My Dear Parishioners,
Every year, as surely as the Season of the Star (Epiphany) comes around, the process of searching for an acceptable explanation begins. Perhaps that is why this simple but profound image of the Magi haunts us, basically because it communicates some beautiful and stunning truths. To be truly wise is to search for what is coming to birth in an age of death - to search for what is beginning anew in an age when much seems to be ending. To do this with some sincerity, perhaps perturbs people. It perturbed Herod and indeed the whole of Jerusalem. Why? - because people easily become inured to death. They regard as normal many attitudes which are spiritually malignant. It was normal in that long ago world to see life as brutal and oppressive; to feel that history was static and imprisoned, just as it is normal to see our age as the prisoner of dark giants which stalk our consciousness and fill us with despair. In such a time, it takes wise men and women to seek the child, the new life, the fresh possibility which God labours to bring to birth in the womb of the world.
So as we think of the impact of the Epiphany story upon us, and upon our world, it might be helpful to state the scriptural basis for the event, as found in St. Matthew Chpt. 2: 2 - “Astrologers from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who is born to be king….We observed the rising of his star, and have come to worship him.”
So there was Herod, and there always is a ‘Herod’ in human affairs. Herod is the entrenched position, the threatened structure. He is all that resents new possibilities and sets out to kill and to stifle the process of birth. New birth in human affairs is disturbing because it is so unexpected. It upsets prearranged patterns, and refuses to conform. It is never born in our predictable Jerusalems, in the backwaters, in human situations and in human minds where we presume that nothing can grow: the employee we always take for granted, the child we think of as being slow, the marriage partner we find dull and no longer interesting, the area of our own lives which we see as stultifying - these are the Bethlehems which can blaze forth with unexpected glories.
But the travelers did not ask merely about the birth of a child. They asked about a child who would be king. Here lies, at one and the same time, the threat and the promise of what God brings to birth, Whether it be in human affairs, human institutions, or human lives.
When the new is born, and when it is of God, then it is king. Then it claims us, makes demands and forces change. Then it is that God rules, and you and I have to get to that point where God equally is king of our lives. So we always need our critical faculties when we search for the birth which God wishes for us, and through us, and in us.
The Magi meet a ‘Herod’ on the road to Bethlehem, a smiling, co-operative, fellow-traveller in the search for the child. Similarly in our spiritual journey there are such traps. There is the intense community which draws us until we realize that its very intensity will exhaust and destroy us. There is the fellowship which offers us certainty in return for total allegiance. There is the friend whose smiling euphoric piety masks a deep neurosis. Sometimes like those wise men of long ago, we have to decide ‘to return home another way’. It is that change of direction - that change in orientation - which in the long run will be satisfying, and will be to our spiritual benefit.
Above all, the wise men journeyed with their gifts.: gold , frankincense and myrrh. True wisdom sees all of life as a search for God: compare Adam in the Garden of Eden. It sees all that we possess as gifts from God as well. We are only stewards of the gifts of God. It is a search for the Divine who waits to be born individually in each one of us. When we find him, and are found by him, we lay ourselves at the feet of God as a gift, because the offering of ourselves is the only real gift within our competence to give. May our gracious God help you and help me, to surrender this precious gift to him every day.
With all good wishes and prayers Archdeacon Emeritus