Epiphany

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Opening Hymn

Reading

 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

Sermon by Rev’d Jo Joyce

Wise men coming from afar marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas. Yet these men who travelled from a foreign land were almost certainly the first gentiles to meet Jesus. Astrologers bringing with them the gifts of their country. Gold, frankincense and myrrh they would have had plentifully as rich people from Arabia or Babylonia, their exact origin is unclear. 

This story is again part of Matthew’s plan to present Jesus as the true Messiah. The rightful King, unlike Herod who colluded with the Romans. The story of the Magi (the wise men) echoes back to a similar story in 1 Kings 10:1-13 of the visit of a foreign dignitary to King David – and of course Jesus was seen as his successor by his Jewish followers at the time.

Indeed, in other literature of the time it’s noted that Magi went to visit the emperor Nero in AD 66, so the visit is not unusual, beyond their tale of following the star, and of course of going to see an infant rather than an acknowledged king.

‘Magi’ was originally the name of a Persian priestly class but came to mean all astrologers. Matthew may have included the details of the star thinking back to the prophesy of Ballam in Numbers 24:7. We can’t be sure what star they saw either, Halley’s comet would have been too early, it could have been the conjunction that was visible here just before Christmas, of Jupiter and Saturn to form the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ as it’s known, or maybe something else.

It strikes me though that the important thing that Matthew was trying to communicate was not just the details of the story but rather the implication of who they point to, and the question it asks of us all. Who do you think Jesus was? Was he a King in the line of David as the wise men implied? Was he someone for us all to take notice of, not just another leader seeking to be the Jewish messiah his people longed for?

The gifts of course are symbols of wealth and kingship, or worship and of death, but they are also just expensive presents that could be brought by rich men from their homeland and were certainly available in both Arabia and Babylonia. The other question, the key question, that this story begs of me is what might I bring? If I were to follow in their footsteps, what would symbolise who Jesus is to me? And maybe that’s something to reflect on as we think over this ancient story once more this week.

Prayers

The wise men knelt before our Saviour.
Let us also kneel to worship him with great joy,
and to make our prayer to his heavenly Father.

Father, the wise men came from the east to worship your Son:
grant to Christians everywhere a true spirit of adoration.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Father, your Son is the King of kings and Lord of lords:
grant an abundance of peace to your world.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Father, the Holy Family shared the life of the people of Nazareth:
protect in your mercy our neighbours and families,
together with the whole community of which we are part.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Father, your Son was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor:
show your love for the poor and powerless,
and strengthen […and all] those who suffer.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Father, the wise men presented to your Son gold, incense and myrrh:
accept the gifts we bring,
and the offering of our hearts at the beginning of this new year.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Father, you are the King of heaven, the hope of all who trust in you:
give to […and all] the faithful departed
the wonders of your salvation.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the fellowship of wise men, shepherds and angels,
and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph,
we commend ourselves and all Christian people
to your unfailing love.

Merciful Father,
All   accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

From Common Worship Times and Seasons (c) Archbishops Council 2000

Closing Hymn

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