Friday 6th January, is the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the arrival of the three wise men.
These visitors from afar, Melchior, Casper and Balthazar knelt down and worshipped the child offering their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: Gold for royalty, frankincense for a divine birth and myrrh for the death Jesus was to suffer.
The arrival of the three wise men signals the completion of the nativity scene and the beginning of a new beginning. It must have been a long journey to find the Christ child but we don’t hear much about the journey itself in the gospels. T.S Eliot’s poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’ imagines the journey for us: ‘A cold coming we had of it, the worst time of year, for a journey and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter’.
Eliot goes on to recall the camels galled, sore-footed, the night fires going out and the lack of shelters. He ends on a more sombre note, reminding us of the journey to the cross. The wise men, having arrived and met the Christ child, go back to their previous life. So how do we go back to our previous life after the experience of Christmas?
Some of us may have experienced comfort with food and relaxation, for others it may have been a stressful or lonely time. But as we turn from the stable and the shepherds to contemplate life post-Christmas, knowing that the light of the world has been revealed, even to us, how do we make the Epiphany our ordinary?
Eliot wrote: ‘We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation’
The Christmas story tells us the shepherds brought a lamb. Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Mid-winter suggests that all we need is to give our heart. But the gifts of the wise men allow us to ponder our own God-given gifts which we share with our family, our community and in our work places.
Is God pleased with the way we use his gifts, or do we make excuses for not using them well? Perhaps God doesn’t mind how we use our gifts as they are freely given, as love is freely given and we should offer our talents as well as our shortcomings. Epiphany is a good time to ask ourselves ‘what we are really looking for?’ Or ‘what is holding us back from offering our gifts to God?’
If life is old and tired, the three wise men can provide an inspiration for the on-going journey of faith. It might be painful, surrounded by darkness and without a star to reassure us. The magi travelled through the dark and through the wilderness and so do we on our faith journey.
The three wise men represented Jesus being revealed to non-Jews. They were mysteriously guided to God. One of the functions of our Sunday worship is to give us that periodic glimpse of a star, a foretaste of where it is leading us.
We try to make liturgy beautiful so that we can share in it and be lifted for a moment above the cursing and grumbling, the night fires going out and the cities hostile and unfriendly. We can come close to God and trust that it will sustain us for the week ahead, the year ahead. Liturgy like a star can keep the light shining in the midst of our pain or bewilderment. Christ is the bright morning star, and liturgy, like the star in the night sky that guided the wise men, is a sign that light has broken upon us.