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Light for Our Darkness

On the fourth Sunday of Epiphany, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, reflects on the areas of light and darkness in our lives.

On the fourth Sunday in Epiphany, and looking ahead to Candlemas, The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev. Dr. Barry Morgan, in the week he steps down as the longest serving Archbishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, reflects on navigating the areas of light and darkness in our lives. The live service from the City Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, Cardiff, is led by the Rev. Canon Dr. Sarah Rowland Jones. David Michael Leggett directs the Cardiff Ardwyn Singers, accompanied on the organ by Janice Ball. Music includes Christ Is the World's True Light (Nun Danket); Longing for Light, We Wait in Darkness (Farrell); Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies (Heathlands); Gladsome Light by Louis Bourgeois and Stanford's Nunc Dimittis in C. Producer: Karen Walker.

38 minutes


Please note:
This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

BBC Radio 4. On the Sunday before his retirement the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Dr. Barry Morgan, is the preacher now on Sunday Worship  live from the City Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Cardiff.  The service is led by the Revd Canon Dr Sarah Rowland Jones.

Good morning and welcome to St John‘s, built in the twelfth century to serve Cardiff’s castle, and still the city’s civic church, declaring the redeeming presence of Jesus Christ at the heart of the Welsh capital. The showing forth of Jesus as the Messiah is at the heart of the season of Epiphany, which concludes on Thursday with Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
The recognition of Jesus Christ as light shining in the world’s darkness is both today’s theme and the subject of our opening hymn, Christ whose glory fills the skies.    


ITEM 3 COLLECT (Epiphany 4) 
Let us pray: Creator God,
who in the beginning
commanded the light to shine out of darkness:
we pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief,
shine into the hearts of all your people,
and reveal the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen   I
Anthem – O GLADSOME LIGHT    Louis Bourgeois

Louis Bourgeois’ anthem, O Gladsome light. Our choir this morning is the Cardiff Ardwyn Singers.
Our first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, reflects on how Jesus Christ’s sharing in the challenges of being human makes him a fitting Saviour.    

[Heb 2:14-18]

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, [Jesus] he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
This is the word of the Lord
R. Thanks be to God. 
And so we express our worship, in Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Give to our God immortal praise’ to a setting by Christopher Norton.

Give to our God immortal praise

Our reading from St. Luke chapter 2, tells us what happened when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple, 40 days after his birth; following which Archbishop Barry Morgan shares his reflections. 


When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought the child Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.  Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
This is Word of the Lord   R. Thanks be to God.


I once remember, as a curate, trying to explain the significance of the person of Jesus to a church full of children.  Dredging up all the educational insights I had ever been given, I told them the story of Capt Lawrence Oates, one of the people who accompanied Scott to the South Pole, only to discover that they had been beaten in the attempt by a Norwegian team.
Full of disappointment, they began their journey home through snow and wind and temperatures far below zero.  There were five originally on the expedition but one had died – and the remaining four were not able to travel quickly because in addition to the weather, one of the company, Lawrence Oates, was suffering from severe frostbite.
Oates, realising that they would never reach the depot where they had left food and fuel, going at his slow place, tried to persuade his companions to leave him.  They refused.  One night when there was a raging blizzard outside, Oates crept out of his tent, never to be seen again.  He gave up his life in order that others might have a chance to live.
And then having told the children that story about sacrifice, I used it to talk about the sacrifice of Jesus and the way He gave His life in the service of God and His fellow human beings.
But of course the sacrifice of Jesus is different from the sacrifice of Oates or any other human being who lays down his life for his friends noble as that is, because of who Jesus was and is.
What Christians claim about Jesus is that in Him God was at work in a unique way – that the action of Jesus was the action of God and that therefore any human parallels can only work up to a point.  God was at work in the life and death of Jesus in a way that He has not been and is not at work in the life of any other human being and in as full a way as it is possible for God to be at work in a human life.  God in Jesus Christ has shared our humanity and become one of us.  He is the human face of God and He reveals to us God’s nature and essence.
In the words of Simeon, just read to us from the Gospel of Luke, “Jesus is a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel”.  Or as the Gospel of John says “He is the light of the world”.  But if that is really the case, why does Simeon go on to say that Jesus will cause some to fall and others to rise?  But is not that what happens when people and objects are exposed to light?  Light shows things as they really are – the dirt and the dust are made visible.    So too the light and goodness of Jesus showed up and shows up the darkness of those who did not and do not want to live in His light. 
The artist John Piper captures it all in one of the windows at Coventry Cathedral, where he portrays Jesus as light breaking into the world.  Whilst the periphery of the stained glass window is dark, the central figure, Jesus, is portrayed in beautifully clear and dazzling stained glass but the darkness around the edges remains. 
How then is Jesus God’s light to our world?  It is because of His compassion and acceptance of all kinds of people in the gospels since He believed compassion was God’s defining characteristic towards humanity.  Why should anyone object to that?  It was because the religious authorities of His time regarded God’s chief characteristic as holiness, based on the Book of Leviticus, which said people should reflect God’s holiness, and so it was their task to protect that holiness.  
Holiness meant having nothing to do with anything that was regarded as unclean or impure.  Tax collectors were to be avoided because they did so on behalf of a foreign power – seen as impure.  People who were sick were seen as unclean because the terribly twisted common belief was that their wrongdoing was responsible for their sickness.  The poor were regarded as impure because wealth was seen as a blessing from God.  Men were [apparently] seen as more pure than women because of menstruation and child-bearing. 
Jesus turned this system on its head by touching and mixing with all those regarded as impure and unclean – lepers and haemorrhaging women, tax collectors and sinners.  He ate with all kinds of people, women included, where sharing a meal was regarded as a sign of acceptance and welcome.  He told stories such as the Good Samaritan that were critical of the purity system.  The priest and Levite ignored the injured man because contact with death or illness was seen as a source of impurity, whereas the Samaritan, regarded by Jewish society as belonging to an impure race acted compassionately towards the man on the Jericho road. 
So too the father of the prodigal runs out to greet his son – something no Jewish father would have done because the son had put himself beyond respectable society by demanding his share of his inheritance before his father’s death, had squandered it all in riotous living and ended up looking after pigs so making himself impure for a multiplicity of reasons.  None of that mattered, Jesus said, to a God whose nature was that of forgiveness and mercy.


Those words of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, to a setting by Stanford, expressed his joy at seeing the Messiah, whose light still shines in every darkness.
Given the often-subversive nature of God’s redeeming love, no wonder Jesus made enemies amongst those with a vested interest in defending the status quo.  The poor, the marginalised, and the excluded on the other hand, rejoiced in His acceptance of them. 
We, too, live in a world where some show hatred towards those who do not live pure lives as defined by them.  And this lack of tolerance of anyone who departs even slightly from the established norms seems in danger of becoming more rather than less fashionable as a way of thinking, as intolerance is met with further intolerance, hatred with hatred, and fear with ever deepening fear.
But the Epistle of John says that in Jesus, as in God, there is no darkness at all “for He is full of compassion and mercy and of great goodness because He is the father of light”.  But it is also possible to believe in a compassionate God whilst failing to act compassionately ourselves.  It is all too easy to hurry past the homeless on our street corners without a second glance or to shut our ears to pleas for money to help the hungry or refugees on the grounds that there are too many of them.  It is easy to choose darkness rather than light without really realising it.
The truth is that even though at times we may slip into darkness and do things of which we are later ashamed, or fail to do things we know we ought to do, we know deep down that it is light and compassion that run with the grain of the universe because the stories that really touch our hearts are not stories of brutal killings, racial abuse or our inhumanity to one another.
Rather they are stories of love, forgiveness and compassion – a mother who forgives her son’s killer; a person who saves a stranger from the raging sea; a simple hug or a meal left on the doorstep for someone who has been bereaved; money given to relieve hunger or a bed offered to a refugee, and quiet unheralded acts of compassion towards the homeless shown by workers in one shop over Christmas in the city of Llandaff, where I live, who clothed and fed someone sleeping in their doorway, when others would have called the police to have him removed.     
And we are touched because we know in the end that those are the values that really matter and the resurrection of Jesus, who mixed with so-called undesirables and sinners, offering them the hand of friendship, is actually God’s endorsement that this is the only way to live and love because they are the values of His kingdom and will ultimately win out.

Longing for light, we wait in darkness, Longing for truth we turn to you.  Bernadette Farrell’s hymn expresses our yearning      

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.

Sarah:  Let us pray to the Father through Christ who is our light and life.

PETER: Father, your Christ is acclaimed as the glory of Israel:
look in mercy on your Church, sharing his light.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

RHIAN: Father, your Christ in his temple brings judgement on the world:
look in mercy on the nations, who long for his justice.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

PETER: Father, your Christ, who was rich, for our sakes became poor:
look in mercy on the needy, suffering with him.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

RHIAN: Father, your Christ is the one in whom faithful servants find their peace:
look in mercy on the departed, that they may see your salvation.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

PETER: Father, your Christ is revealed as the one destined to be rejected:
look in mercy on us who now turn towards his passion.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

RHIAN: Extra topical prayer if necessary ...

Sarah: Lord God, you kept faith with Simeon
and showed him the infant King.
Give us grace to put all our trust in your promises,
and the patience to wait for their fulfilment;

Lord God, who rested on the seventh day, bless Archbishop Barry as he retires, that he may continue to serve you with joy, all the days of his life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen’

Our Father
who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.     

And so Epiphany draws to a close, leaving us with the message that, whatever we face, from our own inner struggles, to global challenges, as our closing hymn confidently asserts ‘Christ is the world’s true light’  


May God, who has delivered us from the dominion of darkness,
give us a place with the saints in light
in the kingdom of his beloved Son.

May the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
shine in your hearts and fill your lives
with his joy and peace.

May Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, who was wounded for our sins,
that you may bear in your life the love and joy and peace
which are the marks of Jesus in his disciples; 
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all, ever more. Amen.     

A bendith Duw Hollalluog, y Tad, y Mab a’r Ysbryd Glân, a fo yn eich plith ac a drigo gyda chwi yn wastad.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all, ever more. Amen.           

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all, ever more. Amen.


Bryn Calfaria by Vaughan Williams bringing this morning’s Sunday Worship to a close.  The live service from the City Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Cardiff, was led by the Rev’d Canon Dr. Sarah Rowland Jones, with a sermon by the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev’d Dr. Barry Morgan.   The Cardiff Ardwyn Singers were directed by David Michael Leggett and the organist was Janice Ball.  The producer was Karen Walker.

Next week at ten past eight Sunday worship from St Martin-in-the-Fields celebrates the power of story with novelists Catherine Fox and Francis Spufford .


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