Eternal God, who by a star led the Magi to the worship of your Son. Guide by your light the nations of the earth, that the whole world may know your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen
The buying of the Christmas tree in our house has a long and sometimes stressful history. We both agree it has to be a real tree but after that, my spouse takes a lot more interest in this project than her husband. At one time I was supposed to take the kids and choose a tree. Then the kids went and got it themselves. This year with two having flown the coop and restrictions in place it was back to the couple to do the deed. By the time we went staff in stores were looking at us oddly when we asked about trees as if it was already January. But this was because they didn’t have any trees left and it was still ten days before the feast.
Eventually, we found a place that actually had trees. I find it hard to decide what a tree looks like when it is tied up with string, but somehow one is supposed to know. Anyway, a tree was picked and the guy wanted cash. I ask you. I haven’t carried any of that stuff for months and so we were invited to pay by e-transfer. I do this stuff at home but not on my wife’s phone and of course, it didn’t work. So we drove to the nearest bank and got cash and the tree came home.
We decided to put the tree up the next morning and when our grandkids came to see it before school and daycare it was listing to port at a 45-degree angle. My daughter helped to right it. I happened to mention my challenges with tree buying to a friend and all they did was send me a photo of their tree all decorated and gifts underneath. I ask you what help was that.
Today is our very special day: the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration for which our church is named. And although this occasion (which is part of Christmas of course) comes so soon after December 25th itself, it is a cause for rejoicing.
By tradition, we remember the visit of the Magi to the newly born Jesus, and to Mary and Joseph. It is interesting that the two earliest visits to Jesus started with the ordinary shepherds from Bethlehem and then the Magi. Part of the significance of the visit was that the Magi were Gentiles; the first to believe in Christ. We should also note that Matthew does not tell us that three Magi came to see Jesus, but when three gifts were mentioned: gold, frankincense and myrrh, it was assumed that three was the right number. By the sixth century, the visitors had names: Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar and by the middle ages, they were venerated as saints. In Christian art, the representation of the Magi at the birth of Christ became one of the most popular subjects. In the gospel passage that outlines the visitation, Matthew tells us that in the time of Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, kings came from the East asking about a child born king of the Jews. They told Herod they had followed a star, guiding them to the child, and had come to pay homage.
Of course expecting a king to be born in the capital, Jerusalem, the kings went first to Herod, the puppet ruler of the Jews, under Roman occupation. Herod was alarmed as a potential king was a threat to his rule. He asked the religious leaders of the day where the Messiah was to be born; they answered: Bethlehem. Herod then met with the wise men, asked when they had first seen the star, and encouraged them to continue with their journey, and having found the child to report back to Herod himself, so that he too might pay homage.
The Magi continued their travel and, says Matthew, found the place where the child was, and they were overwhelmed with joy. They entered the house and saw Jesus with Mary (his mother) and they offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. However, they did not return to Jerusalem to tell Herod what they had seen but instead went home by another route.
So shepherds and Gentiles were first to find and worship the infant Jesus. In those days astrology had more credence than it does today and people used the stars as a way to know in which direction they were headed long before maps or Satellite Navigation became the order of the day.
One phrase caught my eye in the passage from Matthew. When the Magi found where the star stopped: they were ‘overwhelmed with joy’.
We do not know how long a journey the Magi had made. We know they came ‘from the East’ and most likely this was travel that took place over a period of weeks, if not months.
I wonder when in our lives we might have been overwhelmed with joy? Was it when we were married or landed a job, was it when our children were born, or even our grandchildren. For those of us of faith, my guess is that often being overwhelmed with joy might centre on a religious experience, at a service or gathering of friends.
As someone who might not ever be accused of being ‘overwhelmed with joy’ as I reflect there have been times in my life that fit into that category and sometimes we don’t even know it at the time.
Perhaps this week you might like to ponder those words and remember times when this may have been your experience in life. Who was there? What happened? And what was of significance about the occasion? One other thought: one commentator (Howell) spoke of the Magi bringing to the infant Jesus, gifts of immense value, ‘what was precious to them’.
What do we have that is of immense value? What is precious to us?
These are the gifts we all can lay at the feet of Jesus on this feast of the Epiphany. These gifts of course are ourselves: our skills and experience, our resources (our time as well as our financial gifts), and our prayer and worship. This Church is what our people make it, by being together in worship and supporting one another through prayer. We need each other, and we delight in being supported and encouraged by the presence and giving of each other. Our church is only as good as we together make it. It isn’t perfect, we make mistakes, but we know where we are headed and whose path we follow.
Let us hope and pray that in the months that lie ahead we may in whatever way makes sense to us, be ‘overwhelmed with joy’.