The Feast of the Epiphany
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
6 January 2009, 17:30 (Epiphany)
On this twelfth day of Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany, I would like briefly to reflect on three aspects of this beautiful, strange and fragile story of the visit of the Magi as told by St Matthew.
First of all, journeys. Life itself is often depicted as a journey and certainly our lives are full of them. They come in so many forms and we accept them as commonplace and largely unremarkable.
The Bible is full of journeys and sometimes they are of a nature and quality strangely different from the trips that we make to work, to the shops, to a holiday destination or a visit to friends.
Some journeys are embarked upon with no real idea of where the traveller is going.
Abraham and Sarah made such a journey; Moses led his captive people to a land promised by God but which remained elusive for over forty years and into which Moses never entered.
And the wise men or Magi, set out following a newly risen star with the faith and promise that it betokened the birth of a unique and God-given king who they would find so that they could worship and pay him homage.
These trips of faith and risk into the unknown are also an externalisation of the journey of our souls, our inner life, through time.
The journey of the magi is not remote, disconnected and irrelevant to 2009 and your life and mine, but an archetype of all who seek truth and life and the eternal God within the parameters of miles and years.
The second part of the story I would like to think about are the gifts.
The wise men had travelled to the infant Jesus with their treasure- chests and from them they offered expensive and exotic gifts.
Psychologists have their say about presents and how and why we choose and them.
Gifts are not only chosen for their recipients but also say something about those who give them.
So the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh are not just appropriate gifts for a baby who is the king of kings, the great high priest and the victim and conqueror of death.
No, they are also a yielding up and surrender of power, prayer and mortality by those who are strong and skilled in the arts of the seen and the unseen.
Some Biblical interpreters have pictured the magi as representing the powers of darkness and their recognition and submission to the Prince of Peace and the Light of the world.
Gifts have dominated much of the secular Christmas celebrations and the sales’ hype; however, the presents offered at the crib are not about acquisition, pleasure and gain but the riches of poverty and powerlessness, the sacrifice of praise and self-giving and the death which sets us free into the grace of eternal fellowship.
Do we want such presents and dare we open them at this time?
And then thirdly, the story of the magi holds another surprise, for it ends with the warning in a dream for them not to return to Herod but to leave for their own country by another road.
That is what we do in the main.
Our lives have a rhythm and pattern of convention and normality.
As Christians, each and every one of us is challenged to change and live differently, by a different light and in a different direction from that which we might naturally choose by respectability, habit or conformity.
So what does that mean?
If we recognise the saviour as we gather tonight in the prayers and the breaking of the bread, then we cannot expect to fall back into our lives just as they have been.
God in Jesus has met us and accepted our homage and our gift - and like St Paul as he writes in Ephesians 3, the mystery is made known by revelation.
For St Paul this was a call and commission to share the good news of Christ with the Gentiles, as foreshadowed by the journey of the magi.
By baptism we too are assigned to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. (Ephesians 3.9)
And in this task we have to return to our home country by another route.
And this route is the way of the cross and the path of forgiveness, compassion and mercy.
The agonies of Gaza and Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Darfur, the Congo and Iraq confront us if we follow Christ’s way, for he is there and we must not forsake him.
Justice and mercy, peace and reconciliation are not options but imperatives.
In Jesus the incarnate God will always lead us away from our comfortable celebrations and on a journey which confronts the real meaning of love, compassion and deliverance.
And this journey in faith means that nothing will be ever be the same again.
It is a real challenge.
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
W H Auden ~ For the Time Being - A Christmas Oratorio -The Flight into Egypt
It is trying because of this journey back home by a different route: may it be an adventure and the means of our renewal.
Creator of the heavens,
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us
that we may find our journey’s end
in Jesus Christ our Lord.