The Epiphany of our Lord
Readings: Isaiah 60. 1-6; Psalm 72. 10-15; Ephesians 3. 1-12; Matthew 2. 1-12 (view all)
I wonder whether you did any travelling over Christmas, or had friends or relatives who travelled to see you?
We did both. First, my family travelled to ours in the couple of days after Christmas to spend time together, and then we travelled back up to my hometown, Aberystwyth, in Mid Wales for New Year.
Our journey North, though, got off to a stuttering start, when I discovered a screw in one of our tyres. So we ended up spending several hours waiting at the unfortunately named, ‘Kwik Fit’, to get it fixed before being able to set off.
On the Feast of Epiphany, as we celebrate the journey of the Magi to worship the infant Christ, we are also reminded that our lives are a similar spiritual journey.
Sometimes we may well feel we are making good progress, and everything seems plain sailing. But other times, just like my drive to Aberystwyth, we are waylaid just when we feel we are beginning to get going.
So at the beginning of this new year, this new decade: How can we faithfully navigate our way through life? How can we guided and sustained as we journey onwards? And what does it mean to reach our destination, our journey’s end?
1. Setting out
For the Magi, it all begins with curiosity.
We don’t know for sure who they were — Magi, translated ‘wise man’ is mostly like a generic term for an astrologer, a scholar or a magician. They may not all have been men. And as the carol recounts, they may have been from the Orient, although it seems more likely that they were Persian, perhaps coming from what is now modern day Iran. That should certainly give us pause for thought, in light of the news of this past week.
What we do know, is that they studied the stars, and in the process of pouring over their charts and papers, their curiosity was piqued. They discovered something new, and it caught their interest. And so they set out to discover more.
I wonder how open you are to allowing God to pique your curiosity?
Often we experience things which make us stop and think. Perhaps a fleeting moment of unexpected emotion during a service: at the altar rail or during the prayers. A situation in the news which provokes anger or frustration. Or an encounter with other person, where we have the opportunity to speak more deeply about things which matter.
Will we allow these moments to pass us by? Or like the Magi, will we see them as an opportunity to step out and discover more of God’s plan for our lives? Will we allow God to guide us into something new?
2. Journeying onwards
Journeying onwards, the Magi reach Jerusalem where they encounter Herod. Where the Magi are open and curious, Herod and Jerusalem are frightened and concerned.
You see, Herod has already chosen his own destination, and it doesn’t involve bowing down to some other King. Instead, he is guided by his own desire for power and control. This is in sharp contrast to the Magi, who have already made the step toward actively seeking out God’s will.
Sometimes as Christians, we too, can find ourselves travelling in the wrong direction. Other priorities have crept in ahead of God. And so when those God moments come, which I described earlier, we are too distracted by other goals to press into them.
Or sometimes we stop travelling onward because we don’t like the idea that what we have might need to change. Sometimes, like Herod, we might even feel threatened by others who come along with a glimpse of some new destination further along the way.
As one bible commentator puts it pointedly,
‘Scoff not at Herod until you have acknowledged the Herod in yourself!’Hare, Interpretations Commentary on Matthew
3. The Journey’s End
Eventually the Magi arrive at their destination in Bethlehem. The endless motion of the star ahead of them finally comes to rest, and they are overwhelmed with joy as they kneel down before the infant Jesus.
The gospel-writer implores us to understand that the ultimate destination, the ‘journey’s end’, of every life, is God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. And the ‘journey’s end’ of our world is the fullness of his kingdom, his rule and reign.
This isn’t a promise just for a select few, whether the Jewish nation or the Church today, but for all people. As Paul writes in our reading from Ephesians, this was a mystery hidden for ages, but which through Christ’s life and death and resurrection is now laid plain for all to see. For Paul, Christ is the one ‘in whom we [now] have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.’
Christ is the destination, but it important that we understand that he is also our companion on the journey itself. If we wait until our lives are over to come to him, we miss his company with us, sustaining us, on so much of the journey along the way.
In the Eucharist, in the wonder of his creation, in the pursuit of justice, in the face of another human being, Christ is longing to accompany us on the pilgrimage of faith.
So I wonder —
Will we, like the Magi, be willing to allow God to pique our interest? Perhaps the seed of something planted in the wonder of Christmas, which can prompt the start of a new faith journey this new year?
Will we, like the Magi, allow God to guide us onward? Will we actively search out God’s plan for our lives? Even if priorities have to shift, time has to be found or sacrifices have to be made?
And will we, like Magi, enjoy the company of Christ who is both in the journey and at journey’s end? The one in whom we live and move and have our being, and in whom all things will finally come together.
To finish, let me share a few words from this morning’s offertory hymn, the Epiphany carol, ‘As with gladness men of old’:
As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold;
as with joy they hailed its light,
leading onward, beaming bright;
so, most gracious God, may we
evermore be led to thee.