Epiphany, Year A. Pytchley & Orlingbury 8.1.17
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6 Matt. 2:1-12
Today we celebrate the feast of Epiphany. And Epiphany speaks to us of a journey and of a revelation. Those wise men set out on a long, and perhaps dangerous journey in the search for truth, the search of the true king promised by God long ago. They were looking for a king who would bring them healing, and justice, and peace. They were looking for a king who would bring light into the darkness of our human lives.
They were open to God’s leading – and so they saw the signs he laid out for them like the clues to a treasure hunt, a hunt that would lead them to a special treasure – Jesus, the king who could lead them into the promised land, the kingdom of God. And their gifts revealed the nature of his kingship.
The gold revealed who Jesus is – because gold is a gift fit for a king. The frankincense revealed what he came to do – because Jesus is the ultimate priest who makes the final reconciliation between us and God. And the myrrh revealed what it cost him.
And today you and I are on our own journeys as we seek to follow Jesus into the promised land, as we try to play our part in making God’s kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven. Together, as God’s church in this village, we are trying to read the signs in order to work out how best to bring the good news to people living around us today – whether they’re young or old or somewhere in between!
Returning to the story of the wise men and their particular journey of discovery – following a star may seem to us a very strange thing to do – but that’s because we’re living in a different culture with a different way of viewing the world. 2,000 years ago in the Middle East it was perfectly normal to scan the skies for portents and signs.
For them there was no division between the secular and the sacred – they expected God to leave signs and clues lying around for them to find – and especially they expected to find such clues in the stars. One of the reasons why stars were associated with kings and leaders was that when Julius Caesar died in 44BC a nova, thought to be a new star, appeared above his funeral pyre.
By the time of Jesus’s birth there was a strong rumour around that world dominion would come out of Judea – a rumour that’s reported in the writings of Jewish and Roman historians. So when the magi saw a special star and interpreted it as one that would lead them to a very special new king – they were doing the natural thing – reading the signs of the times!
The whole emphasis of Christmas is that God chooses to enter our world. He doesn’t take us out of the world we know – he meets us in the midst of it. Just as those wise men set out on a journey to find Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us using the signs of their times – so we need to go on a journey of discovery following the clues God is giving us using the signs of our times – clues to lead us to the way God wants us to do church now.
For the last year, I’ve been to a number of conferences to help that search – and Sarah Peak and David Staff are going with me to another one about rural churches in 10 days’ time. One of the signs of the times you may have spotted over Christmas is that while the numbers attending midnight communion are going down, the numbers coming to crib services on Christmas Eve afternoon are growing fast – there IS a desire to seek Jesus at Christmas!
It can’t have been an easy journey for the magi. They must have encountered all sorts of difficulties – treacherous marshes and bogs, difficult mountain terrain, fast-flowing rivers, trackless deserts and waterless plains.
They left the comfort of their known and treasured lifestyles in order to go on the journey – but they didn’t leave everything behind them. They took with them the knowledge that they’d built up over the years – the knowledge of God and his ways, the knowledge of the ways of their world. And they were drawn forward by the hope of finding the promised King who’d lead them into a future blessed by God.
So, too, as we follow the clues to find how God wants us to be his church now in this place and in this time, so we are taking with us the knowledge that we’ve built up over the years – our various experiences of how we encounter God through worship, discipleship, and service. And we shall be drawn forward by the light of God’s promises – his promise to be with us when we seek his presence, his promise to bless us, and above all, his promise to help us build his church when we seek him with all our heart and with a passionate desire to serve his world and help other people find him too.
It’s not that God is necessarily calling us to abandon our traditional services, but perhaps we have to make room for other sorts of worship – to experiment, to keep trying and learning how to create services that meet the needs of those who don’t find our normal communion services helpful. And worship, services, don’t always have to be on a Sunday! Messy Church and FFF and events like that on midweek afternoons can meet the needs of families who are too busy or too divided to come on Sundays.
Jesus always went off to pray to the Father before he did anything – and he prayed while he was doing things too. So of course, we need to pray. We need to pray for discernment and for honesty and courage as we travel on our journey – just as those wise men must have prayed for these things as they followed that star.
And we know God responded to their prayer – not only did they finally find Jesus but they also heard God warning them to avoid meeting Herod again and to return to their own country by another route. God will respond to our prayers too, guiding us, encouraging us, and sometimes perhaps re-directing us!
There is always an element of uncertainty and adventure when we go travelling – following Jesus is never dull! Why not come to the Café Church at Little Harrowden this coming Sunday – it’s the only mid-morning service that day and they are going to show us the style of service they’ve been developing as an alternative to our regular communion services.