Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Preacher: The Rev’d Pamela Rayment
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, a feast day in the liturgical calendar connected to the visitation of the Magi to the Christ child, as we hear depicted in our readings, and as we see depicted in our nativity scenes.
Now I don’t know about you, but the image that comes to mind when I think of these magi is that of typical pageantry. In particular that of the many nativity pageants put on by children at Christmastime. Those playing the wisemen dressed in royal colours – usually a shiny lame fabric of some sort – a make-shift crown on their heads, slowly making their way towards the manger, hands carrying their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, clumsily place their gifts in front of the child playing Mary and her babydoll Jesus, and then taking their place kneeling in the scene, trying not to crack a smile for the rest of the pageant.
Or maybe, you’ve been privy to the custom of having the wise men figures from the nativity set move around the church from Sunday to Sunday throughout Advent and Christmastime, only to be added to the scene on Epiphany. But no matter what image you call to mind, there is a sense of travel and journey attached to it.
The passage from the gospel according to St. Matthew certainly suggests a sense of vast movement; they came from the East and travelled first to Jerusalem, likely traversing the arid terrain of the desert of Kedar. And from Jerusalem, they travelled on to Bethlehem.
There is an amusing scene in the 2006 movie The Nativity Story directed by Catherine Hardwicke, where the wise men are discussing the long and difficult journey ahead of them, and one of them quips that in light of the comforts he is leaving behind, he may require an extra camel so that he can bring with him those things which will make the journey tolerable!
Which begs the question, why did these magi decide to make this journey in the first place?
True they were astronomers of sorts: those who studied the celestial sights, observing the stars as they sought to learn about the cosmos around them.
And yes, they were following a star – a new star. A celestial occurrence that they linked to the birth of the king of the Jews.
But the wise men, they were not Jewish. While they may have been familiar with Scripture, they didn’t follow the Torah, so this king, whose star they observed, wasn’t their king.
In light of the length and overall hardship that this journey, that any journey in that time, was going to entail, they could have easily enough decided to stay put and study the night sky from where they were.
But something was stirring in their hearts.
Something prompted them to make the trek to Bethlehem.
And that something was in truth, someone – Jesus.
Jesus propels the movement depicted in this passage we heard today.
Jesus, God in the Flesh, was drawing these magi to him, because in Jesus, something new had begun. Jesus, king of the Jews was fulfilling what the prophets of God had spoken.
He was gathering all together.
Isaiah prophesized “the wealth of the nations shall come to you.”
And these magi in the nativity story of the Christ child, they are the first to be called into the fulfillment of this prophecy. For these Gentile magi do bring with them the wealth of the nations in their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts fit for a king. But even more so, they bring themselves.
When they finally reached the place where Jesus was, the magi, they are overwhelmed with joy, and they kneel down and pay homage to the child king. Keep in mind they didn’t have to do this. They had no religious or political obligation to worship this unlikely king. But when they reach their destination and gaze upon Jesus, the joy they experience moves them to worship. Moves them to the recognition that this child, born in a way not typical of a king, is worthy of honour and praise.
When we look at our crafted manger scenes, when we study the nativity of our Lord,
we catch a glimpse of what God began in Jesus, which is what we celebrate at Epiphany –God’s self-disclosure, God’s self-revelation to all of humankind as an expression of God’s inexhaustible love and mercy.
The Epiphany speaks to an awakening, an enlightenment and a revelation of the God revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. It is the kind of Epiphany that transforms lives and calls for new allegiances, goals, and directions, so much so that even the term Epiphany is transformed.
You see the term ‘epiphany’, was originally used for the abrupt manifestation or showing up of a sovereign to inspect a subordinate; but the gospel, it transforms this meaning.
Instead, we have the appearance of the poor Jesus of Nazareth, the one servant King, who comes not to exert power over the weak, but to establish peace. The one who comes to set the righteous free, the one who comes to put an end to oppression and injustice, not through force and exploitation, but through a liberation of love.
A liberation of love expressed in an unexpected way.
I recently read a story of a conversation surrounding the gospel story of the magi,and a man named Chael – a member of the church in Nicaragua summed it up like this: “Those wise gentlemen found something they weren’t expecting – that the liberator was a poor little child, and besides, a little child persecuted by the powerful.”
When we look at our crafted manger scenes.
When we study the nativity of our Lord, we ought to be confronted by this unexpected liberation of love, as we gaze upon a people gathered together of varying status and from many nations – the very people for whom the Son was sent, who are all people who gather to pay homage to Jesus. Which is, after all, who we are as Church.
Epiphany reminds us that it is Jesus who gathers us. It reminds us that it’s less about where we gather, less about exactly how we gather, and more about who gathers us.
Let us today experience the unexpected Epiphany of the Lord, trusting that our very being is wrapped up in Christ, and in light of this, let us too, be overwhelmed with joy.