|Pen and Ink Reflections||
If the Feast of the Epiphany tells us anything, it is that truly holy gifts come from surprising places. Why else would the bearers of gold, frankincense and myrrh not only be Gentiles – unclean foreigners, from other nations – but also Magi to boot? Recent Christmas tradition has called them the Wise Men, or the Three Kings, but there is nothing in the text to say that they were kings, or only male, or only three of them, or even ‘wise’ in typical Jewish understanding. In fact the word Magi may indicate the word ‘magician’, as used, disapprovingly, elsewhere in the New Testament. So we have a story today where the main bearers of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and its symbols, are potentially very dodgy outsiders indeed. Of course this is highly intentional. For, from the very start, in its genealogy of Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel is keen to tell us that God’s revelation, and salvation, involves surprising people and surprising divine moves. So it was then and remains now, if our eyes, ears and hearts are open. When I begin by saying my address this morning is inspired by a funeral I attended this week, you may therefore recognise something of that same surprising movement of our surprising God…
Do we see the star of the Epiphany? I mean, do we really see the star and understand what it means? Most people don't. Some see the star and are full of awe for a moment or two and then move on. Others see it and understand it wrongly, or partially. Others see it among other lights and then follow them. Others are simply looking in the wrong place. So where are we looking? For the Epiphany story is actually a strange one. It is not what it might immediately seem. Whilst we typically often cover it in tinsel and sentimentality, it is in fact quite disturbing, and, thereby, potentially quite transforming…
The first Christmas sermon I preached here in Toowoomba empolyed words of a great poet songwriter singer: Leonard Cohen who, sadly for us, died recently. Let me then preach my final Christmas sermon here with reference to the words of another great poetic songwriter singer: Bob Dylan, who was recently awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. For like Leonard Cohen, Dylan’s lyrics have typically been grounded in a relationship to existence which we can call religious, in the very best sense of that word: namely a relationship which is not always conventional, and certainly not ‘churchy’, but which is always seeking to connect with the deepest ground of our being. It is from this place that we find our truest meaning, both for our individual lives and for our families, communities and wider world. For, in Dylan’s words which take us to the heart of the feast of Christ’s nativity, whoever ‘is not busy being born is busy dying.’ In the nativity we see the ultimate meaning, source and purpose of life. We are invited to share that light and love, by allowing it to be born more fully in us and the world around us…
Today we are keeping the feast of the epiphany - not any old epiphany, not the kind of epiphany I have as I am walking along thinking about nothing in particular and then realise what it is I need to cook for dinner- no, THE epiphany, the big one, the one that makes all the others make sense. And what is that exactly? It is when the wisest ones in the world, bring everything the world has to offer - wealth, power and even suffering, disguised as gold, frankincense and myrrh - and lay it all at the feet of a helpless, speechless baby of dubious parentage born in the poorest of circumstances and say ' this is it'! This is Emmanuel - God with us.
Once we understand that epiphany everything else that happens in the life of Jesus Christ and in our lives falls into place. Once we realise, once we truly SEE- because epiphany is always about seeing, about the light bulb moments of our lives - once we truly see that the incarnation is all that truly matters, then everything else makes sense...
Just before Christmas we had a wonderful gathering in St Luke’s, of many faiths and none. It was a time of remembrance and prayer for those who had been killed and traumatised by recent events, including the Sydney siege and the massacre of children in Pakistan. It was a time of reaffirmation and deepened solidarity as we renewed our city commitment to peace and harmony. It was a time which showed we have something very special here in Toowoomba. For so many places in the world would be amazed that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’is, and so many others, can not only live together peacefully but even appreciate one another and share their distinctive gifts. That should not seem unusual. Yet it is. We should therefore celebrate and build upon it. For, in a deep sense, as we hear today’s Epiphany Gospel, we are perhaps thereby 'a Church of the Magi’…