ST MARTIN’S, MORLEY/NORANDA
THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY – 6th January, 2019
May I speak in the Name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The story we’ve just heard from St Matthew’s Gospel is one with which most of us have been familiar since childhood. Three “magi” from somewhere well east , following a star, come to Jerusalem seeking for a new-born king of the Jews. Having been redirected to the “little town of Bethlehem”, they find the child with Mary and Joseph settled in a house – not the stable any more, of course. The magi kneel before the child in worship, and give him gold, frankincense and myrrh – more of which in a moment.
This way, St Matthew sees fulfilled prophecies such as those we heard from the prophet Isaiah in our first Bible reading this morning –
“Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn…
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”
and in our Psalm,
“May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.”
Today is Epiphany. The full title for this day in the old prayer books is “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”, a bit of a mouthful, but at least an explanation. The word “epiphany” means a “shining forth, a revelation, and what we might call an “aha!” moment.
Over the next few weeks in this season between Epiphany and Lent, we will hear of several such moments, including Jesus’ baptism, his appearance and preaching in the Nazareth synagogue and culminating in his transfiguration.
As good a story as is this journey of the Magi, my wife assures me it cannot be entirely true. The challenge for her is that these men arrived in Jerusalem and asked for directions! She also says that these men must have been confirmed bachelors with no experience of parenting – nappies, baby powder and nursery furniture would have been much more useful, she says, than gold, frankincense and myrrh! Although, she concedes, gold might have funded a pretty good shopping spree! 😊
However that might be, we are told of the particular gifts brought by these “magi”. It is possible that gold, frankincense and myrrh were “tools of the trade” for these men who might well have been astrologer/magicians, and that they were laying before the new king what they no longer needed as they found a true faith – much as magicians burned their books and spells before St Paul in the Book of Acts. Leaving behind these items signalled a new life and a new faith.
For now, though, I want to think of what these gifts might mean for us in our seeking, worshipping and journeying on in faith. What do they represent in terms of our faith and worship?
Gold is, I suspect, the most obvious. During the offertory hymn in a few minutes, money will be collected and presented at the altar. I love it when we sing “Take my life and let it be…” as an offertory hymn. If we’re not still ratting around our purses and wallets, we might well hesitate to sing
“Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold”
As a parish priest for thirty-five years, I think the thing I found most difficult to preach about was “stewardship” – especially where that related to asking people to pledge – and give – money for the work of the church. I have no personal problem with giving, and have always seen giving a tithe (a tenth of my income) to the church as a biblical and appropriate response to God’s gracious gifts to me. But to try and convince people to increase their giving has always been challenging.
Yet many of you know as well as I that it costs real money – our gold and silver – to do the mission and ministry of the parish and the wider church. While your Rector is on leave, let me encourage you to bring your gifts of gold to serve God, the church and the world.
And then there is frankincense. Most of the parishes in which I have served have been “allergic”
to the use of incense. Personally, I love it, and it is wonderful to attend the Cathedral when the Dean or Bishop uses copious quantities of smoke. I often say that there are two specific smells mentioned in the Book of Revelation – the first is incense and the second, sulphur. I know which I prefer and the location associated with it! In Revelation 8:4, we read
“The smoke of the burning incense went up with the prayers of God’s people
from the hands of the angel standing before God.”
While I am not urging on you the use of actual incense, I am urging you to prayer. Incense represents our faithful prayers of both of adoration and thanksgiving, and of intercession and supplication. Faithful prayer daily and systematically will change and enhance your relationship with the one who is Emmanuel, God with us.
If gold represents our tangible, costly giving of our resources in worship to God, and frankincense our faithful prayer life, myrrh is about practical worship by serving Christ in others.
In the time of Jesus, myrrh was used not only for anointing a dead body, but also for practical application in healing various ailments and infections. A medical site I looked at says that
“Myrrh is applied directly to the mouth for soreness and swelling, inflamed gums (gingivitis), loose teeth, canker sores, bad breath, and chapped lips. It is also used topically for haemorrhoids, bedsores, wounds, abrasions, and boils,” as well as for “indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough, asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, cancer, leprosy, spasms, and syphilis.” 
So the gift of myrrh represents our interaction with and caring for all the people around us – even those who we do not like, or even find repulsive! We reach out, committing ourselves to care for all in need. We aim practically to heal, to comfort and to encourage. Thus, of course, we heal, comfort and encourage the Christ who is in each person. “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters”, he says, “you did it to me.”
We’ve just begun a new year, with all its possibilities and challenges. It’s traditional to review our lives and to renew our commitments at this time.
Let me encourage you to renew your commitments to God and God’s Church and God’s people:
- In material commitment of your resources of money, time and talent
- In commitment to a prayerful life of worship, thanksgiving and intercession
- And in commitment to practical, hands-on caring for Christ in all who are in need.
The Lord, who is revealed to all nations, be with you!