It’s rather sad when you take the Christmas decorations down. The twinkling lights around central London have been rather beautiful. And I love walking down our road and seeing the different displays people have. It lifts your spirits on a dark night.
Many people will take them down by tonight, twelfth night. Others will keep them up until Candlemas at the beginning of February, and many churches will keep their crib until then. Last year, quite a few people decided to go back to that old medieval custom. We were in lockdown, and it felt right to keep lights twinkling to get us through the dark days of January.
But eventually, they will all have to come down. The seasons of the Church’s year move on, and we return from our holidays to work, to school, to ordinary home life. Life returns to whatever normal is these days. The shepherds had to go back to their fields, Mary had to get used to being a mum, Joseph had to go back to the carpenters shop. We may have a variety of feelings: relief at getting back into a routine, wistfulness at not being able to spend much of the day in pyjamas eating chocolates, excitement or dread at what the new year holds, a desire to pull in our belts after all that feasting, anticipating the spring and summer.
So, just as we take a deep breath, the Church gives us a season to spice things up a bit. Epiphany, which lasts for four weeks. The revealing of Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one – to the wise men, then at his baptism, then as he calls his first disciples and in the fourth week of epiphany, performing his first miracle at Cana. The babe of Bethlehem is revealed as the saviour of the world. The reading used at Midnight Mass, John 1:9 says this ‘the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world’ – during Epiphany we see this happening.
And in today’s gospel Jesus is revealed as the true light to the cynical and scornful Nathanael. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? he scoffs in a rather urbane manner. Nazareth was an obscure little hill town, remote, and of no consequence. Not the sort of place that anyone expected the Messiah to come from. Nathanael’s friend Phillip invited him along to meet this Nazarene, Nathanael had an epiphany. His life changed through an intense personal encounter with Jesus, the light of the world. He went from cynic to disciple. The light pierced his dreariness and dryness.
As we hunker down in January in the coldness and greyness of a British winter, may God grant us all moments of epiphany. Let’s keep alert for those little twinkles of light, those moments of encounter with Jesus that will pierce our gloom.
May he shine as the true light in our lives in the year ahead.