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Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12
Today is our first Sunday of 2021. We are hoping for a better year when this Covid 19 pandemic will be under better control and we can return to life as normal as possible. We continue to pray for those suffering from this terrible virus and all the health care workers who have been caring for people suffering with this virus. We also can be thankful that a vaccine has been approved and is beginning to be delivered to our communities.
Today we celebrate the Epiphany which actually happens on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas. Epiphany is about bringing light to the world and celebrating the meaning of Jesus birth for all of humanity. The story we read from Matthew’s gospel has often been embellished so that we can lose focus about what this story means. The picture many of us have is different than the real story. We sing the hymn which we have today, “We Three Kings of Orient are”. It is a fun hymn which we all enjoy, but they were not kings according to the bible. They were astrologers. We hear their names, Caspar, Melchoir, and Balthasar but there is no mention of them in the original story. So we need to avoid romanticizing this story too much where we begin to miss the point of what we can learn of God and our own spiritual journey and our response to Jesus, the Christ Child.
As I re-read this passage this year, for me it is speaking of the response we can make to Jesus in our own lives. We have three responses in this story. The first is anger, jealousy and rejection. King Herod had ruled for many years with cruelty and violence. When he heard of a new king of the Jews he did not want a rival. It is not unusual for people to react angrily to the name of Jesus. Sometimes it is related to a bad experience of church or Christians in the past. I read a survey taken recently in Canada where it said younger people had a more negative view of Jesus than older people. This is probably because Jesus has often been misrepresented by us as the church. We personally can be angry with Jesus because of events in our life that did not work out or a loved one has become sick and died. This can create a lack of faith in God.
The second response is apathy and non-commitment. King Herod asks the chief priests and teachers of the law, “Where will the Messiah be born?”. They know the answers and tell him Bethlehem. But they do not respond by going themselves. They go back to their lives. Apathy and being unprepared to follow and listen to God is a problem we can all face. I am sure we have all felt a certain malaise and apathy during this time of the pandemic. But as a new year begins it is a good opportunity to look back and remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past and to look for that in the future.
But there is a third response which makes this story intriguing for me. This is the response of the Magi, the strangers from a far land. Their journey is a beautiful parable of the journey of faith that we all go through as we move into a deeper experience of God. The story of the visitors from the east is a four stage journey: from the head to the heart. First they study the facts. Their journey of faith begins with them asking questions. They study the stars and when they see a strange star in the sky, they has themselves questions about it. Second they know that only way to get an answer is to set out on a journey. But that journey involves risk. They have to come to the court of the king and risk their lives to find out about Jesus. But their desire for truth is stronger than their fear. Third they come into the presence of Jesus and they worship. And part of their worship is to offer him gifts. They are providing sacrificial worship as they are willing to give as well as to receive. They give from material wealth. And then finally, they make their way back home. Back to their everyday lives, not leaving Jesus behind but taking the experience of their encounter with him.
It is interesting that in verse 12 that says they went a different direction on the way home. It is true for all of us that once we meet Jesus, we do take another road. Life is never the same again.
And so in this remarkable story, stripped of imaginary names, we find the most basic of Christian truths. Every one of us is confronted with Christ child this morning and we need to make a response. Will we be like King Herod and reject Jesus? Will we be like the teachers of the law and remain lost in apathy? Or will we be like the visitors from the east and step out on a journey of faith? A difficult journey, not without questions and doubts, not without personal difficulties, not without sacrificial actions but a journey that leads to Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Saviour. A journey that takes us on a new road; a new direction under God’s guidance and within his grace and love and compassion.
This is what we celebrate on this Epiphany Sunday.