Epiphany

Collect

O God,
who by the leading of a star
manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:
mercifully grant that we,
who know you now by faith,
may at last behold your glory face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

Isaiah 60.1-6

     “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
         and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
     See, darkness covers the earth
         and thick darkness is over the peoples,
     but the LORD rises upon you
         and his glory appears over you.
     Nations will come to your light,
         and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
     Lift up your eyes and look about you:
         All assemble and come to you;
     your sons come from afar,
         and your daughters are carried on the arm.
     Then you will look and be radiant,
         your heart will throb and swell with joy;
     the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
         to you the riches of the nations will come.
     Herds of camels will cover your land,
         young camels of Midian and Ephah.
     And all from Sheba will come,
         bearing gold and incense
         and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.”

 

Ephesians 3.1-12

I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

Matthew 2.1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

     “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
         are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
     for out of you will come a ruler
         who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

A reflection by Rodney

 

May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

 

It was cloudy.  If, like me, you were hoping to go out to see the great conjunction of the planets, Jupiter and Saturn, just after sunset on the Monday before Christmas, then you will have been disappointed.  On a clear night, you might have been lucky enough to have seen something extremely rare – what appeared to be an unusually bright star shining low down in the south western sky.  The paths of the two planets last passed across each other so closely nearly 800 years ago in the year 1226.  Before that you had to go back to 2 BC to see this event, when light from the two planets coalesces to create a single bright light in the night sky.  Vatican astronomers have surmised that this may indeed have been the star that the wise men saw and which, in their time, before light pollution had diminished the impact of celestial events for us earthlings, would have appeared much more dramatic. 

 

Whether or not the star of Bethlehem was such an event, the story from Matthew’s gospel about the visit of the wise men to worship the Christ child is certainly one of deep significance for us who live far from where the events of the first Christmas took place, because the journey of the wise men from distant lands in order to find and honour the newly born child shows us that, right from the moment of his birth, it was recognised that Jesus was more than just a messiah for the Jews, someone destined to lead his own people out of slavery and oppression, a second Moses.  The wise men are traditionally depicted as being of mixed races – one a white Caucasian, one a black African and one perhaps from India or the Middle East.  They certainly came from far lands and so were representative of the non-Jewish people of the world, including northern Europeans like us.  And their journey to Bethlehem to pay homage to the baby in a manger shows us that Jesus’ incarnation brings hope and opens the gates of heaven to all of humankind, that he is a universal saviour and so of much greater significance than a solely Jewish messiah.

 

The story of the wise men is also important for us because it illustrates how our own journey of faith needs to be.  To start with, why was it only them who spotted the new star in the sky and understood its significance?  Why weren’t many other people alerted by so obvious a sign?  The truth is that the wise men didn’t just happen on this sign and understand its meaning by accident.  The bible tells us that they had been searching for many years, in their books, and through their observations of the heavens, for a sign that the ancient prophesies about the birth of a ruler who would transform the course of history were starting to be fulfilled.  As a result, they had prepared themselves for the moment when they would detect something unusual in the sky which would be a sign from God, and that was how they were able to recognise that moment when it came.   We need to follow their example and, by our reading and prayers, ensure that we too are prepared, waiting and watching, ready to recognise God when he speaks to us, able to detect the way that Jesus is pointing us towards, and ready to respond, as the wise men did, when we find God in the unexpected.

 

And having recognised the sign for which they had been waiting, the wise men decided to do something extraordinary.  They left their homes, their countries and all that they had and set out on a dangerous journey into the unknown, following the star that they believed would lead them to someone born to save the whole of humankind, Jew and non-Jew alike, and transform the world as they knew it.  Embarking on that journey needed a huge step of faith.  It was a step that needed more than wisdom, it needed faith and trust, to embark on that journey which would bring them face to face with the one born to save mankind. 

 

And it is that bold faith that each one of us needs if we too are to meet the holy child who came to find us.  Wisdom, discernment and reason can only take us so far and then, like the wise men, we have to step off from the comfort of the known and trust that our journey will lead us somewhere worthwhile.  And yet it is making that step of faith that takes us beyond what reason or human wisdom on their own can justify that men and women of our time seem to find so difficult to understand and that we who have made it have to try and explain to them.  The wise men, setting out so bravely on their fantastic journey, provide a great example for us.

 

And what did they find at the end of their journey?  We know that they found a child and his parents but that they saw much more than that.  They were given the grace to recognise in that child the one who bridges the gap between God and man, the one who provides for all people the way of coming back to God, the one who reveals to the whole world the loving and forgiving nature of God.  The wise men knew who they were looking for and they knew that they hadn’t found him when they met Herod.  And, having seen the one whom they had come so far to find, Matthew tells us that they returned home another way – each of them changed by the encounter.

 

We too need to follow their example by preparing ourselves so that we hear the voice of God when he speaks to us, so that we recognise the way that Jesus is pointing us towards, so that we are ready to respond, as the wise men did, when we find God in the unexpected, with courage and faith, seeking and expecting to discover that other way for our lives.

 

And so, as we celebrate the Epiphany this morning, we remember the faith and the preparedness that enabled the wise men to be the first to see and understand the bright star in the sky, to realise that Jesus comes to be not just a Jewish Messiah but a saviour for all of us, reaching out to men and women throughout the world and through all ages.  And it is for that amazing and wondrous realisation that we give our praise and thanks to God today, and celebrate, because even a cloudy sky can’t, in the end, prevent us from seeing the bright star of hope for ourselves.   Amen

 

 

Post Communion Prayer

Lord God,
the bright splendour whom the nations seek:
may we who with the wise men have been drawn by your light
discern the glory of your presence in your Son,
the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

Ephesians 3.1-12 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Isaiah 60.1-6 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Matthew 2.1-12 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Post Communion (The Epiphany) ©  The Archbishops' Council 2000
Collect (Epiphany) ©  The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)