Have you ever thought about how much easier the shepherds had it than the Magi?
I mean, the shepherds were just out there in the fields minding their sheep. They probably all had their own homes in Bethlehem so they already knew the way.
The Magi, on the other hand, lived far away. They were used to reading signs in the heavens – but signs always held a certain ambiguity – there was always a chance that you misunderstood what they meant.
This ambiguity didn't stop the Magi – they set out on the journey. They knew they were heading for Jerusalem, but when they got there they still had to check out with the locals to see if they had got it right. They found out they were in the wrong place.
But once they were pointed in the right direction – towards Bethlehem – the star seemed to be leading the way for them, reassuring them if they had any lingering anxieties.
This story was a really important story for the early church to record for posterity. It became a reminder to them that with Jesus’ coming there was now a pathway for all people to find God – not just the Jews, but the Gentiles as well [and you’ll remember that Gentiles means all the rest].
Israel had been in an “In-between” place for a couple of centuries since they returned to Palestine after the exile. They were successively occupied and ruled by the Greeks and then the Romans. This seemed to be thwarting their desire to set up God’s Kingdom again under that Son of David that had been promised so long ago.
We all experience in-between places in our lives from time to time and most people find them rather scary. The future is uncertain, unpredictable, anything could happen – good or bad.
When Jesus came he brought the in-between time to an end. He was the Messiah, the Davidic King that al Israel was waiting for. But it didn't work out like they were thinking.
They thought he would banish the Gentile oppressors and set up the Golden-age Kingdom of David again.
Instead he comes opposing violence and proclaiming a new kind of Kingdom.
And right from the outset in the telling of his story the Jewish Christians are confronted with the suggestion that this new kind of Kingdom was not to be just for them. “This isn’t the way it was meant to be,” they thought.
Have you ever had that feeling?
This story we call “The Epiphany” is one that is there to remind us that there are many more roads to God than we can imagine. It challenges us with the arrival of these men, who were clearly outsiders, but who were welcomed with their gifts. They were on a journey of faith. We will never know whether they travelled separately or as a party. But their faith journey brought them together with the Holy Family in that place in Bethlehem.
So, a question for us all today:
Where are we on our journey of faith?
I would like us to consider this individually as well as collectively, as the Community of the Holy Cross meeting in this place.
For each of you, the consideration of your personal journal will be very much a self-evaluation.
- How am I going?
- Are the fruit of the Spirit showing themselves in the way I live?
- Is this what God wants for me just now?
You will all have your own questions as well as your own answers. Some people like to explore these questions with a friend of companion – informally or formally – as a way of keeping on at it.
I want to use this day to begin setting the scene for some work we will be doing together over the next few months.
We as a community are in an in-between time. You have just concluded a period of years of ministry under Rob’s guidance.
Things have not been going well for us so this in-between time creates an opportunity for us to see how we might create a new future. We know we can’t continue as we have been going. We need to find some way of revitalising our community.
It is natural for us all to want to just do what we are familiar with in the hope that if we do more of it things will get better. There is an old saying, however, that if we keep on doing the same things, we will get the same results.
This is going to be scary and risky, but when you are feeling scared, or feeling like a certain risk seems too much for you, I want you to remember what it must have been like for those early Jewish Christians who all thought they knew how the Kingdom of God was going to work – and then Jesus came along and showed them a different way.
But, do you know what? That different way was guided by the two greatest guiding principles of the People of Israel – loving God, and loving one another.
When we come to consider what sort of new future God has for us here as the Community of the Holy Cross our decisions will be guided by what has always been the core values of this community. You might not be able to articulate them – but you most certainly are guided by them.
My work with you will involve clarifying just what those core values are and then guiding the decisions we will make together about how we shall be that Community and remain true to our calling and be vibrant and sufficient for the demands the future will make on us.
To finish I want to take you back to the story with some thoughts by David Adam in his recent book "Searchlights". The Magi brought gifts and if we consider them allegorically we can find some food for our journey today.
The gold is seen by some as a symbol of all God’s gifts – all things come from God, and whatever we give back to God is nothing more than we have by God’s grace received as a gift. For us today, let us claim an assurance that God has given us all that we need.
Frankincense is symbolic of awe, of mystery and adoration. This centres on our personal life in God in which we pray and worship. For us today, may we never forget to bring with us a sense of awe when we gather as the Community of the Holy Cross.
Myrrh is seen as a symbol of pain and the relief of pain. Our life in God is not always easy. Sometimes we fail to be what we could be. Sometimes others fail and let us down or hurt us. One cannot live long on this journey of faith without being hurt or disappointed in some way. Yet here in this birth story we have an assurance from God that there will be relief from the pain. There will always be a way through with these gifts at our disposal.