Welcome to 2019. As always, not all our friends and family made it into the New Year. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those adjusting to the new reality and facing that year of firsts without someone, the first Christmas, the first Easter, the first anniversary and the first birthday. Those firsts are tough but get easier to bear over time.
We’ve just celebrated the season celebrating a huge first for the Christian church the birth of Jesus Christ.
This Sunday was Epiphany and the word was brought to us by Tim. He read from Matthew 2 verses 1 to 12.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, 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 when it rose 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 Messiah 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 shepherd 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 search carefully 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 when it rose 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 worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
There is a tendency at this point in January to think Christmas is over and done with, and we’ve probably heard through songs and carols that the 3 kings have already been and gone. But that’s not the case (and they weren’t kings anyway). The Magi’s visit happened well after Christmas and not to the stable but to the house where Mary and Joseph and the baby have returned to after their travels.
Tim asked us “How do you find your way about?” Are you a sat nav person or are you old school? Can you use a compass and an ordnance survey map to find your way about. Your sat nav is accurate to about 4 metres, (Mr Google knows exactly where you are!), your map a little less accurate depending on the scale. The Magi actually used the conventional method of navigating in their time. They used the stars.
Isaiah the poet foretold all of this centuries before. In a passage he recited to Jews returning from exile in 580 BC, Jews who were returning to a Jerusalem in ruins he said to look up and hope. He anticipates a Jerusalem that will rise up again from its ruins. This revived Jerusalem will be prosperous and a cause for real celebration. God promised this and God keeps his promises.
The Magi’s star nav gets them to Jerusalem. They really believe that they will find the new king of peace and prosperity in the city. But their news does not please Herod. Not surprisingly the news that there’s a new king on the block sends Herod into a panic. He consults all his scholars, his own wise men. He wants to know the meaning of the words of Isaiah that the Magi are referring to.
The scholars tell the truth thankfully. They tell Herod that the Magi have got the wrong coordinates but that its not surprising because they are quoting the wrong man. They need to look to the message from Micah. (Micah 5:2)
The Magi were 9 miles off! Not bad I suppose for star nav. The ancients never forgot the night skies as a source of information. They didn’t have street lights and light pollution to get in the way like we do.
There’s been a lot of debate over the centuries as to what the Magi followed. Halley’s comet was too early, but Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction 3 times in 7 BC so it could be them. Micah anticipates a very different leader in Jesus, a leader who brings well being . Thankfully Herod passes on what his scholars tell him and the Magi now have their destination, Bethlehem.
Matthew tells us political dynamite after this. The new king is here and the old will fall, Herod dies shortly after this but his descendants will continue to play a role in the life of Jesus. The appearance of the Magi marks the first recorded instance of strangers from a foreign land worshipping Jesus. This occurrence points the way to Pilate and his soldiers. Pilate like Herod is warned not to harm Jesus. His soldiers will be the first Gentiles since the Magi to call Jesus “King of the Jews” even if they do make the cross his throne and thorns his crown.
This story is an overture setting the scene for what it means for Jesus to be King of the Jews and for us in turn to bring him the best gifts we can.
What would have happened if Herod’s scholars had not remembered Micah’s words? What directs our steps through 2019? Will we be off by 9 miles?
Sometimes God will need to change our direction although he will always guide us. We need to lay aside our egos and our self sufficiency. Thus Epiphany our way forward should be through our vulnerability, generosity and neighbourliness. Are we heading in the right direction? Sometimes God’s people end up resisting and it is strangers that point out the new path.
Tim concluded with a poem from Walter Breuggemann.
On Epiphany day,
we are still the people walking.
We are still people in the dark,
and the darkness looms large around us,
beset as we are by fear,
a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.
We are — we could be — people of your light.
So we pray for the light of your glorious presence
as we wait for your appearing;
we pray for the light of your wondrous grace
as we exhaust our coping capacity;
we pray for your gift of newness that
will override our weariness;
we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust
in your good rule.
That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact
your rule through the demands of this day.
We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope.