The Pas Epiphany Sunday
6 January 2019
Almighty and everliving God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star. Shine the light of your justice in our hearts and over all lands, and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service; through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
How many of us have ever been on a treasure hunt?
To seek clue after clue, leading you from point to place as you search for the treasure that you know, in your heart, is worth the time and the effort you’ve invested in the search?
These days, we see various scavenger hunts, where the participants are to find, and these days photograph, various items in their natural setting. At one time, such items had to be borrowed, or brought, in some manner, to a central point for tallying toward a grand prize for the participants.
But there is also the new(ish) pastime of ‘geocaching’, a game in which players are given the geographical coordinates of a cache of items for which they search with a GPS device.
Such activities aren’t new, although, how we go about them has changed over the years, from our scavenger hunts to geocaching, but its been done before.
Think of tales of pirates and their treasure. Searching for clues, for maps, for information that will lead them to their prize. But we can go even farther back than this when we remember the three Wise Men, the Magi whom we celebrate, today.
Because the Christmas season is so profound, so important to our lives as Christians, and yet at the same time, so brief, we often see the Wise Men, the Magi arriving at the manger, in the stable, on the night the Christ child is born, on the heels of the shepherds, who follow the directions of the angel’s proclamation.
But we have to remember that the Wise Men didn’t encounter angels. They didn’t receive directions and angel song. They weren’t woken from a profound sleep by the sudden arrival of the star in the sky.
Rather they’ve been tracking clues. Clues, hints, changes that they’ve found in prophesy, that they’ve seen in astronomy, that they’ve encountered in the sciences of the day, and from there, they’ve left the comfort of their libraries. They’ve left them to find the truth that God has revealed to their hearts – the King of Kings, the Priest of all Priests, and the Sacrifice to end all sacrifice has been born into the world.
And the one question that is a running commentary amongst the Wise Men, in the movie “The Nativity Story” is “How’s your faith, now?”
Today’s gospel tells us: “2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.” (Mt 2:1-2)
These men have come from all over the world, following the cues and clues found in history, found in science and philosophy, and signs seen in the movement of the stars.
They find themselves meeting along the way, to bring them to this seat, cornerstone, foundational and pivotal moment in human history when God is made manifest, in human form.
When it is God’s will that the Messiah, the Christ is born among us, to show us how to love as we are loved of God.
And it is truly interesting, if we think about this. These men break out of their habits, their lifestyles, and patterns of abstract knowledge. They’ve broken out of their daily routines in order to come to this place, to witness what they’ve only read about in dusty ancient texts, and in the movement of the heavens.
Now, although we have no knowledge of them before this momentous event, of coming together at the stable, at the manger to pay homage to God in human form, we have formulated ideas and stories over the years.
The movie “The Nativity Story” suggests that these three sages lived together and were great friends who were able to focus their amazing talents and thirst for knowledge together to realize that a new star in the sky is more than just a new constellation being born.
And it continues to come back to the question that is asked amongst these, the most wise, is “How’s your faith, now?”
And this is an interesting question, if you think about it, for you, and for me, so far distant that it comes to us from the dusty and love worn pages of the bible, and is based on the faiths of those who came before, who ask each of us the same question “How’s your faith now?”
It’s asked when they plan the trip, when Melchior decides that it’s a journey they need to take, to go to Judea to see the birth of this new star in the sky, to follow where the prophesies have been leading them, in their texts, in their scrolls, and he tries to encourage his friends to come with him.
They leave the comfort of their accommodation, the assurance of water, of meals, of leisure activities and of their studies to travel to Judea, to track the progress of the stars as this new star is born.
If we just look
at the words of the prophesies, the stories and the poetry as just words,
without any ability to touch our hearts and our lives, then how, if any, is it
able to touch our lives, change our hearts, encourage us to step out of that
comfortable routine of study, and social life, of income earning, and family
routines, and encourage our hearts to grow, to yearn for the Messiah, for the
child in the manger, for the one who takes away our sins, and opens to us the Kingdom
And yes, this is a deeply complex thought, but it comes down to the statement of “How’s your faith now?”
And if our faith isn’t changed, at all, then we’re just reading with our eyes, with our hearts closed and seeing all of this as just an academic exercise, in the same way as the Wise Men, before stepping out into the world to take their measurements in person.
Living in their own place, away from the world, its all just an academic exercise. It’s able to be set aside for a leisure activity, it’s able to be treated as myth, as prophesy, as something that will touch the lives of those in a generation or two, or five, but it’s not for here, and now, other than to gain in wisdom.
us: “60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isa 60:1-3)
But realizing that the star will be manifest in their lifetimes, in the here and now; realizing that this coincides with the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah means that it’s time to get out of our comfort zones, to get out of our heads, and out of our routines.
It means it’s time for our faith to grow in the realization that Christ is born, that God is here, Emmanuel, God with us, not by our heads, but by our hearts.
“9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” (Mk 2:9-10)
So, they strike out. They venture beyond their doors and far away from their cozy libraries and comfortable accommodations. They get the sun in their face, and the question that is asked over miles of sand, foreign customs, and languages, and even over dinner with the duplicitous Herod is the same question.
“How’s your faith now?”
And, we are able to ask this of ourselves, as well. How’s our faith, as we gaze lovingly on the child in the manger, as we hear the glory of the angel song, as we watch the boy grow into a man who will die on the cross to take away the sins of the world?
How’s our faith now?
Is it still trapped in the pages of the bible? Is it caught in the pages of our prayer books? Or does it live and breathe and grow, in our hearts, does it fill our lives with awe and with love?
Does it inspire
us to live that faith to the world? To carry the message that the Christ child
is born, that our lives and our faith are forever changed because the
prophesies are fulfilled, and the star has shone on high?
One of my favourite scenes of the movie “The Nativity Story” is when the Wise Men arrive in Bethlehem, under the cloak of darkness, (they are after all following the light of a star, right?) and they come into the stable.
Melchior gives his gift: gold “for the king of all kings”. Balthazar gives the gift of frankincense “for the priest of all priests.” Gaspar, stumbling forward, tears in his eyes, gives the gift of myrrh, “to honour thy sacrifice.”
Now the really interesting part is Gaspar isn’t just fulfilling a prophesy, here.
Rather he’s grown in his own life, and in his faith. He’s stepped away from his books and his research, he’s realized that such research has a connection with the real world, and especially with the family he sees before him, nestled in the straw on the floor of a stable.
He’s acknowledging that the road of his research leads to the Messiah, and that the road of the Messiah leads to the Cross.
He’s acknowledging that this beautiful, perfect child, held lovingly in his mother’s arms, will die for you and for me, for him, and for his companions.
The absolutely beautiful part is the way his opening his heart to the love of God, for all of humanity, is that we can see that he’s choked up by the act of seeing God made manifest.
He’s made speechless by the impact of the knowledge that he brings to the manger, to the stable. He can see from what he’s learned in the ancient prophesies what will be demanded of this family, within his own lifetime.
“5 Then you
will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy” (Isa 60:5a)
We see, in these readings, in the visit by the Magi, by the Wise men, we see God opening God’s hand and heart to all who believe, from the moment of conception through the conversations with Nicodemus, on the rooftop (in the dark) to the very cross itself. (Lk 1, Jn 3)
We see God’s love, through the Messiah, seen in the pages of the bible, has never been restricted to one group or another, but is open to all who believe.
And in this, we can see that God has, and continues, to open our hearts to the love and lifechanging actions of God. And with the Wise Men we can honestly answer the question “How’s your faith, now?”