So it’s over.
I was in London on Friday and the streets were littered with the sad sight of horizontal browning Christmas trees cast out into the street
Retailers everywhere had religiously taken their decorations down in order to avoid a year of bad luck – there was even a toppled pine on the manicured gravel outside Buckingham Palace
Epiphany marks the end of Christmas and having Epiphany at the end of the holiday gives the impression that the wise men arrive late at the party
Having got lost following the star – they overruled the sat nav and went to Jerusalem – surely the king must be born in a palace in Jerusalem, not in little Bethlehem?
We have the sense that the shepherds and the angels have left, all the champagne and canapés have gone and they catch the holy family as they are packing their bags about to head off to Egypt
.Like a church visitor in the offertory hymn, apologetically they fumble in their wallets and pull out some gifts
Who are these not so wise men?
Matthew calls them Magi – Persian astrologers – and they provide an important role in his gospel
They come from the east from the land of the birthplace of Abraham, Abraham who was introduced as the ancestor of Jesus in the genealogy with which Matthew began his gospel (Mt 1:1)
They come from the East – from the land of Balaam, the famous diviner in the book of Numbers (Numbers 22-24).
They struggle with the interpretation of the signs of the times and as such remind us of those other stories of divination – the interpretation of dreams by Moses – Moses who was rescued from a jealous tyrant and would rescue his people – Moses who is the prototype for the messianic saviour Jesus
Their gifts of Gold and Frankincense recall the prophesies of Israel which we have just heard in Isaiah 60 and in Psalm 72. The songs and prophesies which themselves recall the visit to Solomon of the Queen of Sheba who ‘came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold’ (1 Kings 10:2);
The visit of the Magi is:
- a proof of kingship
- a fulfilment of prophesy, and
- perhaps most importantly for us, it is a prediction of the important role of the Gentiles – that the future of Christianity which began as a message to the Jews is to be taken up by the rest of the world.
The worship of the foreigners in chapter 2 of Matthew is to culminate in chapter 28 of the Gospel – when the disciples saw him and worshipped him just as the Magi had done – and he sent them to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.
But I am getting ahead of myself – for this is not Easter but the Feast of the Epiphany
What is Epiphany? It means not arrival but appearance
This whole season of Christmas and Epiphany is called the ‘Manifestation’
When God makes himself known to man in the person of Jesus Christ
We will be studying Matthew’s account this year, but remember in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus first appears at the Jordan ready to be baptised by John for today is also the feast of the Baptism of Christ
We have further choices of ‘epiphany’ in the other Gospels
– In Luke it is the birth of a poor child in a manger worshipped by lowly shepherds
– While the high Christology of John sees Jesus as being one with God from the beginning of creation (John 1:1)
And so we can reasonably ask ourselves – where do we see Christ?
Personally – I had an epiphany standing here in the run up to Christmas
It makes me sound like Bill Nighy in ‘Love Actually’ – you know the bit at the end of the film when he turns up at his ‘chubby’ manager’s house because he realises that actually, that is the person whom he loves.
When I arrived here I struggled with this building – struggled to make it fit – struggled to find God in it
Then one day at a school’s service, I found myself saying the Aaronic blessing here at the crossing:
The lord bless you and keep you – the lord make his face to shine upon you (Nm 6:24-26)
I realised I could see the faces of Christ shining upon me in all directions
– Mark’s miracle worker Christ healing the woman with haemorrhages in the window above the west door
– Luke’s vulnerable infant in the Mother’s Union banner
– Matthew’s Christ as king – risen, ascended glorified in the east window above the altar
– And John’s Christ in the midst of creation in the Benedicite window
This brought it home to me that Christ was right here in this place all the time
Like Bill Nighy’s ephipany – love was right here, in front of us
‘It’s a terrible mistake but you turn out to be the love of my life’
Might that be our epiphany too – that actually it is here in this place that we are most ourselves, most at home, most loved?
And that set me wondering about these wise men – these gentiles, who ‘rejoiced with exceeding great joy’
Were these not us – the people here today
The mass of the shepherds and the angels – the thousand plus people who were here at Christmas – they have gone
And we – the wise or not so wise men – are left
And so what should we do – we who are left at the end of the Christmas party?
What is our response? What gifts do we bring?
Surely we can learn from the Magi who reached inside their treasure chests to see what they could offer:
– Gold – Gold is our stewardship – the gifts of money that we make to keep this church functioning – let’s give more and make it flourish!
– Frankincense – is the basis of incense and represents our worship – let us worship like the wisemen – ‘rejoicing with exceeding great joy’
– And Myrrh – myrrh is the gift which was not imagined in the old testament – it is both the ointment of healing and the bitter perfume of funeral preparations.
It calls to mind the healing of Christ’s ministry and his ultimate offering of himself
– it is our calling to heal the world, it is a reminder that it is only when we give ourselves up to Christ that we truly follow him
If we do all of these three things then we can go beyond being not so wise men and embody the star itself – being a light to bring others to Christ
And so I call upon you, the Magi of St Martin’s to ‘Arise and shine’ like the star in this year of 2017, arise and shine to the people of Epsom, arise and shine and witness to the Epiphany of Christ in this church of St Martin of Tours. Amen
Sermon given by Revd Christopher Hancock at St Martin of Tours, Epsom
on the Feast of the Epiphany, 2017