Sermon for Epiphany 2018

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Sermon for Epiphany 2018

Post by Ernest » Sun Jan 07, 2018 1:56 pm

Sermon Epiphany 7 Jan 2018

It’s a Mystery?
May I speak in the Name of the eternal Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

One of my favourite singers is ‘Toyah Wilcox’ . Her first hit record was a song, called “It’s a Mystery”. released as a single in 1995, it went to the top of the charts. It went something like this?

(You will be glad to know, I won’t be singing it)

“Somewhere in the distance
Hidden from view
Suspended in the atmosphere
Waiting to come through
Sometimes it's so far away
Sometimes it's very near
sound being carried by the wind
Just loud enough to hear
feel its power within me
Bells ringing in my head
So often I have heard its cry
But forgotten what it said
It's a mystery, it's a mystery
I'm still searching for a clue
It's a mystery to me
shot in the dark
The big question mark in history
Is it a mystery to you”?

the opening line from the reading from Isaiah 60
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the Glory of the Lord has risen upon you”, today, which seems apt for the day when we celebrate Epiphany, and the visit of the Magi (wise men) to Jesus. It’s a familiar story, yet in Toyah’s words, it’s also a bit of a mystery.

One of the enduring images of the Christmas season is that of the Magi or wise men travelling by camel through a star lit night. Let us try to put it into the context of the time?

A star (or bright light) dominates the sky The journey is almost over. It’s been a long trip from a country far away in the east. There have been dangers along the way and now they are at the town of where Jesus with his parents.
The MAGI look down from the star in the sky to the building lying below in its light. This is where they will find the child born King of the Jews that they had read about in the Scriptures.

This narrative of the Magi is popular. We place three characters around the manger with the shepherds who have come to the stable to see the Christ Child. .. we narrow the time-span of events and incorporate Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds and Magi into one scene. Which is convenient but wrong!

It’s thought that the Magi arrived some time after Jesus’ birth in a stable. Perhaps up to a year or so after? Another possibility is that the Magi visited Jesus in Nazareth, after his presentation in the Temple, on the 40th day, described in Lukes Gospel?. Where we get the wonderful “Prayer of Simeon’ and testimony of Anna.
Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth, not to Bethlehem.

This makes sense to me, as:
Herod ordered the killing of every male child up to the age of two years old in Bethlehem, when the Magi didn’t return to him.
God’s warning to Joseph in a dream, led to the flight to Egypt.
When the Magi visited Jesus, he is no longer referred to as a baby and
Matthews Gospel tell us that the Magi found the family in a house.

There are a lot of things that we don’t know about these magi such as:
how many there were, presumed to be three, because of the three gifts?

what their names were? , names used are speculative at best.

where they came from exactly? Historical evidence is that they were from Persia, but this is not confirmed in the Gospels.

and how far they travelled following the star? If it was Persia, it would have been a journey of at least 800 miles - quite a journey by Camel. (Probably travelling in a Caravan accompanied by Armed Soldiers).

Magi do feature elsewhere in the Old Testament in particular in Jeremiah 39;3, when King Nebuchadrezzar’s Officials came to Jerusalm after it’s conquest and dealt with the subsequent fallout and dispersal of the people of Israel to Babylon.

We hear that the Magi studied the stars and were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures but Matthew doesn’t give us anymore than that. We do know that Learned Eastern people, often from wealthy backgrounds, were familiar with the stars, medicine and nature and were well informed through study, to advise rulers, from early times.

But it remains a mystery to ponder on.

One of the facts that Matthew does give us is that the magi came with special gifts for the new born king, he tells us in Verse 11 and 12.

“They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him."

Gold, frankincense and myrrh – representing Kingship, Divinity and the Eternal rule of the new born Christ Child.

Some have speculated that these gifts were the principal items used in wizardry and magic that Magi from the east dabbled in? In giving the Christ-child gold, frankincense and myrr, they were surrendering their tools of trade.

I am not so sure? I think that they’d found a new guiding star – the Christ child.. Matthew simply gave us the facts.

To us these might seem rather strange gifts. but what do you give this child who is the all-powerful God incarnate - who controls the stars to such an extent that a particularly bright star travels westward and stops over the place where Jesus and his parents were at?

When the Lord of the universe reaches down from heaven and touches the earth, condescends in love to come to us, in the flesh, as one of us, a defenceless baby come to do deliver our salvation on the Cross., what do you give?

This was one of the things that amazed Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians:

“and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

Pope Francis, preaching on the Epiphany on Thursday this week said. Like the Magi, believers are led by faith to seek God in the most hidden places, knowing that the Lord waits for them there.

That word, Mystery again?

The magi with their gifts might have worried that they were not worthy for the child in the manger,..... God who has become a human and now rests in his mother’s arms - this didn’t phase them - they Knelt and worshiped the Christ Child and offered what they had, ......... that was most precious to them.

Maybe that’s just the point.

We, like the magi, may feel unworthy to receive the awesomeness of God’s love in the child Jesus, we may struggle to find a gift to give in return? ...............All we can do is, like those men from the east, give what we have?

Maybe that's always the way it is with our gifts to God?

Our witness pointing too Jesus Christ.
Our worship - our Prayer, praise, our music and singing and liturgy.
this church building - a holy, safe place of sanctuary in God.
Our generosity in terms of time, gifts, money offered to the Glory of God.
Our love and care for one another and all who come seeking.
Our care and conservation of God’s beautiful Creation.
they are all that we have to give.

This reminds me of that time later at Bethany, where Jesus went, just before his arrest. Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, extravagantly uses a whole jar of expensive Nard perfume on Jesus’ feet.. The disciples cry, "What a waste!" But Jesus says, "Let her alone. She has done a beautiful thing, anointing me for my burial."

Jesus is about to make a really extravagant gift on the cross, and so accepts Mary’s extravagant gift. .....................Mary expressed her love for Jesus in an unreserved and unrestrained way. What Mary did wasn’t wasteful – Like the Magi she gave the best of what she had.

If we were to make a new year’s resolution that things will be different in the coming year, how can we make a difference? Perhaps a question to reflect on as we leave this gathering and go out into the world?

The challenge in front of each of us is to make each breathing mo
ment a gift worth giving to the King. God gave himself to us because
he loves us, worthy or unworthy, the mystery of all of this is in Toyahs
words: is:

Hidden from view
Suspended in the atmosphere
Waiting to come through
Sometimes it's so far away
Sometimes it's very near
sound being carried by the wind
Just loud enough to hear
feel its power within me
Bells ringing in my head

I pray that the mystery’s hidden in God, now revealed, will continue inspire us to love him in return and ponder on the Mystery that is the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ as we journey together this year.
Where there is hope and love there is life!
God is Life!
God is Hope!
God is Love!
God Is!!

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