Sermon on the Feast of the Epiphany – Earth to Heaven replies



Reading Matthew 2:1-12

We are all familiar with the kings of Matthew’s Christmas story – just as a check that you were listening to the Gospel: how many kings were there?


4? (3 Kings  + Herod)

2? (Herod + Jesus. NB The wise men are Magi and not Kings according to Matthew)

We think there are three kings because of their three gifts – gold and frankincense and myrrh

Why does Matthew speak of these gifts?

These are indeed gifts for a king – for a king as great as Solomon

In the book of Kings we read how the Queen of Sheba ‘came to Jerusalem [to see Solomon] with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold’ (1 Kings 10:2);

So when Isaiah looked forward to a return to the former glories for Israel he remembered this visit

“A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”  (Isaiah 60)

Gold and spices and tell us that we are returning to the golden age of a king in Israel

These are gifts for a king – but not an ordinary king

Gold for sure – the metal of crowns and coins

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

But frankincense is the holy perfume of the sanctuary- of sacrifice

We read in Leviticus 2:1 regarding Offerings: When anyone presents a grain-offering to the Lord, the offering shall be of choice flour; the worshipper shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it,

Frankincense to offer have I;
 owns a Deity nigh;
 and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him God
 Most High.


What about myrrh?  What is myrrh – other than difficult to spell?

It is associated with frankincense the perfume of the sanctuary

But it’s a rarer resin – with healing properties, famous for being bitter

It is the oil of healing, of anointing

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

“Sealed in a stone cold tomb” – suddenly Easter is over and we are in Passiontide – the tomb speaks of Good Friday.  It is predictive: in the words of another Epiphany hymn: “mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness”


So how are we are to understand these gifts?

I offer some interpretations:

First they they are the gifts of a king (gold) who is holy (incense) and yet mortal – he can suffer and die (myrrh)

As such, they are a representation of Jesus’s trinitarian nature

He is God the creator from whom all the riches of the earth are received (Gold)

He is God the son – the healer, the one who will himself die (Myrrh)

He is God the spirit – the thing which being seen and unseen links all things. Have you all caught a whiff of the incense here this morning – even though you can not see it?


Secondly, these gifts can be seen in the light of our own offerings. WE are the wise men

“Gold I bring” – we offer our wealth, our time and our talents to the service of God

This is a good time of year to think about thr offerings which we make – fiancial and otherwise

To which end, we are looking for people to help as sidemen, servers, sacristans – could that be you?



“Frankincense to offer have I” – we bring our worship, our songs of praise and our prayers – we strive to make ourselves God’s holy people

We can think abut our prayer life and our bible reading – we are about to enter Lent – if you want advice on a book for Lent see me afterwards


“Myrrh is mine” – we follow Christ in healing, in helping the sick and distressed.

We need pastoral assistants – could that be you?

Finally, we follow Christ to certain death by the way of the cross.

But we do so confident in the destiny which awaits us like him, to join with God in heaven

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
!, Alleluia!,
Earth to Heaven replies.


So what will be your reply from Earth to the gift that you have received from heaven?

Perhaps the most important thing is to be like the wise men – as seekers after Jesus, as revealers of Jesus to others .

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, (Clearly a reference to Headley Heath) 
Following yonder star

Our most important role is to follow the star and to lead others to the find the gift of the baby – that very special baby, who was born King of the Jews


MagiSermon Preached by Revd Christopher Hancock, at St Mary’s Headley on the Feast of the Epiphany, 7th January, 2018

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Posada 2017 – Box Hill and Headley

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Throughout Advent, wooden figures of the Holy family (Joseph and a pregnant Mary seated on a donkey), are making their way through our parish from Box Hill to Headley and are due to arrive to at St Mary’s in time for the crib service at 3pm on Christmas Eve.

Learn more about the Posada here Posada guide 2017

You can follow their adventures on the Facebook pages of the two churches

Hosts so far …

1/12/2017  Martin and Sarra

2/12/17  Celia and Keith

3/12/2017 Karen’s light of the world


4/12/2017 Today our Posada figures observed our Meditation Group at 3pm as Karen passed them to Margaret

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4/12/2017 Margaret and Bill – We enjoyed saying the suggested prayers, including the one for the family – we surrounded the figures with pictures of our grandchildren.

Donnelly family pcis

5/12/2017  In Michelle’s shrine (not watching TV!)

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6th December: Barrie Fox  – lots of bedtime reading here!

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8th December – Chez Brodie


[Lost in the wilderness!]

18th – with Peter in Surrey Hills

19th December – arriving in Headley – Headley Grove

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20th December – Tothill

21st December – the Spinney in Headley – Getting close!

Chez Bell




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Be prepared, be very prepared!

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So are you prepared for the coming of the Lord?

The Gospel that we have just heard makes it sound rather frightening:

But in those days, following that distress,
the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

What happened to the tinsel and the ho-ho-ho?

Mark is quoting from Isaiah 13 which told of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians

9 See, the day of the Lord is coming
   – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger –
to make the land desolate
    and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their constellations
    will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
    and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    the wicked for their sins.

It sounds like the end of the world and it is – Mark is referring to the second destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD and the death of many of his listeners

And people were and indeed are very frightened of death.

And that does not seem unreasonable to me.

Life is a great gift but it is fragile

Our Gospel warns us to be ready – to mount a watch

But what can we do to be prepared?

Paul says that through the teaching of Jesus we have all that we need:

 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

So what is this teaching about the Grace of God?

Christmas is all about story and the run up to Christmas is a crescendo of excitement as much in Church as outside and the crescendo in the story of the Grace of God will be told in these four Sundays of Advent

Represented by the four candles on our advent crown – as we light each candle we move from darkness into light

We trace the story of God’s involvement with mankind – or perhaps the story of man’s understanding of God

Advent 1 – the Patriarchs – Moses meeting God in the burning bush – God in the violence of the natural world

Advent 2 – The prophets – those who reminded us of the law – like Isaiah in our reading – who are disappointed that God does not appear to be so active in the world
 that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence

But we learn from another prophet, Elijah, that God is in the stillness more than in the earthquake, wind and fire (1 Kings 19)

Advent 3. John the Baptist – God is with us if only we would notice – John teaches us to repent and be saved – repent in Greek is metanoia – literally to change your mind – wake up and smell the coffee.   Just as John pointed out Jesus to the disciples Andrew, Peter, James and John, so we should notice Christ in the world today.

Advent 4 – the pink candle for our Patron, the virgin Mary – the God bearer.  She teaches us that God is with us as one of us – a human being – that our sufferings can not be avoided but are shared with God who is not distant but with us.  The word we often use at Christmastime, Emmanuel – literally means God with us

Can you see the ascending scale of intimacy?

We become increasingly aware that God is actually with us, living as one of us, is in us

A thing which we will remember and celebrate at our Eucharist this morning

But if God is already here what is the point of all this waiting in Advent?

First we wait while we look back to remember what it was like before Christ

Second we wait while we look forward expectantly to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God at some time and in some way still to be revealed.

Thirdly we wait, patiently and take note that we are at peace reconciled with God in heaven right now.  For right now, we ask God to be with us today in our Holy Communion – ‘by the power of the Holy spirit these gifts of bread and wine may be to us the body and blood of our lord Jesus Christ’

So how are we going to prepare this Advent, in this time of waiting?

Personally, I suggest we watch the story – go to every nativity and carol service (I have to!) and observe – let it sink in.

Learn the story – work out what it means to you – that God is not distant but at hand – ‘at the very gates’

Tell the story – like St Paul – who had an experience of God being with us –  that Jesus is Emmanuel – that God is truly with us

And not a God of destruction and fire and earthquakes

But a God of grace, of mercy and of peace.  Amen

Sermon preached by Revd Christopher Hancock
at St Mary’s Headley, 3rd December 2017, (Advent Sunday) 

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I died in hell. They called it Passchendaele

Memorial Tablet  (GREAT WAR)
by Siegfried Sassoon

SQUIRE nagged and bullied till I went to fight,         
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—          
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,       
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell     
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light. 

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,  
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;        
‘In proud and glorious memory’ … that’s my due.   
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:  
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.  

Once I came home on leave: and then went west…           
What greater glory could a man desire?


mud soldier

May I speak In the name of the living and loving God whom we know as + Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen

The Third battle of Ypres, commonly known as the battle of Passchendaele, began on 31st July, 1917.  When it petered out at the end of the year, half a million men – 300,00 British and 200,000 German – had been killed or wounded.

It was planned as the first stage of a rapid advance along the coast to liberate the Belgian ports and was to build on the relative success of the battle of Arras in April and May at which the British had achieved the biggest advance of the war to date.   (It was at Arras that two of our Box Hill fallen – William Collins and Francis Bartle – were killed.)

However, further north in Flanders, against a well prepared and dug-in enemy, with artillery, machine guns, gas and now aircraft, the gains were minimal – at best just a few thousand yards from the original front line to capture the elevated land at Passchendaele.

Meanwhile a combination of long term intense shelling and appalling weather turned the battlefield in a quagmire leading to the loss of many men without trace in the way which we have just heard.

The conditions were so bad that one senior officer, Sir Lancelot Kiggell is reported to have said on seeing the battlefield – ‘Good God, did we send men to fight in that?’

Indeed they did.   Men were literally lost in it as in the famous picture of the Canadian machine gunners at Passchendaele


A recent art installation in Trafalgar Square took this image further and showed a soldier sculpted from the Flanders earth sitting under a dripping pipe – slowly being reduced back to mud.

It is impossible not to think of the words from the book of Genesis used at funeral services –  earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, ‘for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’ (Gen 3:19).

We emerge from dust to have form and features and a name.  In war, the form and the features and the names were lost.

That process of drowning in mud, of being lost is exactly what we are trying to reverse at remembrance.

This week I attended a service in Westminster Abbey.  As I left, I took a moment to stand in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior – that represents all of those who are lost into the mire of Flanders.

Unknown warrior

In response, I wrote these lines

Leaving in the dead of night
The clanging floor opens suddenly
Upon a gory brimming well
Into which I figure had been poured
The blood of a million men.
Shocked still, I bow my head and pray
That this dark slab might form a way
By which their many scattered souls should climb
To the one perpetual light


We remember the names

Dragging them out of the mud

And we tell their stories and bring them to life in the present.

We have the remarkable story of Leonard Arthur Morley whose body was lost for almost 100 years when he was killed in an action on the 18th of October 1914 in a field close to the village of Beaucamps-Ligney in Northern France.  Here it remained unmarked until its discovery in 2009.

Archaeologists, military historians and geneticists combined to literally and figuratively re-member him.  Using regimental records and DNA evidence to identify him. Putting back together his body and his identity. And so we have added him to our memorial here as he was born on Box Hill.

I am indebted to Lenka Cathersides and her work with the Dorking Museum for this and the next story.

Francis Bartle never lived here in box Hill but in Bermondsey in London.  It was his widow Elsie who moved here after she re-married widower Herbert Mitchell on the 22nd of November 1922 at St Michael’s church in Betchworth. Herbert was a gamekeeper and the couple came to live at Keepers Cottage, Box Hill Road, Tadwood, Surrey.

That we have Francis’s name here is a result of Elsie wanting to remember him.

Francis is in our present because of the continuing love that Elsie had for him.

This is in striking parallel to the re-membering of Jesus which we do at every Eucharist when we combine as the body of Christ to remember Jesus as he commanded us to do and so bring him to life in the present.

This work that we do researching these lives and bringing them back to life is important

It reminds us that behind each one of these names was a real person – loved and loving – with a family and friends.

It reminds us that these lives were all important.

That every life is important, that every life makes a difference

So we make an effort to remember them lest they be forgotten

We remember lest we forget the importance of what we do for others

We remember lest we forget the barbarous savagery which we human beings can meet out to one another

As we know from recent experiences in the Ukraine and in Yugoslavia, that only a few angry words separate the peace which we now enjoy from the atrocities of which we have heard.

We remember lest we forget the lessons that they learned, and learned the hard way

–       The unending folly of man

–       The futility of war

–       The importance of sacrifice to our way of life

–       The joy of peace

And so today we pray that they may rest in peace – but never be forgotten.


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It’s not the end of the world!


Proper 26 Year A


Micah 3:5-12

1 Thess 2:9-13

Matthew 4:1-14



May my words be in the name of the living and loving God whom we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

It’s good to be back!  Almost two years have passed since I last stood in this pulpit

A lot seems familiar; a lot seems to have changed

Frankly, I have been filled with a degree of trepidation about coming back

What will be people’s expectations of me?

Will I live up to them?

You have a new Rector – taller than me, thinner than me, a better golfer, a better singer – he even plays guitar!

What is going to be my role here in the new United Benefice – how is it all going to work?

You will see that I have gained a Miss World sash – my priestly stole

But I am here today as a Deacon – Harry is the presiding priest.  A Deacon stands to the right of the celebrant and that seems appropriate as I shall try to be Harry’s right-hand man, as indeed Peter was to Jesus.

My feelings of unease have been exacerbated as I have been physically disconnected from the Parish – working and worshiping first in St Mary’s Ewell and then in Epsom and Langley Vale

The diaconate year which I had intended to use to get to know our community better has seen me getting to know you less and others more

But as I look around I see lots of familiar faces (good) and some new people (even better)

I am very aware that there are a number of missing faces – a few important people have died in the last year

This is the season of Remembrance – when we remember those whom we have lost

I have been away for a few days and I attended a requiem mass for All Souls during the week at the Anglican church of St Mark in Florence – when you are abroad on holiday it is a great thing to seek out the local Anglican church and go along.

Despite being Anglican, this service was more Catholic than the Pope’s slippers and the highlight of the liturgy was the censing of a symbolic catafalque (a coffin draped in a black pall) while the choir sang in paradisum from Faure’s requiem – it was deeply moving and as the priest read the list of names from his community I added my own – Bob Ellison, Anne Banks, Ethel Jobber, Joyce Hulf, Robert Hunter, Tessa Bridges and most recently Derek Smith, from my own family, my uncle John Jefferies Stratton, my former boss, Georges van Erck

As the incense rose I was in no doubt that they were indeed in paradise

So I had rather assumed that we would be celebrating the lives of the saints this Sunday and I would be preaching about the three great saints of this benefice – St Andrew the first called, his brother Simon Peter, the rock upon whom the church is built and the Blessed Virgin Mary – the mother of God and a constant presence in Jesus’s life.

That this would be a festival occasion

But instead we have the lectionary for the end of the world

I began to wonder is there in this some subliminal message in this – about me being a false prophet – a phoney messiah

How are we to interpret this talk of wars and rumours of wars?   Are Harry and I not to get along?

This didn’t make it any easier to think about coming back!

As usual in preparing some words in the Gospel jumped out at me.

Jesus is asked by his disciples ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’

He answers: ‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’

The Gospel will be preached to the whole world – in Greek, hole te oikounmene – the whole of the inhabited world – before the end of the world will come.

Two things: first that is quite a tall order – ‘the whole of the inhabited world’ means absolutely everybody must hear the Gospel.  That is still a long way from happening now.  (How many Chinese have heard the Gospel?).  So Matthew is not saying the end of the world is around the corner – there is a lot of work to do before the kingdom of heaven can be established in all the world.

Secondly, he is saying it is through spreading the Good News of Christ that the new messianic age is brought in.

Indeed, these words echo the words from the Great Commission in Chapter 28 at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where he sends his disciples out

‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Mt 28:19-20)

‘Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’

So Jesus is actually saying: ‘I am already here.  I will remain with you.  There is no need to wait for a second coming.  Focus instead on the Gospel and letting people know the Good News that I have brought.

Well this may be a bit surprising but I think we can take some very positive things out of it.

Yes, we are all going to die and the world will at some point end – but not yet!

Instead there is work to be done now – we do not know when we will die or when the world will end which means that we should always be prepared for it.  Live each day as if it is our last – treat everyone as if it the last time that we will see them.

I was told in training that we should treat each Eucharist as if it was our first, our last and our only and I think that is a great lesson for life more generally.

Secondly, we must work to spread the Gospel of Christ – just like Paul working night and day to preach the gospel of God.  But before we can do that we need to work out what the Gospel is for us.

For me, the Gospel is the love of God as revealed in the teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The teaching is centred on the great commandments of love that you will have heard in church last week – to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all soul your and all your strength and secondly to love your neighbour as yourself

The death of Christ is the example of self-denying self-sacrifice which is at the heart of Christian discipleship it is also a sign of the intimate relationship between the creator of the universe and us – who sent his son ‘to be born of a woman and to die upon a cross’

Finally, the resurrection is the story of the love which never dies – that there is life and hope to be found from God even in the darkest places and above all that we should not fear death but look forward to the singing of the angels in Paradise.

‘For I am with you always to the very end of the age.’

And so my hope is that I can serve you and serve Christ by making his Gospel and his presence known in these three communities which we serve.

You will note that it is three communities.  One of the things they teach you in a Curacy is how to appear to be in two places at once but no one can do three (except perhaps a Bishop?).

So not only does Harry need me but we need you – to be a Christian presence in the communities in which you live.

I will strive to be a Rock to Harry and to you as Peter was to Christ in building the church in these villages.

I will call upon you as Andrew called others and expect you in turn to invite and call the members of your communities to hear and live the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps above all I will strive to make the presence of Christ known in the world through his Holy Word and in the celebration of His Holy Eucharist – where we meet together sharing one bread and one cup in the name of our crucified Lord, who is with us always, ‘to the very end of the age’.


Sermon delivered by Revd Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 5th November, 2017 on the occasion of his licensing to the Benefice. 

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Breaking News – The Word on the Hill is Back

This morning, 5th November, 2017, Christopher Hancock was licensed as Assistant Curate to the United Benefice of of St Mary’s Headley with St Andrew’s Box Hill and St Peter’s Walton on the Hill.  His sermons and other reflections together with news for the United Benefice will again appear on this page

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Slow burning bush – what is God calling you to do?

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Remembrance Sermon 2016

You can read here my effort for 2016

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Praying for Parish of Headley with Box Hill 

In Guildford Cathedral this morning and was delighted to be praying for all my friends in Headley with Box Hill as the parish was remembered in Diocesan prayers today. 

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Reflection for Bible Sunday

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Reflection on Bible Sunday

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