31 January 2011

Epiphany a 2011

Epiphany 2011

2 January 2011

St. Luke’s, Burlington

Text: Matthew 2:1‑12

By Stuart Pike

Every year in Gaspé we used to have an ecumenical bilingual Christmas Pageant with adult actors (except for the baby Jesus of course!) There was always a choir made up of English and French-speaking people from the RC, Anglican and United Church congregations. All of us sang in both languages and we had a good selection of different carols. One of the carols which was always there was "We three Kings". We always had three of the older members of the Anglican Church be the Kings. We had beautiful robes and fancy-looking crowns for them to wear. They would walk up the aisle while the RC priest and I and one other voice sang the solo voices in we three Kings.

The story of the wise men has always interested me. I started to study them and found some fascinating things about them.

For one thing, the Bible tells us very little about them. I think this is one reason why so many traditions later developed about them (just like we know very little about Jesus as a child but whole books of tradition came into being about this).

Tradition, for example, says that they were actually kings. You know the hymn, "We Three Kings"? It's based on that tradition. But the text says nothing about this.

Tradition gives us the names of these kings. Balthasar, with dark skin, was King of Arabia. Melchior, elderly with gray hair, was King of Persia. Caspar (or Gaspar), young and beardless, was King of India. Of course, the text says nothing like this.

Tradition also says they came riding in on camels. The Bible tells us nothing about their means of transportation.

Traditions says there were three of them (though in one Eastern Orthodox Church I believe there were 12). I think this tradition grew because three gifts were given. But, once again, the Bible does not tell us how many there were.

But what does the Bible actually say about them?

The Greek word used here and translated as "wise men" is "magoi" or "magi" (from which we get the word "magic"). Apparently there were two kinds of magi in those days. Some of them were magicians, charlatans, soothsayers.

The other magi were truly "wise" in that they were learned individuals, kind of scientists of their day; astronomers; seekers after truth. Thus they were often used as counsels and advisors to kings. So it was most appropriate that they would go to a king, Herod, on their search. Apparently these magi were the seekers after truth. They would find the One who was the Way, the Life, and the Truth!

And I think the great significance in this is that they were Gentiles. Already at his birth, Jesus is attracting persons to him ‑ from lowly shepherds to the learned magi. It was a preview of what was to continue to happen (and still does). Those, no matter what their class or status, who are seekers of truth and wisdom, will eventually end up in Bethlehem ‑ they will seek out the Christ.

What are you seeking this Christmas, this New Year?

You see, I think we are all seekers. There is something about this time of year that reveals the hunger in our hearts, this yearning for something.

We need God. And I can only say like so many before me, I have never felt closer to God than when kneeling at the cradle of the Christ, than when looking into his face, listening to his words, letting his mind, his spirit dwell in me.

I would challenge you and myself this new year to become seekers of the Christ, to get closer to him than we have ever been before.

How can we do that? Well, this story gives us a couple of important insights.

First, it's interesting that the Magi come to Herod and ask him where the Messiah is to be born, but Herord then turns to his religious advisors who then turn to Scripture. They quote Micah 5:2:

Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least of the leading cities of Judah; for from you will come a leader who will guide my people Israel.

They do not find the Christ Child without the scriptures!

If we are to find the Christ Child we must go to those places where he promises to be revealed...

One of those is the Scriptures.

Martin Luther spoke of the Bible as the cradle of our Lord. The scriptures are where you can come, like the magi, and find the Christ in his cradle. The more you peer into it, the clearer your vision will be of him. The more you listen to it, the more you will hear the voice of God.

This New Year, why not consider joining one of our Bible Studies?

The second insight I get on seeking and finding the Christ is when I see the Magi finding Jesus and the first thing they do is kneel down and worship him.

I think if we wish to come closer to the Christ this new year, we need to get closer to his people, especially when they gather together for worship. Jesus himself promised, "Where two or three or gathered, there am I in the midst of them." You see, worship, too, is the cradle of the Christ, for when we are together, there is sense of his presence we can receive in no other way.

At first, the Magi were far away, in a distant country ‑ far from the Christ. But they left everything to seek him and they did not stop until they found him

Where are you this new year?

Are you still in some far away land, feeling that empty yearning inside? Have you started the journey to Bethlehem?

Maybe you have started but have grown weary. Maybe you've gotten sidetracked or lost for whatever reason, and can't seem to get started again.

Let this new year be a new beginning for each of us ‑ a fresh start in the journey to becoming closer to the Christ. Reading the scriptures and worship are steps that will lead us to him. And we will discover that when we take a step toward him, he always takes at least two toward us! Seeking the Christ leads to the joyous discovery that he was seeking us all along.

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