O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Creator of the heavens, who led the Magi by a star to worship the Christ–child: guide and sustain us, that we may find our journey’s end in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, the bright splendour whom the nations seek: may we who with the wise men have been drawn by your light discern the glory of your presence in your Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
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.
[1 Give the king your judgements, O God,
and your righteousness to the son of a king.
2 Then shall he judge your people righteously
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains bring forth peace,
and the little hills righteousness for the people.
4 May he defend the poor among the people,
deliver the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.
5 May he live as long as the sun and moon endure,
from one generation to another.
6 May he come down like rain upon the mown grass,
like the showers that water the earth.
7 In his time shall righteousness flourish,
and abundance of peace
till the moon shall be no more.
8 May his dominion extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9 May his foes kneel before him
and his enemies lick the dust.]
10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute;
the kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring gifts.
11 All kings shall fall down before him;
all nations shall do him service.
12 For he shall deliver the poor that cry out,
the needy and those who have no helper.
13 He shall have pity on the weak and poor;
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
14 He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,
and dear shall their blood be in his sight.
15 Long may he live; unto him may be given gold from Sheba;
may prayer be made for him continually
and may they bless him all the day long.
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
Ephesians 3:1 – 12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Matthew 2: 1–12
Sermon on Epiphany
Let us pray:
Creator of the heavens, who led the Magi by a star to worship the Christ–child: guide and sustain us, that we may find our journey’s end in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We are celebrating The Epiphany today and this prayer encapsulates the significance of this event in the life of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Let’s see it the way our contemporaries might look at it.
First of all, we address God as the “Creator of the heavens” – we then describe one of the mighty acts of God – this miracle is the guiding of the Magi to Bethlehem and their consequent worship of the child wrapped in swaddling clothes who was laid in a manger. What does the ordinary person make of this description of God, that is, if they even consider the deity as a reality at all? I think it substantiates the attitude of many who say that they left Church because they grew up, and out of the stories they were compelled to accept as children.
I actually don’t blame them, for I, too, could easily give up on the whole enterprise, if I stopped listening to this prayer at this point – if I were only to accept that a star guided three men to a stable in Bethlehem. But the prayer goes on! We have more to consider. After addressing that beyond which nothing can be conceived (as St Anselm calls God), the prayer petitions that we should find our journey’s end, that we shall be guided and sustained in our course of life. We are asking for help from something far beyond anything we know, that Creator of the heavens whom we address here because we are searching for that journey’s end right now, whether we know it or not.
When we take in the imagery of our prayer’s address, when we understand the reality of the meaning of the first phrase, we can comprehend the significance of the whole prayer, don’t you think? So many get stuck with the symbols of our faith, as if the symbols themselves are the fundamental reality. “Creator of the heavens” – that is a symbolic utterance describing our very selves and our place in the world. We are at a loss as to where we are, in a creation which includes everything we know, heaven and earth, the universe and all that constitutes life as we know it.
Such symbolic utterance compels us in our lives, doesn’t it? We can see it all around us every minute of the day. When we call our partners, “Beloved,” we are speaking in symbols. “Beloved” is not my wife’s name, but she knows it as a symbol for herself when I use it. And she realises the very real significance she has in my life.
Many use the meme “OMG”, don’t they? I would say that they are acknowledging the extraordinary in their experience. They expostulate “OMG” when they are surprised at something, something they don’t expect, something far out of the ordinary. “OMG” is heard when they are happy and when they are upset, just as we who come to church might use it. Don’t you? Well I certainly do.
We in church use more sophisticated language. It is more symbolic than descriptive, pointing to something beyond itself. “OMG” must be seen as an equivalent to “Creator of the heavens” which we use now because it expresses wonder and surprise. We acknowledge something far beyond ourselves with this address of our prayer, just as someone who uses “OMG” is amazed at something, albeit in a very different way, we might say in a very much more limited manner.
One of my teachers wanted his students to see the continuum between the mystic’s use of the phrase “Creator of the heavens” and the child’s automatic, unthinking use of “OMG”. His writing and lectures were full of examples of language which echo each other, as do our two phrases, “OMG” and “Creator of the heavens” presently.
Let’s do another word study. You have often heard people say that they have had a moment which was an epiphany, haven’t you? When their understanding was transformed, when their world was turned upside down – for example as when Paul was walking on the road to Damascus. That was an epiphany in the sense we are using it, in fact we might say it was a Theophany, the moment when God appeared to Saul and he became Paul. That is the moment of epiphany, when everything was changed in a moment, even that man’s name.
Tradition says The Epiphany is when the three wise men approach the child lying in the manger. The magi give presents to Jesus, the famous “gold, frankincense and myrrh”.
Psychologists see thoughts and actions revealing the ultimate focus of a person’s life. This can be a conscious activity, but for many of us we ourselves are not very aware of what ultimate drives us. We often do not know what is guiding us – in the imagery of our prayer and the gospel, we don’t have the guiding light of that bright star. Psychologists look in at our lives and see those very important symbols in the unconscious understanding of all of us.
A little before Christmass there was a program called “Vienna Blood” on the television, I wonder if anyone else saw it. This particular episode concerned the murder of a monk. But the prologue over the credits to the episode was very interesting, because it set forth Freud’s theory of religion and the story filled out one possible interpretation of religion in life. The prologue told about how human being ranges between the deepest, most pathetic emotions and the highest and most spiritual refinement of rational thought. Freud suggests that religion is the emotional response to life, quite uncontrollable and completely controlling. Everything rises out of, and is covered by, sentiment. He says feeling pervades all life and must be transcended. Freud suggests that people are crushed by religion, and formal religions use that emotion to subjugate believers to its strict hierarchy. But I don’t believe Freud for a second, although I believe he gives us a very important description of faith. —— Religion does unite the whole of life – emotion and sprit find expression in both the phrases, “OMG” and “Creator of the heavens”. These memes are the linguistic outpouring which point to our individual journey’s end. They reveal, if we reflect on it, what is important to us, as we exclaim our disappointment at bitter times and our wonder at better times. – I would like us to conclude our reflection this morning, by saying with feeling and full intent, “Oh my God … ”