Words for the Epiphany – 3 January 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ (Matthew 2v1-2)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
At the end of 2019 Chris and Di Barnard moved back into their home in Victoria Road just around the corner from St John’s. It had been a long journey returning home after a kitchen fire earlier in the year which meant that their whole home needed to be refurbished and the kitchen completely gutted. So it was with a sense of thankfulness that the whole of a very happy family gathered together to celebrate their homecoming and the vicar came around to bless the ‘renewed’ home.
The last part of the blessing was to write the traditional Epiphany inscription at the front entrance. As we stood at the door, and seeing it was near the end of 2019 and close to a New Year I suggested that, as 2019 had been a challenging year for the family, we might jump the gun a little and write the inscription as 20+C+M+B+20 on the presumption that the coming years would have to be much better than 2019 was…
It looks as if Murphy’s Law – If anything can go wrong it will – has won again!
Looking back it may seem as if we were tempting Fate somewhat but how where the family, excited by the possibility of a bright new year ahead, (or the rest of the world for that matter) to know any different?
When things like this happen we can give into a fatalism that may leave us to think that we are tossed around as some sort of flotsam and jetsam while the world laughs in our faces. Many of us may feel this way about the year just past as we again see the truth in the words of the epistle of James;
Come now you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4.13-14)
Some may even say (or indeed sing) ‘Que Sera, Sera’, shrug their shoulders, and proclaim that everything is written in the stars and, despite our plans or aspirations, we have to simply tumbled along with the winds of the world and have to accept things as Kismet.
But if what happens to us in the future is simply Fate then she is a very fickle mistress indeed! What kind of capriciousness would see the whole world turned upside down by a tiny virus? No wonder people are out of place angry-sad railing at whatever authority they can proclaiming that ‘this is not how things are meant to be!’ Mind you, as we look at the long history of humankind, there have been many other times when Fate has been extremely fickle. This week the Church Times reposted its Leader from 100 years ago which had the headline, ‘1920 won’t be missed’. It seems very much a case of Plus ça change plus ç’est la même chose?
How on earth are we supposed to plan anything? If we look to the stars for signs we have no control over our destiny and everything is a question of Fate. If we refuse to make plans then we are doomed to become slaves of the zeitgeist of the day with no purpose in life.
And, today, appearing on the stage of our futility and helplessness we meet three camel mounted Star-led Chieftains who seem unphased by Fate and laugh at the fickleness of life out of the certainty and depth of their faith. How is it that these star-gazers have become so star-struck that they are willing to travel into the unknown to find a babe nestled in such unpromising surroundings?
What is it about this child that draws faraway kings to kneel and adore?
Astronomers themselves they must have been used to cosmic incidents showing the future yet this event is different, grabs their hearts, and causes them to take a leap of faith as they follow a star.
They have much to teach us.
Abandoning their homeland they go to a foreign land.
Weighing their own faith (it is thought they were Zoroastrians) they seek a King who will be for them the fulfilment of its prophecies.
Risking the wrath of a despot they learn to listen to the whisperings of angels.
These are the Starstruck of the Christmas story who look past the circumstances of their day, just as unsettled and turbulent as our own, and go boldly forward. They ignore the fickleness of Fate and own a faith that we long to have as we step forward to an uncertain New Year.
They challenge us to be faithful in times of uncertainty.
They call us to imitate their devotion regardless of any obstacles placed in their way.
They ask that, with them, we would become people who listen closely to the voice of God be it found in starlit skies, angelic dreams, or the cry of a baby.
Their faith is the essence of hope that will bear the fruit of God’s love for a sad and broken world. How can we not follow them?
So for the year ahead what can we learn from them?
We can learn three things; New Year’s resolutions if you will.
No matter how our circumstances change, but especially when they are in a time of flux, hold on to the stars! Let us decide to take each change and alteration in whatever is planned or expected as an opportunity to deepen our faith just a little more. Learn to look up not down and in so doing join the ranks of the Starstruck.
No matter what regulations or restrictions apply decide to worship Christ the new-born King. If we are very fortunate that may be in the company of fellow Christians in a church. If not our devotion was never limited to an hour on a Sunday morning in any event was it? There are other ways to grow closer in the reading of the Scriptures, in prayer for others, and in the praise of Our Beloved.
No matter what happens in the days, weeks, and months ahead decide to listen to the whisperings of God more closely. I have come to know throughout my life that our loving Lord speaks to us incessantly – as does any loving parent. I have also come to know that I am very good at listening to other voices (which may tickle my ears for a while) that do not provide the comfort and joy of the voice of the One Who Loves us Best.
And as we do this, regardless of what the year ahead holds we will be safe in the arms of the who does indeed ‘have the whole world in his hands’ and we will learn the truth of that well-worn Christmas card greeting, ‘Wise men (and women) still seek Him’
[This blog ‘Starstruck’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]
 For an explanation of this ritual please read the excellent article on this post from buildingfaith, a ministry of Virginia Theological Seminary, USA.