Introduction and Call to Worship
With the example of the Magi, and the promise shared with all nations and all creation, we come together today as worshippers of the one who came to bring light and praise into our world.
First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6
The prophet foretells a better time, for the light of a new generation, for all the earth and peoples, nations and rulers, has come. For what purpose? To proclaim the praise of the Lord.
Second Reading Ephesians 3:1-12
God’s commission of grace, the revelation of the mystery, has come to this new generation by the Holy Spirit. Now we are all heirs, all members of the same body, all sharers in God’s promise of new life.
Gospel Matthew 2:1-12
The coming of Gentile Magi, the direction of the star, the gifts for the Messiah: all for the worship of the newborn king. Yet the clash between light and dark, praise and fear, foreshadow the end of the Gospel even in its beginning.
HOMILY “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:10)
In the opening of the first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God made the stars (Gen 1:16). Yesterday evening I was very blessed to be able to see the stars on what was a very cold and frosty evening. Twinkling above our church tower illuminations was the constellation Orion. To the naked eye on a clear night, away from light pollution one can see several thousand stars, but in our galaxy alone there are estimated to be 100 thousand million stars. It is almost too many to comprehend and goodness me has God been busy creating!
Looking up at the night sky with our own church star shining into the darkness I found myself reflecting upon stars – what star do I follow? So, on this great feast night, the Eve of the Epiphany when we recall the journey of the Magi who followed the great star to meet the newborn King in Bethlehem, I have a question for you! What star do you follow, and why? There are stars everywhere! Not simply in the sky – we may think of star signs, celebrity culture, politics, television series, music, social media such as Facebook streams and family updates - there is so much more I could add to this list! What stars do you follow?
In tonight’s Gospel reading we are told that wise men (or Magi) from the East followed a star which led them to the infant Jesus. Clearly to them this star was something very special and they followed it expecting to find a King. What were they looking for? We don’t know for sure why they were so intent on wanting to follow the star. Perhaps they were scholars who knew the Old Testament prophecies of Daniel, who became famous in both the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires whilst the Jews were in captivity there several hundred years earlier. They may also have known of the great prophet Isaiah (or one of the three!) who pointed forward several hundred years to the birth of a child who would unite God and his people – the Emmanuel. (see Isaiah 60: 3, 6)
Verse 3: ‘Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.’
Verse 6: ‘A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.’
These wise astrologers have noticed something in the sky – and they choose to follow the light of this bright star – perhaps even a comet. It leads them first to the local King – but Herod is clearly not the person they are looking for, so onward they travel until they find the comet stops and the real ‘light in the darkness,’ the one of whom the prophets had spoken, the young boy Jesus is revealed. Epiphany!
Yet the Gospel according to Matthew identifies Jesus as poor. After their long journey from Nazareth to be registered in the census, Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem; a small town set on a ridge in the mountains south of Jerusalem, surrounded then, as today, by fields where shepherds watch over their sheep. There is no light pollution then – looking up into the night sky above Bethlehem 200 years ago, the night sky would have been stunning.
Bethlehem itself has quite a famous tradition in the Bible. In the Old Testament, it was the home of Ruth and Boaz, and it was the birthplace of King David, who, in the minds of the people of Israel, was their greatest and most revered king and leader. For them there was only one King greater than David and that person was still to come.
Jesus is born, although loved by his parents, unwelcome by the mighty in the world and feared by Herod. Jesus is born into poverty in a stable – yet he is born in the line of King David of old. But still, people from day one choose to follow him. He is the star that so many had waited for and that billions of people have followed ever since. The Magi offer their three gifts that represent gold for royalty, incense for worship and prayer and myrrh for suffering and royal embalming. What gift do we wish to offer Jesus as we follow him this 2017?
Goodness me, there are so many stars out there to follow. So many bright lights to distract us and lead us this way and that. But the truth of today’s feast is simple. We are also called to have an Epiphany! Jesus is born to be our star and to lead us deeper in our relationship with God. Tonight, on our way down to the Red Lion for dinner, or on your way home, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the stars above. If not today, next time you do, just pause to think for a moment about that first Epiphany night. Jesus is born for you – to lead you into a new relationship with God who made you and the very stars of heaven above you. The enormity of that theological gift is almost beyond our comprehension.
Following Jesus means giving up some of the other stars that are out there. Following Jesus in 2017 will mean making a choice – for each one of us. Choosing to prioritize the worship of God over the other stars that shine brightly but don’t lead us deeper in faith. The prophets foretold that choice. The Magi made that choice. Mary and Joseph were obedient and did as God instructed by the angel: they too followed Jesus – in Mary’s case right to the foot of the Cross. For the truth of the Incarnation is simple, wonderful, marvelous! God is involved in the world and each of our lives and we can choose to follow the star that is Jesus. He requires our commitment and time, but following him leads to eternal life – it leads to our salvation. Amen.
The light of the world has come so that God’s name will be praised.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of a king in the line of David.
The people of Israel had forgotten the simplicity with which God longs to create and make all things new. Jesus is born in simplicity and God knows our struggles, fears and hopes.
The gifts presented by the wise men remind us of the authority of the Christ-child. No palace is required; no earthly glory, for the authority of God is enough.
Christ longs to be the star that we choose to follow this year but that requires commitment. However, it also leads to our salvation!