Thoughts for Epiphany
Friday 6th January, was Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the three wise men.
As I took my Christmas cards down, I was struck by the ones which had pictures of the three wise men, beautiful scenes of deep purple and bright stars in a blue sky, scenes of kings on camel back and exotic horizons. The Magi were probably astrologers who followed a star which first led them to Jerusalem and to King Herod.
These visitors from afar known to us as Melchior, Casper and Balthazar knelt down and worshipped this child offering their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: Gold for royalty, frankincense for a divine birth and myrrh for the death Jesus was to suffer later.
And so if you pardon the pun – the arrival of the three wise men mark the crown in the nativity story. The Magi signal the completion of the nativity scene and the beginning of a new beginning. It must’ve been a long journey to find the Christ child but we don’t hear much about the journey itself in the gospels. T.S Eliot wrote a poem called the ‘Journey of the Magi’ in which he imagines the journey for us: ‘A cold coming we had of it, the worst time of year, for a journey and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter’.
T.S Eliot goes on to recall the camels galled, sore-footed and the night fires going out and the lack of shelters. The poem ends on a more sombre note, reminding us of the journey to the cross. The wise men having arrived and met the Christ child go back to their previous life. So how do we go back to our previous life after the experience of Christmas?
Some of us we may have experienced comfort at Christmas with food and relaxation, for others it might have been a busy, stressful or lonely time. But as we turn from the stable and the shepherds to contemplate life post-Christmas, knowing that the light of the world has been revealed, even to us. How do we make the Epiphany our ordinary?
T.S Eliot wrote: ‘We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation’
The narrative of Christmas tells us the shepherds brought a lamb, Christina Rossetti’s poem (In the bleak mid-winter) suggest all we need is to give our heart. But the gifts of the wise men allow us to ponder our own gifts; those given to us by God which we share with our family, our community and in our work places.
Is God pleased with the way we use the gifts he gave us, or do we make excuses for not using them well? Perhaps God doesn’t mind how we use our gifts as they are freely given, as love is freely given. Regardless of our new year’s resolutions or failure at them; in offering ourselves, we offer our talents as well as our shortcomings. Epiphany is a good time to ask ourselves ‘what we are really looking for?’ Or ‘what is holding us back from offering our gifts to God?’
“One of the functions of our Sunday service is to give us that periodic glimpse like a star, a foretaste of where it is leading us.”
If life is old and tired and our treasures seem limited the three wise men can provide an inspiration for the on-going journey of faith. No-one gets chauffeur driven to Bethlehem. The on-going journey of faith might be painful, surrounded by darkness and without a star appearing intermittently to reassure us. The magi travelled through the dark and through the wilderness and so do we on our faith journey. Like the wise men we have travelled since Christmas (if only in our minds).
The three wise men were symbolic of the message of Christ being revealed to non-Jews, they were mysteriously guided to God. One of the functions of our Sunday service is to give us that periodic glimpse like a star, a foretaste of where it is leading us.
We try to make liturgy beautiful so that we can share in it and be lifted for a moment (above the cursing and grumbling, the night fires going out and the cities hostile and unfriendly). We come close to God in worship and we trust that it will sustain us for the week ahead, the year ahead. Liturgy like a star can keep the light shining in the midst of our pain or bewilderment. Christ is the bright morning star, and liturgy like the star in the night sky that guided the wise men is a sign that light has broken upon us.
Jenny Walpole is the Licensed Lay Minister at St Peter De Beauvoir.