Epiphany is about what we give God. It’s about our response to the gift of Jesus.
Christmas has come and gone, and also the new year. And if we’re honest, we would probably have to admit that most of us, if not all of us, have been feeling rather exhausted. We do it every year. The mad rush to buy the presets before the shops closed on Christmas Eve, remembering to order the turkey in time. And if we’re really organised to make Christmas cake well in advance, and then there’s the hard slog or so it seems to me of writing all those endless Christmas cards and then finding space to put up all those cards we received in return.
The late night partying, fireworks to welcome in the new year, and endless orgy of eating and drinking. And so the frenzy goes on until we reach today as we celebrate the great feast of Epiphany, and for a moment we pause.
Tomorrow the world goes back to work. if they haven’t already done so. Schools reopen. It’s back to the daily routine. But today, as we celebrate Epiphany, we pause for a moment.
I do love Epiphany. It’s a very ancient feast, and its celebration is even older in the life of the church than Christmas as the Eastern Church where Christianity began, and still to this day, they celebrate the advent of Christ, the revelation of Christ as God incarnate on this day, Epiphany. If the meaning of Christmas and I mean the deep down meaning not the frenzy and rush of materialism, but rather God’s gift to us as the son of Jesus Christ, born in a manger of Bethlehem is the meaning of Christmas; is all about what God gives us. Then Epiphany is about what we give God. It’s about our response to the gift of Jesus.
Matthew is actually the only one of the four gospels, who gives us this wonderful, colourful story of the wise men from the east, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to present it to the baby Jesus.
These wise men are indeed exotic and mysterious figures. Traditionally, Magi means wise men, but maybe astrologers, most probably not kings, and probably from modern day Iran. And in any nativity play you go to, there will be three of them. But it doesn’t actually say there were three in the text, simply that they’ve all three gifts. And if we remember anything from this story is likely to be that the Magi gave those three gifts gold, frankincense and myrrh. So let’s look at these three gifts for a moment for the rich and layers of meaning.
The well known Epiphany hymn that we’ve just sung speaks of gold of obedience, suggesting the obedience we owed to Christ as our true king. The wise men themselves may have been kings, ruling a kingdom we don’t know. But however powerful they may have been. In their sumptuous gifts. They acknowledged that Jesus deserved their allegiance, just as a subject is allegiance to a king and our normal literal level, the gold could simply indicate wealth. They were giving up their wealth, their livelihood to Jesus, and the symbolic gesture.
It’s sometimes said that there are three main ways we can give to God all beginning with T to make it easy to remember, time, talents, treasure Perhaps a somewhat simplistic way of looking at how we should give to God. Certainly the wise men who gave Jesus gold, were literally giving up some of their treasure. But I’m sure there are in fact countless ways in which we can give to God on all kinds of levels and meanings.
Money, material wealth is just one way [to give] At Epiphany perhaps it’s good to ponder how much of our material wealth, money, property, possessions, we do use for God and do we give we give willingly to God. How much do we give them to God by giving them to others to share?
The Wise mens’ gifts get more curious as they go on. Frankincense since at least Jewish Old Testament times incense has been a powerful symbol of worship, of prayer, as it says in Psalm 141. Lord, I call to you. Come quickly to me, hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense. May the lifting up of our of my hands be like the evening sacrifice?
And elsewhere in the Bible, in the book of Revelation for instance, the wafting of incense is likened to prayers of the saints rising to God. Incense with its sweet smell and air of mystery, is an evocation of our worship and devotion. But as the Epiphany him also suggests, it is also a costly devotion. following Christ is costly.
And so then we come to the most mysterious of the wise men three gifts. And in ancient times mo was a revenues for embalming the dead. The third gives gift gives a bitter sweet tone to this enchanting story of the wise men who follow the star. Jesus is not long born, and one of the first presents he received is a gift to be used at his burial. We probably wouldn’t exactly welcome the present or gift of the coffin of Christmas.
But there is a stark reality to this gift. The crib points the cross, the joy of Jesus birth points to the shadow of his death on the cross. And of course that death was for us all. All are included the embrace of Christ’s love, every person, every human. And this story of the wise men is the first story in the gospels to indicate this truth. Those wise men travelled a long, long way. The journey was a long and hard one.
The 20th century poet TS Eliot, Elliot captures this hauntingly in the opening lines of his poem, and titled journey of the Magi. A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of year for journey and such a long journey. The way is deep and the weather show, the very dead of winter.
The wise men came from a long and far away land and unspecified place in the East far away from Jewish traditions of God’s chosen people. And yet, and this is the marvellous truth of this story. And yet they recognise Jesus. And their devotion tells us in the story from the truth that St Paul, so often likes to tell us in his letters,that Christ’s death and resurrection has opened up the way to God, not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, not just for the faithful believers, but for the way wayward and far off.
The word Epiphany literally means showing or revealing. And in this story, Jesus is shown or revealed to the Gentiles, to people who have never heard of him. And an increasingly secular society today, here in England and across the world. There are people around us who have never really heard of Jesus, and the loving ways of God. This feast of Epiphany gives those of us who are privileged to know and love God a multifaceted challenge.
Do we give sufficiently of ourselves to God? Is our giving of ourselves in response to our lavish, good, costly? And are we open to those around us? Perhaps even those who live in our street, who still have quite a long way to travel in their search for love and truth?
Are we open enough to help them as they too travel on their journey? When the waves are deep, and the weather sharp? So what has been your epiphany this year? What gift will you give back? What has God revealed you to you as your New Year’s resolution? Not the must cut down on food, drinking, cigarettes, those kinds of resolutions healthy though they may be but the God given kind, the I’m going to make a difference this year kind of resolution, and then looking to see where God is at work and joining in
As a bit of a guide, which might be helpful, and hopefully we’ll start some discussion. I’m going to ask Ian to post online, a 5P tool to get us all talking and thinking. They’ll have more detail online, but now just for just now, the five P’s are
- and people.
Please do read them in full as we enter the delights and privilege of this Epiphany season.
And let us reflect and ponder ever more deeply on the mystery of the incarnation of God born as one of us, and let us to be open to God’s gifts revealed to us in Jesus to share those gifts with our fellow travellers on the way