Sermon by Fr David McGladdery on 6 January 2016, at a Deanery Service held at St Nicholas’ Trellech
“For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
I wonder what they saw in the sky that first night. What was it that got them thinking? What was it that motivated them to pack and begin a journey to who knew where? Something had been revealed to them. But what was it? Was it in the sky, in their mind, in their heart?
It is the star that lies at the heart of the Feast of the Epiphany. It is the star that brings these three strange men to Bethlehem. It is the star that calls them, it is the star that leads them; it is the star over the place where the child and his mother lay that brings them to the end of their journey. And it is by the light of that same star that they see, they see not merely a child and his mother and father, but more deeply and wonderfully they see in that place God-with-us. And so they do the only thing they can do, what they must do: they kneel before him in homage, bathed in the light of that star, the star of faith, the star of understanding, the star that enables them to see what is truly real, that star whose light pierces through the veil of the world to reveal the truth, the light of God himself.
We don’t have much historical information about these wise men and their journey. St. Matthew says they came from the East. Some have speculated they were from Persia. We like to think that there were three of them but St. Matthew doesn’t say that and the number has varied throughout the church’s history; 2, 3, 4, 8, even 12. We call them Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar but those names didn’t come about until the seventh century. And what about “the star?” It has been viewed as a supernatural phenomenon, just a regular star, a comet, or sometimes as a conjunction or grouping of planets.
Who knows what was in the sky that night; what they saw; what they thought; what they talked about; what they felt, or dreamed or longed for?
But the one thing that is certain, is that the Epiphany journey is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey – it is our journey.
It is also certain that there have been times when we each have experienced Epiphany; times when the darkness of our night sky has been lit brightly, times when our minds have been illumined, times when our hearts have been enlightened. Times when we have knelt in the mess and straw of our lives searching and longing and then unexpectedly realised the brightness of God’s love bathing us in light. Those times have revealed to us a life and a world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually circumscribe our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see the face of God in a new way; so human that it almost seems ordinary, maybe too ordinary to believe.
That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something stirred within them and they began to wonder, to imagine, that their lives were part of a much larger story. Could it be that the one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, noticed them, knew them, lived within them and was calling them? Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the Divine light that already burned within them, that burns within each one of us?
To consider these questions seriously is to begin the journey. The journey took the wise men – the magi – (those whose job it was to map out the future in detail so that those in power could sustain their power) to an unexpected place; to the house where they found the answer to their questions in the form of a baby in the arms of his mother, Mary. So moved were they with joy and humility and thanksgiving, they left those now familiar gifts: gold frankincense and myrrh at the baby’s feet. So much meaning has been invested in these gifts that it is possible to focus too closely on them and miss the bigger picture. Gold, frankincense and myrrh are thought to have been the tools of the trade of Persian astrologers of the day – used for the ceremonies of divination and forecasting. Who knows? But it makes sense that the enlightened wise men gave away their precious resources – for they were no longer needed. Not now they had seen the real vision of their future – revealed in Jesus – a vision of love and hope shining out of vulnerability and dependency.
Yes. Yes. Yes. God notices us, knows us, lives within us and calls to us in our vulnerability, our poverty, our frailty. God is continually revealed to us in and through humanity: in flesh and blood; in pain and joy.
In the course of the next few months, we are all going on a journey – together. As the five distinct groups of parishes which make up this, our deanery, become a ministry area. What I want to reassure you – on this feast of Epiphany – this feast of the revelation of the glory of God’s love in our midst – is that there is nothing to fear. Your world is not going to be wrecked beyond recognition, but, yes you are going to be challenged. We are going to journey together as sisters and brothers in Christ to follow the star of God’s love and search for Jesus in the ordinary places of our communities and above all in our own hearts. Church is not something we belong to, Church is something we ARE! Church is not something done to us by those who know – Church is the way we live, together as a community of needy, vulnerable, flawed, imperfect people, who are loved by God, simply because we are here. And Jesus, who is revealed as God in human shape – shows us how to do it.
When did you last have an epiphany in your life? Was it the day you held your first grandchild and felt part of the beauty of God’s love; was it the moment someone told you they loved you and you knew it was about something deep, inexplicable yet reassuring? Was it when you held the hand of a dying person whom you loved and knew that death is not the end of love? Was it when you embraced someone with the healing power of forgiveness; when you let go and let live?
Ministry areas are simply areas of God’s vineyard, where God’s people minister together both lay and ordained. Places where we encourage on another to develop and use our gifts together to seek out God’s glory and share it around. My job is to ensure that each of our five groups of parishes is resourced and enabled to do that.
Let’s start with those Epiphanies – those star-led moments, which are the stories of our lives; epiphanies that change who we are, how we live and the road we travel. They are moments of ordinary, everyday life in which the beauty of God’s love is revealed in one another and we see God’s glory, face to face.
Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.