue - a genuine QUEUE of real people trying to get in for the Carol Service at church in the valley, and the joy of looking from the sanctuary at a church lit by their candles - and church on the hill was also crammed to the rafters.
In contrast, both Crib service and Midnight up the hill were very quiet: perhaps holding their carol service on 22nd, those "C & E" attenders had had their fix already, and decided that twice in 48 hours would be too much of a good thing, though down in the valley the numbers held up well on both Christmas Eve AND Christmas morning, and I was delighted that a large majority of those at Midnight Mass actually received Communion too.
Oh, such things are balm to a vicar's soul!
When I realised that our "exit chocolate" consumption had risen from 1 tin in 2008 to almost 3 in 2011, my joy was complete.

And then, I came home to snuggle by my own fire, with beloved family, pets, and a huge and wonderful pile of books. Of such treasures are Christmasses made.

But after a week of blissful suspended animation/hibernation today saw me back in vicaring mode, and wondering if anyone at all would brave worship on New Year's Day.
Another lovely surprise - many regulars, two families returning to have candles lit on the anniversary of their baptism, and a couple of complete newcomers who "just felt like starting the new year by coming to church".
After great deliberation and dithering, for various reasons that seemed good to me (and still do) we celebrated Epiphany. Bitter experience tells me that there is NO chance of families turning out for a midweek evening service, even if I could be certain of a goodly number of the older congregation (which I can't)...and it's far too lovely a feast to miss, - so it was out with the gold, frankincense and myrrh...the latter a wonderful surprise gift from someone who turned up at the vicarage one evening just before Christmas, offering me gifts that she had brought back from the Holy Land to enhance the worship of local churches. 
We talked about the way in which the best gifts reflected both the giver (these were expensive presents from wealthy men: travelling from Persia was not to be done on a limited budget) and the recipient...Wondered what on earth would prompt anyone to give such very strange presents to a newborn baby, and agreed that they would not have been appreciated by our very own resident baby, B, and thought about the clues that they offered to Jesus' true identity as priest, king and sacrifice.
Then we moved on to think about the gifts that we could bring to that reflected ourselves and our that He had given us, which we could use to serve others....
And thus we found ourselves making New Year resolutions on behalf of our church.
Ways in which we could become signs of God's love for and presence in our community
Gifts to reflect the Giver and the recipient.
And the list is terrifying - because it so clearly comes from the heart of God.

So.......2012 is to be the year of Youth Work.
How, I don't know....but at last the absence that has been troubling me seems to be making itself felt among a much wider circle.
Time, then, to listen even harder to God as we see how to take this forward.
Prayers and inspiration welcome - indeed, anxiously sought.

Resolutions collected and presented at the Offertory, we took ourselves outside to chalk the doors. 
What? you ask...
Listen and I'll explain (this is lifted from my text for this morning's worship...please don't mind)

The Wise men were, as you'll know  very surprised when they saw where the star had brought them….it didn’t look like the right sort of place for a baby King to be born and and there was nothing special about the man who led them inside and introduced them to his wife Mary and her little son.
But, when they saw Jesus, they knew that he was the one they had been looking for all along. 
They found God in that baby boy…and so they realised that they could find God in many unexpected places and many unexpected people. They learned to look for him not just by following a star, but by looking for the light of his love shining in other people….and they carried that light themselves.

And that’s where we come into the story.
The light of that star showed the wise men where Jesus would be found…and today Jesus is found among his people. That means us…both as individuals and as a church family.
Jesus is found in this place...and so we mark the door of our church and the doors of our homes as a reminder.
In an echo of the sign the Israelites marked on their lintels at the time of Passover, to ensure that the angle of death did not visit their homes, this sign on the door shows wise travellers that they will find Jesus inside.
20 C + M + B 12
We use the initials traditionally given to the wise men C(aspar), M(elchior), B(althazar), together with the date of this new year...
The letters can also represent a blessing on our homes
"Christus  Mansionem Benedicat"
and act as a reminder that that, transformed by our own encounters with God, we are to be signs of his presence in this community.
So, we pray
O God, you once used a star to show to all the world that Jesus is your Son. 
May the light of that star that once guided wise men to honour his birth, now guide us to recognize him also, to know you by faith, and to see you in each epiphany of our daily  life.
As the Wise Men once sought your brilliant light, O Lord, so may we seek to live and work in your splendour.

O God of Light, bless this house and this family. 
May this be a place of peace and health. 
May each member of this family cultivate the gifts and graces you have given us, dedicating our talents and works for the good of all.
Make this house a shelter in the storm and a haven of rest for all in need of your warmth and care. 
And when we go out from this place, may we never lose sight of that Epiphany star.
As we go about our work, our study, our play, keep us in its light and in your love.
May we be Christ's light in the world. Amen

Then I send everyone home with some chalk to mark their own door.....and the amazing thing, for me at least, is that this simple action transforms the vicarage front door into a constant reminder of God's presence - in the same way the the holy water stoup at the church door reconnects me with my baptism as I come and go there.
If I can remember Christ's presence whenever I leave or return to my home, 2012 should surely be a good year.