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.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
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.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sermon on Epiphany
“La nuit des trois rois” I learned this phrase from Pointless over the holiday. We heard that it meant Epiphany – Twelfth Night (yesterday, in fact, but the Church is celebrating this holy feast day today because this is the closest Sunday to the date).
We like the three kings, don’t we? I think we must because it has become the butt of childish humour. That carol’s outrageous substitute lyrics – like “smoking on a rubber cigar” – proves this point to me. But why do we like the kings?
Let’s look at the reading a little more closely. “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem” – what a start to the story. Wise men are something about whom we know nothing. Who are these “magi”? They are completely outlandish characters in the course of this narrative, aren’t they? These strangers went straight to the king, Herod. Who would be that brazen today – to go to the head of state to ask what is actually that very private question, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ After all, this child should be well known to the current king of the Jews, don’t you think? Who should know the answer to this question, but the king himself? “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Why should anyone be frightened at a new-born? The reason may lie in the fact that King Herod was a puppet-ruler: he was king in Jerusalem because the Romans appointed him to be so. The birth of another King of the Jews would upset everything, wouldn’t it? Herod would no longer hold sway and the Romans would want to subjugate this new king. Fear would be the first reaction in the ordinary world. Everyone is afraid that the world order would change – and everyone’s place in that new world would be up for grabs. No wonder everyone is frightened.
The star has guided these kings, these wise men, these men of mystery who can read the signs of the times – signs that no one else has noticed. The star has commanded the magi to make their way to Jerusalem. They have wound up in Jerusalem, not Rome, to ask their question about the new king. No wonder everyone is petrified. Imagine what the Romans would do if they heard about it!
In our everyday understanding, isn’t it a good thing that Herod secretly met with them? He had discovered the answer to their enquiry. The wisest of the Jews, the scribes, pharisees and priests of the temple, all agreed that they should pass on to another place, to Bethlehem, an obscure town in the countryside to find him. And the star helped as it continued to that other region to take its place there. By discretely answering their question Herod would not upset anyone, and he would quietly have intelligence about the new ruler in the region before the Romans did. Like all politicians, Herod was hedging his bets, he kept the new king in obscurity, but he also said, ‘Bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’
But we have to remember that we are dealing with a king who is anointed by God, which means all bets are off. Herod cannot hedge anything, can he? Herod is merely a Roman appointee, not really seen as part of a theocracy. God sets all our plans at nought, forcing us into his providence, a purpose human frailty can never comprehend. So whether we wager on this child or another in our human political lottery, we won’t necessarily win any jackpot, will we? Herod certainly did not. – When the magi sneaked away having given their gifts to the newborn child, Herod was wroth. In his anger, he began a progrom against the under-two-year-old-boy-children in his kingdom. Imagine that, a king murdering all boy children under two years old! This is the sort of thing which has happened all too often in human history, leaders have turned their faces against certain groups and the zealous have carried out wicked programs of slaughter. We need not go on about the fickle plans of human leaders, do we?
However, the three magi in their wisdom, in their appreciation of the divine, did go on to worship with joy, offering gold, frankincense and myrrh to this child whose star they followed right to the house where Jesus lay. And then they went home by another route, avoiding Jerusalem and all the bother Herod was stirring up in the meantime.
I think we can see these three men with their gifts and prognostication as trouble-makers. They came in, stirred up the palace, the temple and the streets with their question about a new king, then they scuttled off home, never to be heard from again. No wonder everyone was afraid in Jerusalem – They were all waiting for the jackboot of tyrannical oppression belonging to a conquering army to come crashing down on their necks. Rulers of that period were not known for sweet reasonableness, never mind the soldiers doing the bidding of a ruthless regime. The three men of our story avoided the consequences of the questions they asked on their way to Bethlehem by taking another route home.
“They were overwhelmed with joy” St Matthew tells us about these wise men who came from the East. Because they were migrant holy men, they could do what they wished – come to Jerusalem, ask questions about a new king, stir up the palace, and go submit themselves to the new king. No wonder Herod was mad. What is a fellow to do? – We know now that we should not do as Herod did. He has never had a good word said about him, has he? What good word will be said about us if we do not go to the child born at Christmass?
The night of the three kings – their story of the quest to find Jesus on his natal night inspires us every Epiphany, doesn’t it? They may have been a little late, but they did finally come to his side, just like we do every Christmass, to worship with joy.
I want us to live this story in our own lives today. We need to look into our world to see that star shining to guide us to our Lord and Saviour. There in the bleak midwinter we will lay our very selves as homage. The hopes and fears of all the years will be met in the person of our new-born king. There in that child who will give himself over to death on a cross just for me – just for each and every one of us – so I will become myself. I will surrender to Jesus and become free. I will offer up the most dear of my possessions in humility and joy because the world has been overthrown and I have no fear. I will live a life of fullness. Isn’t this what Bishop Rachel’s call for “LIFE” is all about?