Thoughts on the Word:
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.
This week has been one of highs and disappointments for me in this ministry. In the highlight reel is that we are now approaching 200 likes on our facebook page (facebook.com/thewordthisweek). One of the low moments however was being left with no choice but to ban a user from that very same page, after repeated requests to cease their attacks, and inflammatory and insulting language. It was something I didn't want to do, but I made the choice to ban this particular person because after prayer, I came to the conclusion that I couldn't allow the page to be hijacked and turned into some sort of debate forum for atheists and others to vent their frustrations with Christianity.
This experience has however had me thinking a lot on how we are to interact with the world, how are we to maintain our faith, and interact harmoniously with a world which is becoming increasingly hostile to the Gospel message. The feast of Epiphany is something which has for us at least some hints of answers. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Jesus - An epiphany is a theophany, a manifestation of the divine, an appearance of God that may be unexpected, unnerving and almost always unsettling. The wise men experienced what was an Epiphany when they found the baby Jesus (not in a manger as we often think, for the wise men apparently come later - our text tells us that they entered a house) - they experieced a supernatural event which not only changed their lives but the entire world, when God was made incarnate as a human being - a helpless babe. The thing I want us to focus on though, is what is often overlooked in this story of the wise men, how they reached that house, so that they could experience this theophany - this manifestation of God in their midst.
Firstly, when this story is retold it is often overlooked that the wise men first go to Jerusalem, and not to Bethlehem. What is the significance of this you may wonder. Many would state that these men would of course go to Jerusalem as it was the capital, and where you would expect to find a King - and this is correct. What is also often protrayed however is that the wise men followed the star the whole way from their home in the East - our story doesn't bear witness to that though.
If our wise men were following the star for the whole journey, why did it lead them to Jerusalem? Why not directly to Bethlehem where their Epiphany awaited? No, the wise men were not following a star the whole way - our Gospel account tells us that they came to Jerusalem because they saw the star 'at its rising' . You see these men saw something, that to them indicated something special was happening - they then took a journey - on faith - to Jersalem, because they believed that what they had seen indicated the coming of a King. Only when they had reached Jerusalem, and sought council from Herod, and the Jewish chief priests and scribes, were they provided with the knowledge to take them to where they needed to be. Then, only once they had that knowledge, were they guided by the star to the house in Bethlehem, where they had their Epiphany - their experiece of the divine.
So let's recap - Step 1 The wise men see something, and thinking there might be something to it they take a journey of faith to Jerusalem.
Step 2: They don't find what they were looking for in Jerusalem, but they seek more knowledge to enable them to continue on their journey of faith.
Step 3, their persistent faith pays off and they are guided on their journey, to a place where they can experience the divine.
Now how does this all relate back to my encounter with this young fellow on the facebook page? Well it showed me something important that this young man lacked. Faith. For him there has been no star rising which calls him on a journey of faith, or if there has been he has chosen to ignore it. You see in order to find the divine you need faith, persistance, and a will to seek God. The wise men had these things, sadly the young man didn't.
So what is the message for us? Well firstly if you are someone who has not come to faith, the three wise men tell you what you must do in order to have your own epiphany - take a leap of faith, seek knowlegdge and help when you need it, and be prepaired to let God lead you to your very own epiphany, where you can experience your own divine moment in receiving the gift of forgiveness and salvation through Christ.
For those of us who have already placed our faith and hope in Christ, what do we learn - presumably we have had our own journey, to our own epiphany, so what now? Well firstly our journey is not over, and there are many many more chances for us to experience the presence of God in our midst - we too must continue our faith journey following the model of the wise men. We have another important role though - we are to be stars rising which call people to seek the King, we are to be the scribes and chief priests as we guide those who seek, and pass on our knowledge of the divine - and then we hand it over to God so that he might guide those who yearn for him the last steps on the journey - until they too experience their own epiphany.
May almighty God bless you and yours in the coming week.