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The Reverend Deacon Abigail Davison (Curate)
Sunday 6 January 2019 – Evensong
Tonight we celebrate the feast of Epiphany, one of the church’s oldest feast days and the time when we recall the visit of the wise men to the child Jesus. I understand that current scholarly thinking puts Jesus (at the time of the Maji’s arrival) at a very similar age to my own toddler daughter and I have to say, after celebrating my third Christmas now as a mother, I have a new found empathy with Mary being made to receive these slightly bizarre, though I’m assured very symbolic and important gifts, politely and with a smile on her face. Someone gave my daughter a recorder last year. If you only take one thing away from this sermon, then please let it be this: if you truly love your neighbour, do not gift their toddler a recorder for Christmas.
But of course, it wasn’t about the gift, it was about the giving. I don’t necessarily understand the motives behind giving anything noisy to a small child, but the giver definitely felt it was the right thing to do. I wonder if we could think about this question tonight then: what prompts us to give? What motivated those wise men to get up, leave home, and travel all that way to bring those gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? It wasn’t demanded of them. It wasn’t expected of them: I don’t think social pressure compelled them to give. Was it charity or given out of pity? Gold, frankincense and myrrh were costly, but not necessarily the most helpful things to give a family if they were in need (and I’ve little doubt there were people closer to home and in greater need than the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus). Perhaps they thought that there was something to be gained in return: a sort of payment made in advance?
The gospel account in Matthew tells us that they went because they saw a light. It was a light that they believed would lead them to a new King, the King of the Jews. So they went to pay him homage, which is something you do with kings, especially if you want to gain their favour for future years. I suspect that once they found this king they understood that it was not an earthly quid-pro-quo system they would be dealing with.
So why did they give to this child? It wasn’t because they had to: who was there that could compel these men to give anything? It wasn’t charity: what did He need? It wasn’t a payment: what could you pay Him?
I think it was a response. A poor, human response, perhaps as unnecessary as the gifting of a recorder to a toddler, but nonetheless (and much more) graciously welcomed, not because of what the gifts were but simply because of the act of giving them. It wasn’t about the gift, it was about the giving.
Or was it? Epiphany isn’t about the giving, it’s about The Gift. God’s gift, the gift of the Christ who is our light, the light which called those wise men from so far away. Epiphany is the revelation of this one true Gift. It’s a revelation that’s made to all, to Jew and to gentile, to those with much to give, and to those with seemingly little. And it’s a Gift that’s offered to all – like the wine at the wedding in Cana when Jesus revealed his glory, there’s more than enough for everyone.
I want to leave you with this though. In moment we will bring the traditional gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (or representations of them at least) to the crib scene in the Lady Chapel. Now this point sounds a bit negative but it’s not meant to be and it’s definitely theologically accurate, I promise: there is nothing you can give to God that will make you more worthy or appropriate to receive The Gift that he has offered. I have a friend who I trained with and who tells me she often says to herself “you’re not doing God any favours you know”. It’s not meant to be negative, it’s meant as a reminder. God doesn’t need you to give and what could you give Him anyway? There is only what He’s given you, to give. So give that. In accepting The Gift you can become a gift. And always and only give, because you have seen what was given.
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