Sunday January 1 2017


Isaiah 60:1-7

Matthew 2:1-12

The Rev’d Jenny Wilson


In the name of God, creating ,redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
(Isaiah 60:1-2)

The Old Testament reading for the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is word that tells us that something is being revealed. Something of God is making itself known. That where thick darkness – thick darkness – might sometimes seem to be the way of things – the glory of God will be revealed. The presence of God will somehow be made known to us.

We have spent four weeks during the season of Advent hearing the prophet’s voice exhorting us to have hope that God will come. At a time when stories of human violence such as that seen in the Berlin Christmas markets seemed to be the dominant narratives in our world, and at a time when natural disasters seen in earthquakes, fires and floods, seemed to emphasise our vulnerability as children who find their home on our planet, Isaiah’s voice rang out. “Comfort comfort my people,” God said through God’s prophet.

During Advent we heard the voice of scholars telling us that:

“In every season of its life, Israel lived with the uttered promise of [God] in its ears. This promise which defies every logic … assures Israel that its life and eventually all of the historical process, is not a cold, hard enactment of power and brutality. It is, rather, an arena in which a powerful intention of well-being is resolutely at work.”[1]

We have allowed this hope that God is resolutely at work in the world to be with us as we have prepared for Christmas. And then, a week ago, we gathered in this cathedral, in the presence of music and liturgy, and in our homes with family and friends, and we have heard again the Christmas story. We heard of angels and shepherds gathering at the Bethlehem stable to gaze on the Christ child, the one who would be named Jesus, saviour of the world. How though, is the story, this deep truth, saving for us?

The Feast of Epiphany, which we celebrate in our Cathedral this morning, actually takes place 12 days after Christmas on January the 6th. It is on the twelfth day, after a little time has passed from our Christmas celebrations, that the liturgical pattern by which we live encourages us to ponder the story of the three kings following a star to Bethlehem. And there is a reason for that. Any scripture story, any story, any work of art, any piece of music, needs time. Time spent with it. Christmas needs time spent with it. The journey of the three kings might be our journey. As one of the prophets of our time and place, Michael Leunig once wrote, “Nothing can be loved at speed.”

Our search for God, our loving God, needs to be given time. God takes our entire lives in loving us. Yes, “Nothing can be loved at speed.”

The Magi, the three kings, studied the stars. In the wisdom of the time, they found much that was informative there. But they knew they did not find everything there. They had the insight and the humility to sense that they did not find all truth there. In the wisdom of our time we find much in our study of science and technology, in the study of mathematics and the humanities, in the study of economics and archaeology. We find much there. In the days of FaceBook and phones we can answer any question we might ask within seconds. But some days we too sense that we do not find everything there, every answer there, even the right questions there. We sense that there is a deeper truth for which we long. Sometimes we too spend time looking for our star.

When the star appears those three kings set out to follow it. It is appropriate that they seek out first the earthly king, King Herod, to see what he knows of this child whose star they are following.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East come to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,* and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod hears this, he is frightened … (Matthew 2:1-3)

King Herod is frightened, frightened that there is a king who would be worshipped other than him. And when earthly power is threatened and frightened it seeks to destroy the source of fear. Two thousand years ago the story was the same as it is now. What God is taking on in the incarnation, in the birth of Christ, is revealed here in this story. God is taking on violence born of jealousy and fear.

The magi set out following the star that they had seen at its rising,* until it stops over the place where the child is, the Bethlehem stable. When they see that the star has stopped,* they are overwhelmed with joy. (2:9-10)

Something in them knows they have found the source of their longing. They have found the truth for which they searched. A baby in a manger surrounded by those who love him. Mary, who is pondering in her heart the things she has been told about her child, things told her by the Angel Gabriel, things told her by the shepherds who have visited them. That her child would be the Saviour of the world, the Messiah, the Lord.

These magi find not worldly power but vulnerability. A poor family, a baby born in the animals’ home, cradled in their feeding trough, the saviour of the world in a manger in a stable for there was no room for them in the inn.

And the magi rejoice.

On entering the house, they see the child with Mary his mother; and they kneel down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (2:11-12)

We might ponder for a little while the nature of these gifts. The three kings bring gold, blessings gifts of a kingly life, frankincense for the holy prayerful life, and myrrh for the suffering life. They bring him his life, but do you see … they bring him their lives as well. When we search for God we find that part of the search is to find the possibility of finding and bringing ourselves. For aren’t these three gifts the essence of a human life – that there will be riches, and there will be the praying wondering life, and there will be struggle and suffering. What these three wise men brought was the signs of God and the signs of humanity. They bring him themselves.

As we embrace a New Year, today, we may find ourselves wondering what this year will bring. What is our longing for it? For ourselves and those we know and love dearly, for those millions of people we do not know at all but who we do sense belong with us as we belong with them, for this planet that is our home. What is our longing?

“Nothing can be loved at speed.” Michael Leunig said.

Those kings didn’t move at speed, did they? Might we be a little like them? Sense our need of a star that takes us beyond our certainties and our struggles. And follow it. Spend the whole year following it if we could. Find beauty and love in the most unlikely places and wonder if God is there. If we know love there. If Christ is born there. If Christ is dying there. If by the extraordinary love of God, Christ is risen there.

“Nothing can be loved at speed.” Shall we join the company of the magi and follow the star?

[1] Walter Brueggemann Theology of the Old Testament p172.