An ECCA Parish
In the care of the Ecumenical Franciscan Order
Homily preached at Warrimoo on Sunday 4th January 2015:
The EPIPHANY of OUR LORD
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
“Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem; “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
Welcome, friends, to 2015 and to what is in all truth my favourite celebration of the ecclesiastical year – namely, the feast of the Epiphany!
Surely one of the great stories of Christmas is the story of the visit of the Wise Men from the East. Wherever the story of the birth of Jesus is told, so too is told this delightful tale of strange men from some faraway land who brought gifts to the baby Jesus.
The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel. I noted in my preparing my sermon, that Matthew does not call them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from -- in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”). In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.
A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story. The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17). Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.
Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come. First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.
Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich. The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes. But the magi -- non-believers in the eyes of Israel -- possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.
Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:
gold - is a gift fitting for a king, a ruler, one with power and authority;
frankincense - is a gift fitting for a priest, one who offers sacrifice (frankincense was an aromatic perfume sprinkled on the animals sacrificed in the Temple);
myrrh - is a fitting “gift” for someone who is to die (myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial).
Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognise all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.
The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.
What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow. The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion.