Not a sermon for Epiphany
I don’t have an Epiphany sermon to write now because I’m stranded on the sofa with a possibly fractured foot, or dislocated, or, well, whatever it hurts, and I’m off work. (orthopaedic outpatients on Monday, CT scan yesterday).
I’ve been thinking about journeys though, Epiphany is a lot of things, there’s so much bound up in tradition and story about the magi, and their origins, their purpose and their gifts,
Stuff about worship and outsiders, and inclusion, about authority and power, about proclamation and motive, about giving, and committing, about not understanding but doing it anyway.
There are a thousand Epiphany sermons in there – many of them will leak out over the years I’m sure, but it always seems to be the way for me that when I *don’t* have to preach for whatever reason that I can think of hundreds of things to say!
So, journeys.. they’re tricky for me at the moment –even working my way round the kitchen is fraught with obstacles and difficulties –I’m really not loving the crutches – and if I manage to make a cup of tea, I can’t get back to the sofa while carrying it.
As for further afield, I can’t drive ( left foot, manual car) so I’m reliant on being taken, I can’t be independent or divert, I’m not in control.
If I’m honest that’s difficult. Difficult to accept, difficult to feel I’m imposing, difficult to need to keep to someone else’s schedule or ask them to fit mine.
The theme of journeys fits with the new year as well.. its a bit of a natural time to reflect on what’s been, where we came from, how we got here & where we’re going – even if you’re like me and still think September is actually the real new year, somehow tipping into January prompts these reflections. We can write off a year we’re glad to see the back of in a few moments, basing our judgements on the stand out big bad things that might have occurred, and forgetting the times when the road was sunny and we had time to stop and breathe and enjoy it for a while.
I wonder how often the magi stopped to wonder where they were off to and why? We’re not given a whole lot of information , other than that they studied the stars, they had seen this particular star , and understood it to be an omen or sign of the birth of a King of the Jews. Perhaps they knew of ancient prophecies of the Jewish people, of the hope in the coming of the Messiah, but whatever, the reason men from so far away undertook this long and hazardous journey, is really rather vague.
Were they convinced every step of the way? No I don’t think so, the fact they had no clear idea of their destination seems to make that clear to me. I’m sure they stopped often debated, argued, wondered whether to stay put or go back, to give up, or whether this pull, this call was stronger than all that difficulty.
I wonder if they thought that it was all their imagination, or that they’d been conned?
I’m convinced there were times all those thoughts went through their minds, but for whatever reason, they kept going, and their journey like all of ours was punctuated by moments of extreme clarity and discernment.
They end up in Herod’s palace, a logical place to find a Jewish King, so you’d think.
But things aren’t right, Herod seems rather too eager, it all seems too neat and tidy, and well, comfortable.
And they realise this isn’t where they’re meant to be, not among the ease and the convenience, it might have looked that way to start with, it might have seemed logical but they realise that there are dangers and issues they hadn’t forseen.
So they head out, that encounter has taught them something, (namely the location of Bethlehem) but it’s set a whole set of stuff in play.
Herod’s on the trail now, and the lives of those little boys in Bethlehem are in danger, and Mary & Joseph and the baby are off on yet another journey…
I often feel like the wise men, I’m on the journey, there are moments of blinding clarity and discernment, and many more hours of fog and wonder.
I pray for more of the moments of clarity
I pray not to be pulled in and seduced by what looks logical or convenient or comfortable
I pray that mistaking those comfortable convenient things for my destination never causes problems and diversions for others.
This year my life journey will start some twists and turns again, and all these things become even more important. But the journey is one small step at a time, one days travel, and then time to think once more. Just like the magi.
And at every moment on this journey my daily destination is encountering Christ; whether in the manger, or in the house, on the mountain; at the foot of the cross or in the garden outside the empty tomb.
In people, in word, in Bread & wine.
I think if I, if we all, remember that then the the rest of the journey will be in good hands.
TS Eliot: The Journey of the Magi -one of my favourite ‘Christmas’ poems
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.