Sermon for the Epiphany of the Lord
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.
‘Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.’
‘I see millions and millions of stars,’ Watson replied.
‘What does that tell you?’ asked Holmes.
Watson pondered for a minute.
‘Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions upon billions of planets.
Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.
Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have some good weather today.
Horologically, I deduce that the time is about a quarter past three in the morning.
Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant.
What does it tell you, Holmes?’
‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ replied Holmes. ‘Someone has stolen our tent.’
Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas. It’s the Epiphany, or Manifestation, of our Lord Jesus, the day we remember the story the Bible tells of the wise men, the magi, coming from the East to worship him. Magi were star-gazers, interpreters of dreams, magicians…
So, what would they have seen when they reached Jesus? By the time they got to Bethlehem, I picture them meeting a young boy, maybe a toddler.
You know, whatever the Christmas cards show, Jesus would no longer be in the stable. A little time would have passed since Jesus was born. We can say that because King Herod ordered the deaths of the children two years old and younger. The magi didn’t jostle the shepherds for elbow room against the manger. They didn’t have to hold their noses and step around the donkey poo.
Can you imagine what the magi might have seen? I picture the Holy Family living in Bethlehem, where Joseph runs a family business. Not a supernatural business, you understand…just a carpenter and his family, making a living.
It’s not what the magi would be expecting…After all, the story relates that they went to the big smoke first, to Jerusalem, to see the king. I mean, where else would they find a baby king but the palace?
Instead, on the basis of ancient prophecy, they get sent off the beaten track to a carpenter’s shop in a small town they’ve never heard of. This is where they’ll find a king?
And how would they find the young Jesus among all the other boys in Bethlehem? The star, that’s how.
So, back to Sherlock Holmes’ question: What would the wise men have seen when they looked up at the sky?
There are people who still argue about what the Star of Bethlehem may have been. Some say it was the planets Jupiter and Saturn coming close together in the constellation of Pisces; others that it was a star gone supernova, and appearing very bright and larger than before; some believe the ‘star’ was a comet, perhaps Halley’s Comet.
Well, we can never know if the Star of Bethlehem was any of these things, and frankly it doesn’t matter. But I wonder if it was any of them? If the Star of Bethlehem were something easily seen, why isn’t there a record of it somewhere? Why weren’t there dozens of bands of magi scouring the countryside, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh, shortbread, chocolate frogs, Christmas cake, mixed nuts, and ties with matching socks to whoever the new king was going to be?
Let’s use our imaginations. Let’s imagine that the star wasn’t something seen by everyone. That the wise men saw another kind of light, a light given to them by God.
Can we imagine that this light given by God was the light of the Shekinah, or the glory of God? The Old Testament speaks of the Shekinah, which was the presence of God with his people. It was said to be seen as a bright light.
Just suppose that in this story, the wise men see the light of the Shekinah, or glory of God. That would explain why the star wasn’t necessarily noticed by others.
Let’s imagine that it was the Shekinah light that led the wise men to Jesus, to recognise him in the everyday ordinariness of a village carpenter’s place. Let’s imagine that this Shekinah, the very presence of God, came over the house where the young Jesus was.
How do we see Jesus today? We do see his glory. We see him, risen and ascended, the Lord of all. Yet he doesn’t usually come to us with bright lights shining and sirens blaring, in ways that everyone else can see.
He comes to us in the ordinary things of life. It’s not always obvious that he is there. We can become aware of Jesus in a word spoken by a friend, or in a great disappointment, or in a song in church, or in an answered prayer—and sometimes, that answer is no.
I say that Jesus comes to us, and that’s certainly our experience; but isn’t he is always with us? Because of Jesus, the Shekinah of God is always with us. We have the Shekinah within us. You and I know the Shekinah of God as the Holy Spirit. Now that Jesus has come, God is always present with his people through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
How may we recognise God’s presence with us? Let’s follow the example of the wise men. They followed the star, and when they met the Christ, they worshipped him.
Worship is the key. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Shekinah, the presence, of God. The Holy Spirit reveals the things of Jesus to us, and leads us to worship Jesus the Lord. And in that worship, Christ ministers to us and forms us in his likeness.
Worship is the key. If you want to be aware of God’s presence with you, then worship him every day of your life. Don’t hold back. Daily acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and our Saviour. Gather with the rest of the Church each Sunday.
Don’t keep him at arm’s length. Follow him, allow yourself to be remade from within, be made more like him. Let’s do that for 2008. Amen!