We have transferred our celebration of Epiphany to this Sunday as it is an easily neglected festival in the Church year, so here is a sermon I wrote for Epiphany a couple of years ago, as I had a baptism as my main service this morning and didn't need to write a full sermon for that - I spoke about being a light in the world instead (appropriate for Epiphany and Baptism)
Anyway, in order to prompt (perhaps) a little thought here is that sermon...
The wise still seek him…
I don’t know if you noticed a few years back, but there was a glut of car stickers and posters outside Churches all over the country with silhouettes of men on camels and the words ‘Wise Men still seek Christ’ printed in large letters.
There are still a few of the stickers and posters around, but they’re not so popular now – apart from the fact that something that seems clever at first soon becomes hackneyed and slightly wearing – they are also slightly dated by the fact it talks about ‘wise men’. Perhaps an updated version should say ‘The Wise still seek him’.
Anyway, the reason for thinking about the ‘wise men’, or ‘Magi’ as these travellers are known is because, as I’m sure we all know, today is the feast of the Epiphany. This is the day we usually remember the coming of the Magi to worship the new born Jesus, and a the time where we ‘wrap up’ the Christmas season (no pun intended) – this being twelfth night, it’s time to take the decorations down, get rid of the tree and hoover up the pine needles. It is the end of Christmas-tide, and we look towards the next feast, the presentation of Christ in the temple at the beginning of February.
Epiphany itself means ‘coming of the light’ or ‘the revelation’. It is actually a reminder of the Christ the light who comes into the world, and as such goes back to the words we hear from St John’s Gospel on Christmas day, about the ‘true light which illuminates all people’ coming into the world.
The feast of ‘Epiphany’ is used to remind us that Jesus was revealed not just to the Jewish people as their Messiah, their saviour, but to Gentiles – represented by these travellers from the East. It is a reminder that God’s message of hope was, and is, for all people. It is a reminder that none are excluded from God’s plan, that all humanity are invited to be a part of the life of Christ that comes from the revelation of Christmas.
But there’s more. Epiphany reminds us that this revelation is not something to be taken for granted, something that comes lightly or easily. I mentioned in my Christmas talks that it was only through the faithfulness of these ‘magi’ that they had the opportunity to share in the great events we remember each year.
The journey these wise men undertook would not have been easy, to come ‘from the East’ to Israel is a long and difficult trek – through difficult terrain, much of which was unknown. The hazards were many, exposure to the elements, passing through strange and unusual cultures, being open to attach from bandits – the list goes on.
And what was it that drew these travellers? Did they have proof of what would be at the end of their journey? Were they given cast-iron guarantees about what they would find? Promises of bounty and reward for all their effort?
Well, the Bible says that all they saw was the single, miraculous star. The interpreted it as a sign that an ancient promise had been fulfilled, and set out to find the meaning there. They were willing to risk all they had, to leave behind all that was familiar, to open themselves to something new and different, all because they believed that God had made a promise.
Their story is one of seeking, of searching. Which is why I started with our car sticker. ‘The wise still seek Jesus’. Seeking suggest being active, Christian faith is something that does not just land in our laps, it involves seeking and searching. Christian faith involves being willing to move from where we are to where God is leading us. It means being willing to let go of our securities to set out on a journey of faith, which will be an adventure, which may well change our lives and indeed change us.
For those of us who have been brought up in the Church this can come as a bit of a surprise. Many of us believe ourselves Christian because of our Church attendance or because that’s how we were brought up. But Christian faith is all that and more, we must commit ourselves to the journey, to taking the risk of faith, to being open to God. We don’t absorb faith by osmosis, but we need to take that step of faith that sets us on that journey to seek and know God, through his son Jesus.
The difference today is that we will not be considered ‘wise men’ (or women) by many of those around us. Those who take the Christian Faith seriously are not seen as wise by the standards of our society or the standards of many of our friends and colleagues.
To be a Christian today is to risk being laughed at, to risk being an outsider in a world that is more concerned with money, power, prestige and popularity than with repentance, Christian discipline and learning to listen to God’s Spirit.
To be willing to ‘take up our cross and follow Christ’ is beyond the understanding of many people who share our lives. Being a Christian is not an easy option, and on the face of it, not one that seems sensible. And being willing to stand up for what is right, even when it opens us up to criticism and ridicule, might even seem to be a stupid option.
But the wisdom of Christian faith is deeper than conventional wisdom, it’s the wisdom of doing things the way God calls us to, and in the process of doing God’s will we will become closer to God, and reflect the life and love of Christ. It’s a wisdom that confounds convention and that turns upside down the values of the world we live in.
And unlike the magi, we do have an idea of what is at the end of the journey, the reward of meeting Christ, of seeing him face to face. We can share the life of Christ here and now, we can have the faith, hope and love that only God can give. This is more precious than anything else our world has to offer – it’s not as obvious as all of the things that society seems to think is important, but it is infinitely more valuable and worthwhile. There is nothing that compares with knowing God, and sharing in the depths of his love – with being a part of the life of the Spirit and of being made one with Christ, one of the family with God as our heavenly father.
And so this new year, my prayer is that we can all commit ourselves again to seeking Christ, to learning God’s wisdom, and to being open to the life of the God’s Holy Spirit – that our Christian life in these parishes may grow and blossom and that more and more may see the truth and the life which only God offers.