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Related Bible reading(s): Matthew 2.1-12

The week in focus

From January 2021, we're offering three new resources, published each Thursday - helping you connect the Bible passages with what's happening in the world right now.

In touch

Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues.

Check-in

Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people.

Intercessions

Enabling us to pray for people and places most in need of our prayers each week.
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In touch: Find the light

The story of the Magi shows us that God’s guiding light persists in the darkness.

 

Context

At this time of the year there are always multiple attempts across the media to try and summarise the year just past. For 2020 the need to try and make sense, find hope and seize on signs of optimism has reached fever pitch. Finding a way to talk about a complicated year is fraught with difficulty. 2020 has been cloaked with darkness for so many of us that chinks of light are hard to see. But the picture is always complex, dark and light always coexist. Wednesday’s announcement of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine approval was given alongside further lockdowns, disruption to the start of the school term, and a major incident declared in Essex. Light and darkness knitted together in one day’s news.

 

Sermon ideas

  • The birth of a baby in 1st century Bethlehem also came at a time of social disruption and uncertainty. The politics of the day and order for people to return to register for a census in the town of their family meant the child ended up being born in a stable and placed in a makeshift cradle. Shortly after the Magi visit bearing their extravagant gifts, the family is forced to flee with their young child and seek asylum in Egypt to evade Herod’s execution order for all young boys. Darkness and light are woven together in the nativity story.

    And for us having just lived through 2020 and the characters who experienced first-hand the events of the 1st century nativity, the question of God’s plan hangs over it all. Where is God in the darkness? How do we find God’s light? What direction do we take? What are we looking for? What does it all mean?

    But the story of the Magi’s visit is all about persistent light. It’s a story that looks for the light. Even though they were clearly unsure about where the light would lead, the Magi followed the star until they found the child and despite the unexpected scene before them, they laid their gifts at the feet of the baby king and worshipped him. The star shone in the darkness of the night. The Magi looked for it, they scanned the dark skies and found it. Indeed, it was in the darkness that they found the light. Like us they had no idea of what would happen next, but the twists and turns in their story, the darkness of Herod’s regime don’t dim the light. The star is there, leading and directing, the Magi are required to keep following and trusting. In the darkness of 2020 and uncertainty of 2021 do we believe that God’s light still shines and leads?

  • Use a story such as this one about hope in the darkest hour to illustrate the idea of God stepping into the darkness.

  • I wonder if the characters inside the Epiphany story tried to make sense of it all, whether they mused about what was happening, I wonder if they felt confused by the twists and turns of the events they were experiencing. You could use an Ignatian style of prayerful wondering to help people get inside the story and think about the way God led and directed the Magi.

  • There are many stories of God’s light shining in the darkness of lockdown. Perhaps you can find one from this huge collection of hopeful stories to encourage others.

 

Questions for discussion

  • Have you experienced God’s light in 2020?
  • How do we follow God’s light like the Magi? what does that look like in our 21st Century lives?
  • You could also use some of the questions posed in the refection for further discussion: Where is God in the darkness? How do we find God’s light? What direction do we take? What are we looking for? What does it all mean?

Fiona Dorman is Education Officer at Bristol Cathedral.

  

Check-in

Uncertainty has filled the headlines this week, with unanswered questions such as when will we go back to school, all be vaccinated, and be able to hug our families again? With so little in life predictable, it can be difficult to find direction in life. How does the lack of certainty make you feel? Do you think the pandemic has taken away direction in your life? When do you think we’ll go back to school? When do you think life will get back to normal again?

The wise men in this week’s Gospel knew something of this uncertainty. While they wanted to worship Jesus, Herod wanted them to help find Jesus so he could harm him. How did they navigate this difficult situation and find direction in life? They looked for signs. The star guided them to Jesus, and the word of God warned them about Herod’s evil plans.

Life might be difficult, the next few months might be unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. Perhaps it won’t be stars that guide and give us direction in life, but the story of the wise men shows us that God never leaves us no matter how difficult the situation. When we pray, when we go to Church and encounter God, when we talk to trustworthy people – parents, guardians, teachers – these are all ways to try and seek direction and guidance for a life God would want us to lead. Perhaps you can try one or more of these things, and like the wise men, look for signs for how to navigate a difficult world.

Joe Allen is an undergraduate student studying Theology at the University of Exeter. The son of an Army Chaplain, he was born in Lancashire and has lived across the UK.

 

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