What can be learned from the wise men in the Christmas story? With hymns from Blackburn Cathedral along with inspirational songs by Carleen Anderson and Tessera.
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2,000 years ago, wise men followed a star on a journey to see
a child who'd been born in a stable.
It was a journey full of risk and uncertainty.
But their reward was to witness what we're celebrating here today at
Blackburn Cathedral - the revelation that God had become one of us.
Today, I find out what modern astronomy tells us
about the star the kings followed,
about the Festival of the Epiphany in the Orthodox Church,
and the Parable of the Prodigal Son as you've never seen it before.
Plus, hymns by our congregation
and performances by Carleen Anderson and Tessera.
Well, the turkey's finally been eaten,
the tinsel and baubles are about to be packed away,
and all you have left to do is to go back to the shop
and ask for a refund for Aunt Dorothy's present.
Christmas may be just about over,
but the real story is only just beginning.
We're marking Epiphany,
the day we celebrate the visit of the kings to the Christ child,
a scene magnificently depicted in our first hymn.
People have been studying the night sky for millennia.
And the wise men are traditionally said to have found
the infant Jesus by following a star.
I don't think the Magi were following a star specifically,
there was no sort of celestial sat nav that was leading them
by the hand across the deserts,
through Jerusalem, down to Bethlehem to the specific stable.
This wasn't required.
They were told by looking at the heavens that there was going
to be a new King of the Jews, and, of course, the goings on in
the heavens also indicated to them when this new king would be born.
And so, they then followed that message.
Is there any indications, scientifically,
that there really was a star?
If you read the Bible, you're trying now to date the birth of Jesus
and, of course, this happened after a taxation, you read in Luke, and
before the death of Herod, you read in Matthew,
and this gives you a sort of time window between 9 BC and about 4 BC.
And then you become an astronomer
and you start looking at the heavens in that time period to see
if there is anything going on up there
that might give the Magi a message.
There was this thing known as a triple conjunction of Jupiter
and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces,
so here you have two planets, wandering stars in those days,
coming together three times in one constellation.
We also see a bright comet and we see a new star,
and we see Jupiter getting close to Venus,
so there are quite a few things that people can argue about.
So, David, what sort of people were the Magi?
Well, we think that they were Zoroastrian priests whose job would
be to help the ruler of the country they lived in interpret what was
happening in the sky. In essence, they were astrologers.
Astrologers, not astronomers?
Well, in those days there was no such thing as astronomy, which is
trying to understand, in essence, the physics of what's going on up there.
Yeah. And also the movement of what's going on up there.
In the past, they were astrologers.
They were, in those days, convinced that what was happening
in the heavens did have a direct effect on our lives here on Earth.
Any ruler worth his salt, in those days,
would have had some wise men working for him
so they were helping the ruler decide when to invade another country
or when to go and pay homage to a new leader and all that sort of thing.
Is it important that we know the date of Jesus' birth?
Well, to me as a Christian, the answer to that is no.
I mean, it's important that Jesus was born, but much more important that he
was baptised, he ministered and he died on the cross for our sins.
The word epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning revelation or
manifestation. We celebrate the kings' visit to Jesus,
because it was through them
that Christ was first revealed to the world, but this isn't
the only Biblical event associated with the festival.
Jesus' first miracle was at the wedding at Cana
when he showed his divinity by turning water into wine.
Mary told Jesus that they'd run out of wine
and then instructed the servants to do whatever he asked.
I wonder what it must have been like for Mary all those centuries ago,
giving birth to a baby who'd be visited by kings
and then grow up later to perform miracles.
# What child is this
# Who lay to rest
# On Mary's lap is sleeping
# Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
# While shepherds watch are keeping
# This, this is Christ the King
# Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
# Haste, haste to bring him, Lord
# The babe, the son of Mary
# So bring him incense, gold and myrrh
# Come peasant king to own him
# The King of King's salvation brings
# Let loving hearts enthrone him
# O raise, raise a song on high
# The virgin sings a lullaby
# Joy, joy for Christ is born
# The babe, the son
# The holy one
# The babe, the son of Mary. #
That we may be worthy to be filled with
the sanctification as we receive...
'In Eastern churches, Epiphany is one of the most important
'feast days, though it's known by another name - Theophany.'
Let us pray to the Lord.
'Theophany is celebrated more in the Eastern Church than Christmas,
'because the beginning of the ministry of Christ,
'at his baptism, is considered by us
'to be fundamental to understanding our vocation as Christians.'
Now, of course, Christmas is important,
because it's the incarnation of the Word, the birth of Christ,
but the beginning of his ministry at his baptism, for us,
is a greater celebration.
# O, voice of the Father... #
'In church, on the Feast of Theophany,
'we have the water in the font and we bless it.
'We're using a very ancient prayer of a patriarchal Jerusalem,
'and we insert the cross three times into the water'
to bless the water and we sing a hymn appropriate for the feast,
and, after that, the water being blessed is then taken to
'people's homes and, in that way, people connect themselves to
'the baptism of Jesus and to the gift of the Holy Spirit.'
Icons are in important part of the Orthodox Church
and the Icon of Theophany is particularly special.
You see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and Christ in the waters,
and we see the hand of the Father proclaiming the Word,
"This is my beloved son."
It's important to me, cos we see Christ in his baptism,
the voice of the Father and the Holy Spirit descending on him
in the form of a dove.
This reveals to me, and to the whole world, a new life.
What's the significance of icons?
Well, as St John of Damascus says, "We paint what we have seen."
So, now God has taken on human flesh, we can depict him.
On the one hand, you could say they're important as
someone would have a picture of their Grandmother
and love it and adore it
and kiss their Grandmother who's departed.
On the other hand, it could be an encounter
with the eternal, with the divine.
Do you know who this is?
It's Archimedes sitting in his bath shouting, "Eureka!"
as he discovers the law of hydrostatics.
He had an epiphany, a flash of inspiration, if you like,
when he suddenly realised
and developed the mathematical principle that bears his name.
Today, the word epiphany means sudden insight or realisation,
just like Archimedes had as he sat in his bath.
Such moments can occur anywhere.
Not far from Blackburn Cathedral is the magnificent Pendle Hill.
Just 40 years after the famous witch trials that took place here,
a young Christian man named George Fox was walking on Pendle Hill
when he had what might be described as an epiphany.
George Fox is arguably the most important founder
and leader of the early Quaker movement.
He was born in 1624
and lived through the turmoil of the English Civil War period.
Like many people at the time, George Fox was dissatisfied with the
established church and was seeking a purer form of Christianity.
He'd already had an epiphany, in a sense.
He'd come to the conclusion that what mattered was
focusing on the workings of the Spirit within all people.
He'd already been travelling around areas of the North Midlands
and Yorkshire and preaching to people.
When he came to the Pendle Hill area, he felt the Lord calling him
to go up on the hill
and when he got there, he had a particular vision
of people to be gathered. He was looking to the North, actually,
and the early Quaker movement really started in that area of the country,
before it spread out across the whole of England and beyond.
It's always been important for Quakers to recognise that the
Spirit is available to all people and, therefore,
the possibility of an epiphany is always there.
Quaker worship is very much based on sitting quietly
and waiting for the Spirit to guide and transform us
and so, at any moment,
we might experience an epiphany that completely transforms our lives.
The three centuries after George Fox's epiphany on Pendle Hill,
Ray Lovegrove walked into a Quaker meeting one day
and had an epiphany of his own.
'When I was a young adolescent,
'I had the normal kind of problems that adolescents have.
'I was angry...'
and didn't know quite where to turn to
and I'd found an encyclopaedia with religions in it.
I started looking at them
and going along every week to see what they're all about.
I don't think I found Quakers under Q, I think
I found them under R for Religious Society of Friends and I went along
and, instantly, there was something different about them.
"..are striving towards a flourishing, just,
"and peaceful creation."
'I started going regularly to Quakers and, eventually,
'found myself with a copy of George Fox's journal.'
The most important thing that came through it for me
was the idea that you had this channel of communication
within you and all you have to do is give yourself space
and silence and open that corridor, if you like, to communicate with God.
I've read lots of other accounts of people having epiphany moments,
moments when their life's changed
and Quakers don't generally use the word, but I think it's quite
suitable to describe the change that that brought around in me.
Being a Quaker has effected me in all kinds of ways and it's made me
live as a Quaker really from when I get up in the morning to
when I go to bed at night.
I try to live as simple a life as I can.
I live by growing our own food.
Most of the things we eat on the table actually
come from our own garden.
I also dress very simply.
I dress in a way that many Quakers do around the world
and that reinforces to me, "I'm not just a Quaker at a meeting.
"I'm a Quaker when I'm feeding the chickens.
"I'm a Quaker when I'm digging the garden.
"I'm a Quaker when I'm cooking food." And that's important.
# All to Jesus
# I surrender
# All to him I freely give
# I will ever
# Love and trust him
# In his presence
# Daily live.
# To Jesus
# All to Jesus
# I surrender all
# I surrender, I surrender all
# I surrender all
# I surrender, I surrender all
# I surrender...
# I... I surrender...
# I surrender all
# I surrender all
# I surrender all. #
Last year, the Diocese of Blackburn hosted some visitors from afar
and they brought their wisdom with them.
'The Simply Living Mission Team is a group of young monks and nuns
'from the Solomon Islands.
'They've come a long way to share their message
'and have been accompanied on their journey by Brother Clark Berge.'
'We live and work in the Solomon Islands in Vanuatu,'
in the South Pacific, where it's really hot,
but the people are really warm too.
THEY CHANT IN OWN LANGUAGE
'To be a brother or a sister of a religious order is
'incredibly popular in the Solomon Islands.
'In the Church of Melanesia there must be, well,
'just shy of 1,000 and the average age would be 20 to 30.'
There was an old man...
Yes! Here I am!
'The Mission Team's programme includes their unique interpretation
'of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.'
..who had two sons.
Where are you from?
The island of...Solomon.
My name is Nathaniel Ru.
And I came from the Solomon Islands.
I joined the Living Mission Brotherhood,
um, at the age of 21 years.
'It is my first time out of my country.
'I've never met the young white people in my life.'
We just came to show other people how we live, how we worship,
and how we do things in Solomon.
It's for my hat!
Wear it on your leg, boy.
'The Mission is like the Magi that come from the East to visit'
the baby Jesus.
We've come from the Solomon Islands to England to show people that
Christ is in the midst of them and to worship him and to adore him and, in
a sense, to encourage them in their own life and their own ministry.
'Being on the Mission is, in a sense, what the Epiphany is about,
'showing forth the power of the Gospel to the whole world.'
Like the wise men...
teach us to seek you by desiring you
and let us find you in loving you
within the light of Christ...
..and the blessing of God Almighty.
May the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit sustain you in your search.
The kings worship the infant Christ and give him gifts of
gold, frankincense and myrrh. The words of our final hymn suggest
that we too bow down and worship him,
not with gold and incense, but with humility and obedience.
Next week, Bill meets artists inspired by
the beautiful Holy Island of Lindisfarne,
and sets the scene for some hearty hymn singing in the ancient
parish church with its intriguing brand-new stained glass window.
Plus, music from popular band Iona.
David Grant discovers what we can learn from the wise men in the Christmas story and introduces seasonal hymns from Blackburn Cathedral plus inspirational songs by Carleen Anderson and Tessera.