The Feast of the Epiphany
Sometimes – perhaps often – God asks us to do the most difficult things. Our faith is not – or at least should not – always be comfortable or comforting. There are times in life when we need to draw on deep wells of familiarity – the truth we hold and the firmly held beliefs which are the foundations of our faith. But God also draws away from that which is familiar and takes us to new and unfamiliar places. What will, 2018’s journey look like for you?
Of course do not know what lies ahead – the wise Men had no idea where their journey would take them, and looking back they probably reflected that they could never have guessed the lowly nature of their journey’s end. But they journeyed with an intention – there’s was not random wondering, but a journey of intent, each step focussed on their destination.
Even with this focus, their journey must have been a hard one – leaving the comfort of their familiar places, maybe sumptuous palaces or comfortable places of study and learning – and crossing deserts, travelling dangerous roads where there were undoubtedly bandits – to reach their surprising destination, and to be forever changed.
Both the new year, and this feast of the Epiphany, give us chance to reflect on the intention of our journey this coming year. The magi saw, in the rising of a new star, the call of God to undertake a journey to visit a new King. What are the signs in our lives now which might indicate the direction in which God is calling us? What are the things that have come to our notice that might be clues about our direction, or the intention of our journey, this coming year?
It is so easy to just keep on the way we have always done, to stick to familiar routines year in year out, to wrap ourselves in that which is familiar, even if we’re not particularly happy. This is as true for individuals as it is for organisations. It’s easy for churches to keep on doing what it has always done – however loved and familiar – and wonder why people don’t come along and join in. The answer now is that they probably never will – the gap between the customs and practices of the church and people who don’t belong to it is too wide to be bridged by any except the most courageous. It is so easy for us to sit in our familiar and homely church and castigate people for failing to come to us. But they won’t – it’s too difficult, to be honest we’re too weird. The church, just like the magi, has to journey to where people are. Otherwise it will die – any organisation does if it remains static and unchanging – this is now well known in the field of organisational studies. This journey of change which we are required to undertake isn’t easy or comfortable, it’s risky, dangerous – but it is, nevertheless, essential.
Let’s look at the story of the magi from the other direction and think what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph. I’ve spoken over Christmas, about how tough it must of been for Mary – after her wonderful ‘yes’ she might have expected God to smooth the way for her a little. But, no, she had the hardest of times – a really difficult journey to a town high up in the hills, a stable as the place of birth, a manger for a cradle, smelly shepherds, and now – to cap it all – these weird, unfamiliar people from a different culture and a strange, esoteric, religion with their peculiar presents. Wise or royal they might have been but Mary could easily have turfed them out. But she didn’t – she welcomed them and had the grace to allow them to do what they had come to do. But how it must have stretched her – this young woman – to be open to people so unfamiliar and strange.
That is a challenge for us too. Just has God welcomes and loves us, with all our confusions and weaknesses: just as Mary made space for these mysterious strangers, so we are challenged to make welcome
those who are not ‘of us’ or ‘like us’. Sometimes it seems that the habit of sitting here waiting for people to join us also involves the need for the people who might come to be just like us. The Christmas story, and the story of the Epiphany, tell a different tale. Like Mary, we need to be open to people who are other than ourselves. This requires that we change and grow, expand our self-understanding, and go on an inner journey that enables us to question ourselves and, ultimately, to grow as people.
There is, in this story, a person who gave his whole attention to preserving the status quo and his unchanging personal safety. That, of course, is Herod. Look at where that ended – dead children, people avoiding him by going home a different way. He may have kept all he held dear, but at what cost? Herod’s way is deadly and involves destruction and hopelessness. I can’t help thinking that, in the end, he wasn’t have been a happy man.
So you see, sometimes, perhaps often, God calls us to do difficult things. To journey with the clear intention of travelling with God, but to somewhere or something strange and new – just like the Magi. And, like Mary, to welcome people other than ourselves – to stretch our boundaries and experiences. This is the way of life – the way God calls us