Sunday, 8 January 2017

Epiphany - All that I am

Sunday Gospel
Matthew 2:1-12 

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The story of the Three Kings is one that we are comfortable with; one that we all know. Not least because the Feast Day means we can take down the decorations and start to get back to normal. Except, that, according to the Church’s calendar we should leave our decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord which is next week (those Victorians and their 12 days of Christmas! – Bah, humbug). 

There is no evidence that the Kings were kings, certainly not from the gospels. It is far more likely that these were astrologer, proto-scientist, magician types. But then someone with too much interest in royal protocol decided that if Jesus was a King then only a King was good enough to visit – it’s a wonder the shepherds managed to stay in the story, given their reputation as thieves and vagabonds.

That is the way with stories. The Chinese whisper effect, the elaboration to suit the culture, the audience, the attitude of the times. And that is often a criticism of the Gospel – that it is only stories; easier to find the discrepancies, the add-ons, the need to scientifically prove or disprove that there was a ‘star’. 
And the gifts...the strange gifts for a baby. But maybe the thing about the gifts is more about where they are from... than who they are for?

Imagine...three (more or less) wealthy, wise men; intelligent; privileged; curious. Seeking out a 'something' until they find it. And then, maybe next year, seeking something else. Sounds very contemporary to me, this spiritual wandering. Yearning for something that will satisfy what their material wealth does not. This particular portent has them intrigued; coming together to share their wonderings and then to share their wanderings. Sure that the stars are telling them something; prepared to follow an unknown path. 

So they travel, with their caravan; their starmaps and their assurance. Assured enough to enter King Herod's courts as equals; as diplomats. Believing that the accepted authority will be the authority. 

Herod does not have the answer; their faith in worldly power fails. It is a different faith which holds the power; the faith of ancients; prophecies and portents. Did they recognise this other sign, leading them further away from the world they knew? Did they notice the lilt of truth against the hiss of Herod's deceit?

And there the truth is revealed in poverty; in the lacking. Seeing how little the Christ had; how little he needed; how much he trusted. Seeing how his life was held in the loving hands of two human beings with nothing to offer but their best. They see and understand. What could they give?

They offer their best. It wasn't that these gifts spoke of anything except their own sense of value; that these gifts 'valued' them - as merchants; as traders; as elite. It isn't the gifts they give but what they represent.  Offering what the Rich Young man, many years later, cannot. They give what had defined them; they give themselves into the baby's hands. Letting go of the world's control over them they ignore Herod's command; they hear the voices of angels; they return to their country by a different way - a way of humility and faith; a way of the prophet; a way of witness.

What can they give him? What Thomas gives as his witness. The witness of faith; that Jesus is 'My Lord and my God'. 


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