Sunday 3 January 2021
Did you know that at the beginning of December, the Yorkshire Dales was named as a ‘Dark Sky Reserve’? What that means is, is that because it has low levels of light pollution, we have darker skies, which makes good conditions for astronomy.
So, just before Christmas, when we heard on the news that Jupiter and Saturn were crossing paths, I was hoping that we would get a clear view of the brighter than normal light in the sky. Did any of you see it? It was even suggested on the national news that this ‘double planet’ might even have been the same bright light in the sky 2,000 years ago that became known as the star of Bethlehem. I noticed that they didn’t go so far as to suggest that the wise men followed it. Funny that!
No such reservations from our gospel writer Matthew though. He tells us that the wise men observed the star at its rising and that they set out to find the new-born king of the Jews. The wise men came from the East. We don’t know how far east but it is thought that the journey could have taken up to two years.
Last year, back in the days before lockdown, at the Nativity at St Alkelda’s, Ray stood up and gave the welcome. Part of that welcome included asking people where they were from. Surprisingly, there were people from all over, one was from as far east as Moscow.
Nowadays, a journey from Moscow to London would take what? Five hours on a non-stop flight? Amazing, isn’t it that we can travel to the other side of the world in a matter of hours and not days? Not quite so easy for the wise men that Matthew tells us about. They would have had to have gone to a lot of effort to go on their journey. They wouldn’t be able to throw a few things into a back-pack and hop on a plane. They would have to go as part of a camel-train, complete with servants, tents, food and everything that they would need for as long as it took to find the new king.
How much effort do we go to, in order to meet with Christ? What is it that spurs us into action? For the wise men, it was the star. They followed it all the way to Jerusalem where they went to the obvious place to find a new king…Herod’s royal palace. They weren’t called wise for nothing!
After consulting with chief priests and scribes, Herod sent the wise men onto Bethlehem and deviously told them to let him know where to find the new king. The star then stopped where the child was and Matthew tells us that the wise men were ‘overwhelmed with joy’. Isn’t that a wonderful statement? ‘Overwhelmed with joy’. There had no hesitation and they entered the house…a HOUSE?
There’s no mention of a stable, which suggests that some time had elapsed since Jesus was born. They saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. It was an Epiphany! That moment of great revelation as they realised that they were looking into the eyes of God.
Have you ever had an epiphany moment? A moment in time when you knew beyond any doubt that you had just met with God in some way. If you have, you will know exactly what I am talking about because those special moments stay with us.
The wise men, they may have been kings themselves, knelt down and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Not really practical gifts for a baby born to a poor carpenter and his wife. In fact, they weren’t the sort of gifts that people gave to each other…they were gifts that were given, at the very least, to a king or to a god. These gifts were to symbolize his life:
- Gold – suggesting his royalty as King of the Jews
- Frankincense – represented his divinity
- Myrrh – suggested his death and burial.
Their duty done, their gifts given and their work was complete. What a way to end their journey. But was it really their journey’s end? Have you ever wondered what happened next? Matthew tells us that they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and so they left by another road; their direction changed. Did the wise men return home, pick up their lives where they left off…?
Meeting the child who was to transform the world is a life-changing event and their story is still being talked about over 2000 years later. It features in the biggest-selling book the world has ever known and they are depicted on Christmas cards all over the world…every single year.
2020 was a life-changing year in many respects but for all the wrong reasons. It will go down in history as a year of pandemic and of economic crisis. The year ended in uncertainty and sadly the problems didn’t stop when the new year chimed in. The problems remain unfinished and unresolved as we enter this new year of 2021. We still have a long way to go before we can relax and begin to put the past year properly behind us.
We must not be despondent though because the past year brought with it, much to be celebrated. It has been a time when community came together, where neighbour helped neighbour. A time when scientists pulled out all the stops and came up with a vaccine in record time. A time when churches all over the world took the good news of Jesus Christ out of the church buildings and into people’s homes.
…this past year has given many of us a breathing space to take stock of our lives. A time to think through what and who is important to us. It has been a time for clearing out the old and making way for the new. A new year normally brings with it a resolve to change. To make an extra effort to do things better than in the past.
In one sense, the season of Epiphany marks an end of Christmas …but it is also its true beginning. It is the time to look forward in hope of a brighter future with Jesus Christ lighting up the path before us.