There’s nothing worse than being with a group of people and someone tells a joke – and you’re the only one that just doesn’t get it. Everyone else thinks its hilariously funny and you just don’t get the punchline. You just stand there looking dim!
Every year during August Edinburgh holds its world famous festival, and along with the festival you will find the fringe – a range of additional shows that has grown up around the official festival. And each year there is a competition run by the television channel Dave, for the best 10 jokes of the Edinburgh Fringe. This annual joke competition is so popular it’s reported in all the quality press – even The Times and The Telegraph. Now, I think I’ve got a pretty normal sense of humour, but every year I just don’t see the point of half of the jokes listed.
Take the winning entries from the last three years – none of which I found particularly funny even after though I did get the point of the jokes. I’m going to roadtest them on you now.
The 2015 winner was this from Darren Walsh: I just deleted all the German names off my phone. It’s Hans free. I didn’t think that was at all funny. [Not much of a laugh from the congregation for this one]
2016 – Masai Graham won with this: My dad has suggested I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart. [This one they found quite funny]
2017 – and the winner this time was comedian Ken Cheng with: I’m not a fan of the new pound coin. But then again, I hate all change. [They found this one funny too, but not as much as the previous one]
Sometimes, of course, you get the point of a joke straight away. But sometimes you just don’t. My personal favourite Edinburgh Fringe joke remains Tim Vine’s from 2011 though I remember that when I tried it out on my family it took some of them some considerable time to get the point even after I explained it. His joke: Crime in multi-storey car parks. That’s wrong on so many levels. [This one half of the congregation found really funny while the other half were still trying to work it out!]
Sometimes you hear a joke and it just isn’t funny or you don’t understand it. And then later on, the penny drops (to coin a phrase), and suddenly you can say, ‘Ah! I get it now!’ You have a moment of illumination.
Nathanael must have had a similar moment of illumination. Philip goes to him and says, ‘We’ve found the promised one – Jesus of Nazareth!’ Nathanael, knowing full well that Nazareth has a bit of a reputation, can’t see it. He simply does not ‘get it’ for there is no way that the promised Messiah could possibly come from a dump like Nazareth. It’s a bit like a Mancunian today being told that the Messiah was a Liverpudlian, or vice versa. The whole idea was a joke! A Messiah from Nazareth! Perhaps he thought Philip was pulling his leg. But at any rate Nathanael goes with Philip, perhaps so he can show Philip just how wrong he is. He meets Jesus, hears what Jesus has to say and then suddenly the penny drops – he gets it!
Jesus tells Nathanael that he “saw him under the fig tree”; and this was enough for Nathanael to declare, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”
It’s a rather strange encounter, but for Nathaniel this conversation with Jesus is enough that it changes his point of view. He stops being sceptical about Jesus, stops thinking that a Messiah from Nazareth is just a joke, and becomes a believer in Jesus as the Saviour of Israel.
For this encounter that Nathanael has with Jesus has a profound effect upon him – it leads him from scepticism to an immediate confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” For Nathaniel this is a moment when the penny drops. He suddenly grasps who Jesus is, and his whole life changes. He is enlightened. He has met with God in Jesus.
The same thing happened to the young Samuel. In the middle of the night Samuel hears God calling him by name. He’s asleep in the Temple. Now I’ve always felt rather sorry for young Samuel, having to sleep in church. At any rate he has no idea what’s going on, hearing this voice calling him in the night, so twice he responds to his teacher Eli who finally realises that it is God who is calling the young boy. Then, following Eli’s instructions, the third time Samuel responds with a child-like trust and obedience to God’s call. This time, he ‘gets it!’ for the penny has dropped. He realises that it is God calling him. Samuel’s ordinary life – like Nathanael’s – was suddenly transformed. He could no longer view anything in an ordinary way. He’d been enlightened. He has met with God.
This enlightenment is possible for everyone. The message of the Epiphany season which extends to Candlemas at the beginning of February is that the light of Christ is given to the whole world, not just to a chosen few. As the reading of Revelation makes clear, the Lamb of God is sacrificed to redeem the whole world. The Light of Jesus – the enlightenment of Jesus – is available because Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, born in Bethlehem. Because God’s eternal light shines through the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we can see God’s light and power in all things.
God wants to enlighten each one of us. He wants us to see the world, to see life, in a new way, because as his followers we have been given the light that is Jesus. And he wants us not just to know Jesus but to see Jesus in our world today. He wants us to see Jesus in every person we meet. Jesus is there in every person, but especially in the face of those who are poor, those who are victims of war, those who are hungry, homeless, disabled, those who suffer injustice and oppression.
For God wants us to ‘get it!’ Like the punchline of a joke, God wants us to ‘get it’ – to understand what it’s all about, to grasp that Jesus is light for the world and for each individual.
Like Samuel, like Nathanael, God wants the penny to drop for each and every one of us, so that we truly understand why the Lamb of God was sacrificed and why he makes a difference and to act upon that difference. God wants us to get the point, so that like Nathanael we open ourselves to receive the light of Jesus and allow our lives to be changed as a result.
That’s why we look for enlightenment here as we gather around the Lord’s table to commemorate Jesus’ eternal sacrifice for as he was lifted up on the cross. For as we share in the communion of our Lord earth is united with heaven. The promise of Jesus that Nathanael would see greater things comes true here at this table – heaven is opened and the power of heaven is released to come down to bless, forgive and redeem this world. Jesus descends to earth to be with us as we receive him in bread and wine, and we ascend to heaven to be with him and all the faithful as we worship him.
Let us pray
Lord, open our ears and help us listen so that, like Samuel, you may speak to us. Open our eyes and help us to see so that, like Nathanael, we may see you do ever greater things. And open our lips, so that we may proclaim your presence to all around us.