This Sunday we heard in our gospel reading we heard how Andrew brings Nathanael to see Jesus, and Nathanael’s response. And from the Old Testament we had the story of the boy Samuel being woken up in the Temple by a voice calling him in the night.
1 Samuel 3.1-10; John 1.43-end
The third Monday in January each year – so that’s tomorrow – is apparently known as Blue Monday. It’s a term coined by a psychologist in 2004 and according to an article in The Scotsman newspaper last Monday it’s the day when the financial pressure of the Christmas just passed hangs over us most, the weather is at its worst, and the extra pounds we’ve acquired over the holiday season are proving harder to shift than we anticipated.
So how to cope with Blue Monday tomorrow? The Scotsman helpfully went on to provide a list of 40 jokes, to cheer us all up, so that Blue Monday wouldn’t feel so bad.
They claimed that these are 40 of the best jokes – here’s a sample of what they have provided – see what you think:
What did the drummer call his twin daughters? Anna one, Anna two!
In a field of cows which one’s on holiday? The one with the wee calf.
My dog used to chase people on a bike a lot. It got so bad I finally had to take the bike off of him.
Those are some of the best! Well, some of the jokes The Scotsman listed I had to read several times before the penny dropped! Like this one:
Blue Monday? Finally a ‘smurf appreciation day!’
Apparently it’s to do with smurfs being coloured blue. But since I know nothing about smurfs I just didn’t understand it or find it funny, and it took a while for me to work out the joke.
Sometimes you hear a joke and it just isn’t funny or you don’t understand it. And then later on the penny drops 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 totally changes his point of view. He stops being sceptical about Jesus, stops thinking that a Messiah from Nazareth is just a joke, the penny drops and he 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!” 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, who we heard about in our first reading from the Old Testament. 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 all the way to the feast of Candlemas on the 2nd of February is that the light of Christ is given to the whole world, not just to a chosen few. 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 who Jesus is, 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.
And while we may not be able to be physically present here in church at the moment, to receive, Jesus in bread and wine, as we each make our spiritual communion wherever we are, Jesus comes to us – may we, like Samuel and like Nathanael, recognise our God and our Saviour.
I started with some one-liners from The Scotsman newspaper. Jesus gives us today a one-liner: Follow me! Have you got it yet? Has the penny dropped? Because there is only one answer we can give, and that is, like Nathanael, to respond: My Lord and my God.
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 like Philip we may proclaim your presence to all around us as we say to them: come and see!