Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Journey of the Magi - transcript of Sermon Epiphany 2017

Epiphany 2017 St Anne’s, Brown Edge

Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12.

 Reading 'The Journey of the Magi' – T S Elliot


In this classic poem, Elliot paints a colourful picture of the hardships and the journey of the magi.


It is only in later traditions that we will see them named as kings, which is extremely doubtful. They also gain names, Belshazzar, Melchior and Caspar that denotes three wise men, or kings or magi.

The Scriptures do not say anything of this at all.

However, these ‘traditions’ all add to the drama and in and of themselves are no bad thing. As long as we bear in mind the Scriptural birth narratives of both Matthew and Luke.

This is what Paula Gooder seeks to explore in her excellent book ‘Journey to the Manger.’

The danger of overlaying later traditions was wonderful demonstrated by a drama group in Stafford prison during their Carol Service. (The drama group are all inmates)

They had the traditional crib scene, with Joseph, Mary, and a crib in front of them.  In the sketch, they were being interviewed for a magazine article with a reporter and a photographer. They were lined up ready when the photographer noticed a donkey who was then brought into the scene. Gradually more and more animals joined the picture, then some shepherds, the wise men, and angels. All the while Mary and Joseph are getting pushed further and further back. A big picture of a turkey dinner, presents and a Christmass tree all crowded in and crowded out Mary and Joseph. Then as they were about to take the shot the photographer noticed the crib - no, he said, that’s no good, it is too scruffy and spoils the picture - away with the manger. With Jesus, Mary and Joseph pushed out of the picture the photo was taken – a traditional Christmass.
That is the danger; we forget the importance of why Matthew tells us about the magi. He certainly did not have in mind future generations of children dressed as kings and trying to remember which gift they had, gold, frankincense or myrrh.

Our reading from Ephesians get us close to the heart of it all.

Verse 6 …‘that is the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus, through the Gospel.’

Then from Isaiah did you hear mention of Sheba and apart from cat food what else did that bring to mind?

 Herds of camels will cover your land,
    young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
    bearing gold and incense
    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 Of course, it is the account in 1 Kings 10 of the visit to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba…

 When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions.  Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind.  

Always remember that Matthew has a Jewish readership in mind and so is constantly referring back to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition.

Matthew will go on to say that Jesus Messiah is Israel personified.

 He comes to fulfil the calling of Israel who failed to deliver on their God appointed task and calling. One of which was to be a light to the Gentiles.

They will also fail to see in Jesus the Messiah…

 Luke 11.31 ‘The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

Therefore, what can take from all of this?

Several things, beginning with this passage from Galatians 4.4-7…

But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage.

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.

Let me ask you if you know that you are child of God, heir with Christ, filled with the very Spirit of God.

To quote Elliot the magi had a long and arduous journey…

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'

What about your journey to worship Jesus, to acknowledge him as King, and as Lord?

King and Lord not only over Israel but over all the universe and over all the times of men and woman. 

Has your journey been long and arduous, perhaps taking several years.

On the other hand, you may have been like the shepherds and only had a short distance to travel to worship the Christ.

My own journey to faith in Jesus ended 42 years ago when I made a New Year Resolution to become a Christian on the 1st January 1975.

Since then I have been on the journey of faith – learning all the time what it means to proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and King of my life.

For that was Herod’s problem – that is why he tried to have Jesus killed. There is no room for two kings, he did not want to have his kingship and his dynasty challenged.

However, Jesus will be Lord of all or he will not be Lord at all.

If there are two kings then there will be conflict not peace.

If you are still on a journey to faith you can conclude that this morning and I will gladly pray with you as you kneel and accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

If you are on the journey of faith then can I encourage to remain steadfast and faithful.

Can I encourage you to…

’let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’

Let us pray…

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmass begins;

 To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release prisoners,

To rebuild the nation,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.







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