An Epiphany Message from the Dean of Winchester Cathedral, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’” 

M. Louise Haskins

Dear brothers and sisters,

At this time last year, COVID-19 was something few of us had heard about and was a very long way away.  We simply didn’t have any idea of what we were going to face during 2020.  But an unknown threat became a familiar part of daily life as the tiny virus swept across the world.  Our lives were turned inside out and upside down in some way or another.

Now, many of us have spent Christmas separated from loved ones, perhaps for the first time ever.  Others have worked throughout in essential services and are weary.  Some of us have lost employment and, sadly, some of us are bereaved.  Many of us enter a new year with anxiety, loneliness or frustration.  I have the sense that most of us are ‘walking wounded’.

As we begin this New Year, the church celebrates the Feast of Epiphany and the journey of the Wise Men to the Christ child.  Until now, the Nativity scene has been Mary and Joseph and the baby with the shepherds, representing the local people who recognised God’s great gift. The Nativity scene has animals, angels and the star representing the response of the whole of creation. Now, with Epiphany and the coming of the Wise Men we see each continent, and therefore the whole of humanity, represented at the stable.  

This year, the gifts that the Wise Men bring have a particular meaning for me.

Gold represents all that is precious in life. Perhaps this is a time to reassess what is most important to us.  Faith teaches that true glory is found in patterning our lives after the example of Jesus in loving service, and seeking God in one another and our everyday lives. Love is what is precious. 

Frankincense represents prayer, the longings of our hearts, both those that we can articulate and those that remain unspoken. God knows the secrets of our hearts and our hopes and fears.  This is the time to pray, because when we pray, we begin to cooperate with God who transforms lives and communities. Faith transforms daily life.

Myrrh represents ointment for healing. Out of so much suffering and loss in the past year, humanity has been connected in its common vulnerability and common cause. We have glimpsed a different future where we work together for the good of all, the healing of the nations and the planet. Hope transforms the world.  

We don’t know what the future holds but we have faith, hope and love. The advice of the man who stood at the gate of the year is this:

‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’  

I do hope that, whatever your circumstances, you will know the comfort and energy of God’s daily presence. I hope that this New Year will bring love, healing and a new sense of faith and hope for us all.  I close with an audaciously hopeful prayer, written for New Year 2000 from Churches Together in England:

Blessed Lord Jesus, let there be: respect for the earth, peace for its people, love in our lives, delight in the good, forgiveness for past wrongs, and from now on a new start. Amen.

With blessings and best wishes

The Very Revd Catherine Ogle

Dean of Winchester

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