Sermons from St Faith's

Following the Star
Revd Denise McDougall, Eve of the Epiphany, 5th January, 2011

The New Revised Lectionary allowed Epiphany ‘the manifestation’ or ‘showing’ to be celebrated on January 2nd last Sunday but I really believe that would have been too soon; we needed time to savour the birth of Jesus, to reflect on Christ incarnate, the Word made flesh, God’s Son sent to live on earth as one of us and to live amongst us.  And had we celebrated the feast last Sunday we would also have missed those wonderful words from John’s Gospel reminding us that the Word was the true light that enlightens all people as well as Fred’s inspiring sermon.
So tonight we can move on comfortably to celebrate the feast of Epiphany when we focus on the Matthew’s words about the Magi. He tells us little about the actual birth of Jesus, there were no shepherd’s, no stable just that ‘Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod’.  And Jesus’ coming into the world immediately divided people as it has done ever since. Here at the start of his life we see two camps forming; one full of praise and welcome and the other hatred and opposition. Herod and the magi stand out in strong contrast to each other, a contrast that will deepen as Jesus’  life unfolds towards the cross. 

A tremendous amount of legend has centred on these Magi and they always feature on our Christmas cards, however there is no reason to assume there were only three, although there were just three gifts, or that they were kings or that we know their names; Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar were names not given a mention until the 6th century. For centuries the Magi had been a tribe of priests in Persia but the name was also applied to magicians and astrologers. Night skies without artificial light can be spectacular and many people in those days particularly from the east of Palestine studied the stars and the planets. Last March I was lucky enough to go on a trip hoping to see the Northern Lights, sadly they failed to show that night but we did see the Milky Way, stars, planets and meteors from a blacked-out plane and for me it was a really amazing spiritual experience. It may well have been the same for the Magi and the appearance of a new very bright star prompted them to make the long journey to find out its meaning. Astrologers thousands of years ago believed that new a new star meant a new king had been born. Again we don’t know how long their journey took; it could have taken many months or even years but these men were prepared to leave their own surroundings and all that was familiar to them in order to meet the baby born as King of the Jews. The next people to call Jesus king of the Jews were the Roman soldiers but the crown they gave him was made from thorns and his throne was a cross.

What Matthew tells us is political dynamite; he says that Jesus is the true king and Herod is the imposter. Herod asks where to find the new king with fear and murder in his heart whereas The Magi arrived asking where with a sense of wonder and excitement .

And so tonight the magi have been placed at the crib with their offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they have arrived at their journey’s end with their gifts from wealthy nations, symbolising valuable gifts fit for a king. It was only later that they became associated with wealth, divinity and embalming.  The magi arrived and found God shrouded in the mystery of human weakness and they worshipped him. This child born to be king would become the man born to die and like the Magi we should bow down in wonder before God who loves each one of us unconditionally no matter who we are and no one is ever left out.
Our kings remind us that Christians belong to a world-wide fellowship where there shouldn’t be any barriers of race and culture. They were not from the Jewish tradition but outsiders travelling to represent all nations, all ethnic groups and all parts of the earth. Of course sadly we are all too well aware of the great divides amongst us. The world wide Anglican Communion is caught up with any number of issues that divide us and it often seems more concerned with an agenda for its own survival rather than with the agenda of God’s kingdom in the world. We need to remember that in the beginning the Church was a by product of the Kingdom of God and not the other way round!

At the crib Jesus extends a welcome for everyone and in the great scheme of things he calls us to be a church that is open hearted, outward looking and all embracing. Yes as a Christian I pray that one day we will be able to say we really are all embracing, that there are no barriers or prejudices and everyone is treated equally just as God treats us equally and this is also my prayer on a personal level as well.

Perhaps as we leave church tonight we can reflect where we are on our own journey on this earth. Are we wandering aimlessly or heading in a definite direction with a specific purpose in mind? In the Magi’s journey there were many twists and turns that kept them alert or caused them to seek advice and they frequently altered their course. There is room for change in all our lives and just as the Magi spotted the star we are called to read the signs of the times that will help us move towards our final destination.

Each New Year  we listen to the story that has been told thousands of times before and it’s significant that the Epiphany story of star gazing, journeying and adventure, borders crossed and barriers broken should be told as we review our priorities and make our New Year resolutions. Yes the journey can often be challenging but let’s resolve to be more all embracing with our neighbours and enter into a deeper relationship with God.

When the Magi left for home they took with them a treasure that far surpassed any of the gifts they had brought. So let us give the best gifts we can offer especially self-sacrificing love to God and we too will then know the richness of Christ in our hearts. .   

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