Scripture Readings: Isaiah 60:1–6 | Psalm 72 | Ephesians 3:1–12 | Matthew 2:1–12
“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” (Ephesians 3:5-6).
I had the gift of growing up in the country in Northern Ontario, where most nights we could look up and see a sky filled with stars. No city lights to drown them out, we could soak the scene in with a sense of great beauty and wonder… along with the sense of our own smallness, and how vast the cosmos really is.
Years later, I can remember that one of the many things that made me excited to move to New Brunswick from downtown Toronto was the anticipation of seeing the stars more often again… and sharing this joyful gift with my own daughter… to share in some way that sense of beauty and wonder… as we set out to find our new place in the world. As we all know, in many ways, looking up can help us find our way.
Where do we find ourselves looking these days when so many of us are feeling lost, without our bearings… unsure of where to turn?
As we try to navigate this ongoing COVID-19 crisis with all the twist and turns, uncertainty, fear, and loss it has brought to our lives? Or as we try to make sense of and work our way through all the conflicts and divisions pulling apart our common life; our country, our communities, our families… even ourselves? Or as we consider the Church: with so many giving up on the Christian faith, or at least giving up on what they know of it, what might the future of Churches like St. Luke’s look like down the road?
The author Madeleine L’Engle points out that our word disaster carries the meaning of “a separation from the stars, a fragmenting of creation, the shattering of what God formed as an interconnected whole.” And this seems to illuminate how many of us are feeling these days: longing for that sense of clear direction, that sense of confident purpose that comes from knowing our right place in the universe… where exactly we fit within the grand scheme of the cosmic plan.
For dark days like these, Epiphany comes to us as the bearer of Good News… sharing with us a message of hope and joy we easily overlook… or maybe under-look?
Our reading today from Matthew’s Gospel tells of the visit of the Magi: the wise men led by a star to worship the newborn king of the Jews. This part of the story fits well with pageants in our imaginations, like the manger scene at Christmas (though the two acts were likely years apart). And as an isolated episode, it’s easy to set it on the shelf of our minds and forget about it, like a favourite holiday movie we only pull out and watch once a year.
But in this story, St. Matthew is introducing an important theme of his Gospel account, one which will take time to fully unveil, but always remains central to his understanding of who Jesus is, and what He is up to… and what this all means for those of us who follow Him today.
Put simply: the Good News of God’s Messiah is really for everyone… for children of Abraham, yes, but also for all the nations of the earth. These wise men from the East foreshadow all of us outsiders to Israel’s story… those who didn’t know their place yet in the cosmic plan of the Living God. What starts with an unexpected visit from star-led strangers from afar will lead to Christ Jesus offering up His life upon the cross to draw all people to Himself… to reconcile and reunite in Himself all of humanity to each other, and to the Living God once and for all.
The beautiful, wonderful mystery at work in Jesus is, as St. Paul puts it, that: “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6). The Good News isn’t just for a chosen few; Christ is the King of all creation. This is the message that Epiphany reveals to us: that God has come in Jesus Christ to rescue and reclaim His entire world. The same world we see around us even now is the world Christ came to save.
Looking up to see stars filling the sky is a beautiful, wonderful sight… but it is also distant. Remote. Removed from our everyday existence. We can catch a glimpse of them and be lost in wonder for a moment, only to look down again and forget our connection to the vast cosmos around us.
The same danger exists with the story of Epiphany; with the Good News that in Jesus Christ God has come to save our world. We can admire the beauty of this message. Feel moved for a moment or two… and simply look away again, and get on with living our lives. Forgetting that this is not just a beautiful, wonderful story… it’s our story! Our reality! God’s gift to us to help us find our proper place, and guide us foreword.
Though most of us here in Gondola Point are Gentiles, of non-Jewish ancestry, we’re culturally used to seeing ourselves as insiders in God’s story… as those who play host to strangers from afar, not those who have to strike out on uncertain journeys.
But we have all been invited… welcomed… graciously led into Israel’s story: the story of God’s promise to bless one family, and through them, rescue the world. And each of us have in some ways already responded to this invitation: believing in the Good News of Jesus… entering into a Church community created and shaped by Christ’s self-giving love. We may be questioning, curious, struggling, searching… but in Christ God guides us forward to find Him in surprising places… and share His love with surprising people… which is the role of all of us in the Epiphany story.
The bishop and scholar N.T. Wright helps to bring this point to light: “The arrival of the ‘Magi’ (that’s the word Matthew uses for them; it can refer to ‘magicians’, or ‘astrologers’, or experts in interpreting dreams, portents and other strange happenings) introduces us to something which Matthew wants us to be clear about from the start. If Jesus is in some sense king of the Jews, that doesn’t mean that his rule is limited to the Jewish people. At the heart of many prophecies about the coming king, the Messiah, there were predictions that his rule would bring God’s justice and peace to the whole world... Matthew will end his gospel with Jesus commissioning his followers to go out and make disciples from every nation; this, it seems, is the way that the prophecies of the Messiah’s worldwide rule are going to come true.”
Go out and make disciples.
Not wait for them to come to us, where we are comfortable, safe, and in control. Go into our world, where we live side by side with our neighbours… and share the Good News that God has not given up on our world… but sent His Son Jesus for everyone. He did not remain at a safe distance, remote from our sufferings and struggles… God came and comes to where we are in Christ, and is with His people forever.
Let this beautiful, wonderful truth guide how we respond, and the choices we make each day… how we treat those around us… how we spend our energy, our resources, and our time. Search out and explore the depths of our story, His story, the Good News of Jesus, and all it entails, so that when we feel lost and uncertain, we’ll know where to look to find our way again: to the light of our loving Saviour.
This is the journey of faith that Epiphany opens up for us. The journey that, even though we don’t know exactly where our next footsteps will fall, we can trust that in seeking Jesus… seeking to know and follow Him, the Living God is guiding us… and inviting us to share in the story of His rescuing love. Not just for us, but for the whole cosmos and all who dwell in it.
I’ll end now with a Sonnet by the priest and poet Malcolm Guite written for Epiphany, entitled: the magi.
It might have been just someone else’s story
Some chosen people get a special king
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In palaces, found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.
 Quoted in C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), 100.
 Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 11.
 Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year (Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2012), 19.