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Thoughts on the Epiphany

Unknown
Ottonian, Regensburg, about 1030 – 1040.


Whatever the terrors the Arabian desert held for soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War, there was one experience which many recounted as breath taking. In that place where the horizon is endless, the sky incredibly wide and all embracing, and where artificial lights of neon are absent – the stars are a wonder to behold.

They are brilliant, multitudinous and seemingly within touch. Any soldier could appreciate why  ancient travellers  navigated their way over these ocean of sands  by the light of these brilliant stars.

We are in the season of Epiphany when our attention is firmly drawn to a certain group of travellers in the desert, travellers described only in  St Matthew’s gospel.

Many lines of speculation have been written abut who these people were, how many there were of them,  and  quite what religion if any they followed. Some think they were members of an ancient faith called Zoroastrianism – followers of the prophet Zoraster who lived c 600 years before Christ.  They would have worshipped the god of Light – Mazda – one of the early names for electric light. One of their key beliefs was that every good person had a guiding light in the heavens that appears as a star, and the greater the person, the brighter the star. So, if they were Zoroastrian priests , they would interpret a bright star in the sky to mean a great person had been born. If that was the case, it was no wonder they trekked for some time across the vast desert in search of this extraordinary person.

In case you have always wondered where their names came from – they are certainly not found in St Matthews Gospel. Casper, Melchior and Baltazar first appear in fabulous mosaics in 6th Century Ravenna in Italy.

All sorts of legends clustered these exotic people – one story has it that they met when they were 100 years old in Armenia to attend midnight mass – and died shortly afterwards. Another says they went to India where they were consecrated bishops by St Thomas and died in their Dioceses. A bit unlikely.

But whatever the truth is about them, they have truly caught our imagination over the centuries and been well loved by those acting out  the nativity story, not least children.

But I wonder who you can most identify with – the shepherds or the wisemen?

If we think about it – there have been no colourful and exotic tales about the shepherds through the ages. Maybe it is because in  Luke’s gospel, they are told everything  by a very talkative angel – exactly  where the child is to be found.

When the shepherds arrive at the place of  Jesus’ birth, the angel appears again to verify the place- and when they return home they are guided by a whole heavenly choir. So these shepherds didn’t have to seek out information. Yes, they must have been pretty shocked by it all – but  no persistant asking for directions.

But maybe we can relate more easily in some ways to the wisemen – they were the great searchers – their journey took them a long time to find what they were looking for. It was fraught with danger as they encountered the psychopathic Herod.

We like them, can find ourselves grappling with the large questions of life and of life’s meaning. We may feel harassed by the powerful forces of our time, political and commercial.

We might like heavenly messengers and heavenly assurances about what is going on in our lives and in the world. But the fact is – most of us don’t ever receive either.

So, maybe you would agree with me that it is the Magi –the struggling band across the vast desert with only hope and a star to guide them – who more easily speak to us. Maybe that is why they have captured the imagination of so many people across the ages.

Collect for Epiphany.

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 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.

Peace.

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,

And his name shall be called the Prince of Peace.

Post Communion.

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.

Amen.

Blessing

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one

Things earthly and heavenly,

Fill you with peace and goodwill

And make you partakers of the divine nature

And the blessing…..

January 6, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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