The season of Epiphany continues and we are gently encouraged to pay attention these January days in this playful discourse between Nathaniel, Philip and Jesus In our Gospel reading today from John 1. 43-51 (Can anything good come out of Nazareth? well, Come and see!) The story moves quickly from the ordinary – sitting under a fig tree to the extraordinary, the Angels ascending and descending – a nod to the story of Jacob. The passage calls us to come and see, just as Nathaniel is encouraged to challenge his first statement, then Jesus, I saw you sitting there. He was noticed. It is no coincidence that we are reading passages during Epiphany which recognise Jesus as the Messiah. I wonder whether we are looking in the ordinary places and expecting a glimpse of the extraordinary? Are we looking this Epiphany for a glimpse of the Christ amongst us around us on in our natural environment perhaps. I wonder if we are able with everything else that is going on to look beyond the bad news. It was a sharp, crisp and clear morning the sky is streaked with gold and I know the light has come. It is a soft light at first as the Earth turns. Light clouds are immaculately turned out as if to welcome it, ruffled neatly in wave after wave of white on pale blue ready to be dispersed in a moment as the suns rays came upon them. The deep orange glow builds through the mountains illuminating, reflecting from cloud, lake and hillside. A hue Matched only by the oak and beach leaves that have stubbornly held on to their branches. It cannot be long before they finally fall this spring. As I run by a Tree Creeper seeks breakfast on one of their lakeside trunks. Across the lake a wistful mist rises as a lone swimmer cuts through the water ‘I am told’ it is around four degrees – she’ll not be in for long then. The swans leading last year’s signets have outdone her and are waiting for me as I arrive at the other end of the lake after what was for them a seemingly effortless journey. The light continues to brighten. A second light takes over now and as the orange glow fades and the earth turns on, a little ice clinging to the highest peaks as a plume of cloud springs up from their midst. The light is fuller encompassing all things as I return home through the trees. Only after all this does the sun itself make an appearance finally breaking the horizon and bringing a little warmth on its low January day. A bright morning helps to lift the spirits just as much as it helps to illuminate the day. An ordinary occurrence but truly extraordinary as well. Come and see. Here, today, we are anxious about our health and wellbeing and I wonder how much this stops us from seeing all this is going on around us as if nothing else mattered. The world is going about its business unmoved by our anxieties, they are typically human concerns. As we hear the discourse between Philip, Jesus and Nathaniel we see Jesus move the conversation on from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the outward seeing – Philip’s invitation to Come and See which leads to Jesus’s own, that inner seeing ‘I saw you under the Fig Tree’ which is much more profound an inner seeing moving from the gentle jibing that the reading began with to the heavens opened. I wonder, where do we look, and what do we take notice of? Where do we see those glimpses of the extraordinary even in these days. Are we prepared to see both outwardly and inwardly for the extraordinary amidst the ordinary concerns of life. It is clear we are not done being taught a lesson by nature, neither are we done trying to work our own way out of it, yet we are still called to turn aside, to come and see in the ordinary moments which may just turn out to be quite extraordinary as we live through them.
What is it that we seek? A brief moment of sublime beauty would be enough. It might be in the reactions of others, it might simply be a reaction to the world around us doing what it does and the fact that we call it beautiful is to do with our reactions to it, whatever stirs our heart or warms our soul. What then is it? Definition is difficult, but there is something to be said about a moment of gentleness when what we see or feel or hear comes together in a special harmony as if the world itself is singing just for us. Best of all these moments come upon us unexpectedly when we are not looking for them, all we can do is stop and try to take them in. Sometimes if we are very lucky we are just in their path. A Narnian moment, out running in the hills. Running familiar paths, up a steep incline through the wooded hills. The sun was late to rise, as is it’s wont at this time of the year. Solar powered, I rose with it, but today it was well timed. I came out from under the trees into what seemed like a gateway to a different world. No lamp-post, but a familiar clearing at the top of a waterfall cascading down. Somewhere I’ve been many times and been glad to arrive at the top of the steep incline, but today just high enough for the snow to begin to blend into the path ahead of me. The trees and rocks on the steep cliff above reflect back the glistening morning sun in their shroud of snow. I hadn’t noticed until now, there were no clouds in the sky at all, not one. The low sun glows orange onto the blue-white, enough to make me stop in my tracks. At these moments I always think about a camera, but somehow the moments are better without as you get them to yourself allowing time to reflect rather than to desperately capture the moment. From then on the run changed from exercise into something else, magical, spiritual, special, whatever, it was shared with the rabbits, the squirrels and the birds following their ghosts in footsteps in the snow as they danced along the path. Rabbit footprints run ahead of me, tumble into each other, then chase off into the trees. Fistfuls of snow at the end of high branches are lit up by the shining sun as if early blossom has burst its colour into the scene. I stopped to listen to the sound of silence, almost no sound, save for the occasional branch relieving itself of snow. The crisp white blanket insulating, soaking up the sounds so that everything was muted into a depth of quiet. On the edge of hearing a low breath sound of nature itself. At times like this, away from news, media, and the rest of the world it is easy to believe there is nothing wrong. And I’d like to say, into that cacophony of noise that there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just that we – humans are finding it difficult to listen and pay attention in adapting to our new environment, be that with a pandemic, or more concerning climate change. We’re finding out what nature is like. But nature too, can bring us back to ourselves, we only need to pay attention and look out for those moments around us.
The Word became Wisdom and lived among us : but foolishly we missed its simplicity. So the Word became Light and lived among us : but we smothered its flame. Then Word became Truth and lived among us : but we disbelieved its sincerity. And the Word became Hope and lived among us : but we scorned its optimism. So the Word became Patience and lived among us : but we chased it away in our anxiety. Then the Word became Peace and lived among us : but we trampled on its careful footsteps. And the Word became Strength and lived among us : but we were caught out in our weakness. So the Word became Understanding and lived among us : but we misunderstood in our haste to know. Then the Word became Kindness and lived among us : but we exploited its openness. And when the Word became Generosity and lived among us : we abused its hospitality. So the Word became Self control and lived among us : but we mocked its prudence. Then the Word became Goodness and lived among us : but we become lost in complacency. And the Word became Humility and lived among us : but we were puffed up on our own ego. So the Word became Gentleness and lived among us : but we refused to be tender. And when the Word became Love and lived among us : we rejected it in anger.
So the Word became Flesh full of Wisdom and Light and Truth and Hope and Patience and Peace and Strength and Understanding and Kindness and Generosity and Self control and Humility and Goodness and Gentleness and Love:
And; Cradled in its warmth, welcoming its insight, captivated by its brightness, Revelling in its honesty, Engaged with its vision, Waiting with diligence, Dwelling within its boundaries. Supported in its embrace, Cherishing its knowledge, Partnered in its friendship, Gifted with abundance, Recognising our abandon, Humbled by its letting go, Receiving its mercy and Held in its compassion: We might glimpse its glory.
Can we? I mean really understand, ever this mystical knowing? Is it possible to expand our imaginations a little from John’s theological account of the Christ and the nativity of Jesus pared down to an incarnate phrase? Can we go a little further into the mystery to understand what it might mean for the ‘Word’ to be ‘flesh’ amongst us? And perhaps then recognise the incarnation when it comes.