Sunday 07 January
Wise men come from the east following a mysterious star to find the one born king of the Jews so that they can pay him homage, they bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is a great story and one we all know so well. But as with so many bible stories it is incomplete. We know what happened next to the one they visited, the one born king of the Jews, he was taken by his parents, Mary and Joseph, to Egypt to escape the jealous rage of Herod who thought he was king of the Jews! But, apart from the fact that that the wise men returned to their own country we don’t know anything else about them. Assuming that the story is at least broadly historically accurate, when they got back to their own homes in their own country and talked about their adventure, I wonder what they discussed. The pros and cons of travelling long distances by camel perhaps? The wisdom of asking King Herod for help in finding the one born king of the Jews? If they had judged the gifts to take correctly? All very interesting, but the most important question of all that I hope they discussed was, what impact did paying homage to the infant born king of the Jews have on them? How did their encounter with God incarnate in Jesus Christ, change them?
Surely, after the impact their visit had on Jesus and his family, the most important aspect of the story is the change the encounter with Jesus evoked in the wise men? There is an implication that they were profoundly affected by their encounter, but how? What difference did it make to them and the way they lived their lives?
In these days when we want everything to be explained, when we want everything to be clear cut and rational, when we want everything we need to know to be given to us in easy to understand soundbites, it is interesting to reflect that the encounter the wise men had with Jesus was obviously not about teaching, it was not about words, it was not about reason, it was not about doctrines or creeds or anything else we usually associate with religious experiences. As the wise men reflected on their adventure and their mysterious encounter, all they saw was a tiny new born baby. For some reason they recognised that this tiny new born baby was worthy of homage. They saw something of God in this baby. Perhaps they saw what the introduction to Midnight Mass describes as, ‘Great little one whose all-embracing birth brings earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.’
Apart from the way this baby matched their predictions based on the movement of the star, the main thing that must have hit them was that if this baby was indeed, king of the Jews, the messiah, then power, true power, was not to be found in riches, status, aggressive dominance – true power is manifested in poverty and vulnerability, because the foundations of true power are found in what is true and right not in who is the strongest or richest.
We are told very clearly that these travellers were wise – I wonder if they were wise in a new and different as they travelled back home? I wonder if they were perhaps amongst the first to understand what St Paul articulates in I Corinthians 1v25 ‘For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’
While it is interesting to speculate about the impact the encounter with Jesus had on the wise men, there is another aspect of the story which is equally important. At the end of this service we will all stand at the crib to reflect on the birth of Jesus and the visit of the wise men, the nearest we get to what they experienced. The question we all need to ponder is, how did our encounter with Jesus again this Christmas affect us, how are we changed by it? How are we different because we know Jesus by faith than we would be if we did not know Jesus?
One of the themes of Epiphany is Transformation – we have reflected that the wise men may well have had their understanding of what true wisdom and true power transformed by recognising true wisdom and true power manifested in the infant Jesus. With this in mind, how are we being transformed? Is our encounter with Jesus transforming us to become more the people he made us to be?
The wise men did not undertake a long and dangerous journey just to go ‘ahhhhh!’ at a baby or to see their predictions fulfilled and say, ‘oh, isn’t that interesting!’ No, they travelled to pay homage and to be transformed. With this in mind, we cannot stand at the crib and just go ‘ahhhhhh!’ or remember the Christmas story and say, once again, ‘oh, isn’t that interesting!’. No, we have to ask ourselves the challenging question, as we look at the crib, with the baby, born in poverty, lying in the manger and the wise men kneeling in homage – how does this change me? How does this make me live my life differently, not just at Epiphany, but every day?