Sunday 3rd January 2021 – Epiphany

Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy;and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Reflection: the wonderful gift

We are not going to go over that worn out phrase for this year, ‘well it’s been a different Christmas than we are used to.’ Oh if only I had been given a pound for every time I heard that phrase over the last few weeks. But I do suppose this year may be the first time we still have gifts either to receive or give because we have not been able to mix with each other so there is something else different. In fact, as I was writing this during the week my brother-in-law phoned to ask if he could deliver gifts that morning. Of course needless to say it was all done in a safely distanced manner. I want to concentrate on the gift aspect of Epiphany this year. The Magi are mainly remembered for travelling far to deliver their presents, gifts they presented to the infant Jesus, valuable gifts, the best that they could offer, to the new born King. Our Christmas gift giving and receiving is special to all of us as we share with those whom we love in this outward expression of that love. The Magi gave because they had been given to. They gave their gifts because of that star which they followed to the Christ child. What an amazing gift for these astrologers. They spent most of their time gazing at the stars. Out of all the stars on which they could have focused, God led them to see the one that would lead them to Jesus. On any clear night look up to the sky in the wee pocket of the universe that is ours and see if you can count the visible stars then wonder how many stars are there in the universe? I don’t know how accurate this statement is but it has been said, there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world combined! Go ahead count them and let me know. No wonder that, when we look into the night sky, the vastness of it amazes us, when we are seeing only a tiny fraction of our own solar system, which is, in turn, only a tiny fraction of the universe. God directed the Magi to the one star that made all the difference. According to the gospels, the first announcement of the birth of the Messiah was to Jewish shepherds, men who lived on the fringe of Hebrew society. The second announcement was to Gentiles, to the Wise Men, people who lived on the outside of that society. It took much debate and the heroic efforts of people like Paul to make full Gentile inclusion in the Church a reality. But God’s truth won out: salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. We come in from different backgrounds, but we all come in the same way: through Christ. There is something of great value here at the beginning of this new year. God went to the very extreme to include the outsiders; people like us, in the truth that the salvation of people is a great gift from God. Through the revelation of God to the Magi he was speaking not only to them but to the whole world. God’s sign to the Magi signalled from the very beginning the gift of his Son was for all, not just for a select few. The Magi were foreigners, astrologers who practiced another religion. All of this ought to have disqualified them from this encounter with the Messiah. And yet God showed them and they followed the star. In the coming of Christ, the walls have come down, that the door is opened to all, the Church gathered around Christ is to be a Church that makes no distinctions; race, gender, or social standing.  What a most beautiful gift God has given us of a great multifaceted collection of people who can—and should—make up the Church. Of course like some of the gifts we exchange we don’t always take advantage of those that are given to us. God has given us many wonderful gifts; Salvation, fellowship, our Bibles, a freedom to exercise our faith, and so much more. How much of God will we miss out on if we don’t accept God’s gift? How, though, are we responding to these tremendous gifts to us? Unlike the Magi with their learning that moved them to make that journey we may not have the bright star to guide our footsteps along the way but the light of Christ shines bright still across our world. As we embark upon a new year so too we continue on our journey of faith and discovering God afresh each new day.

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