THOUGHT FOR THE COMING WEEK
The night has passed, and the day lies open before us, let us pray with one heart and mind.
The candle is light
Silence is held to reflect on the day ahead to pray for yourself and others
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence O God, Set our hearts on fire with love for one another
Epiphany. Matthew 2. 1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus
was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to
Jerusalem, 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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem
with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the
people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They
told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
It would take us weeks to study this story properly, but given that we are focusing on God the Son and our Trinity value of Compassion this term, here are just a few ideas: Matthew may have only wanted us to focus on 2 Kings – King Herod and King Jesus. On the interchange between knowledge and faith and truth and deception. The ‘wise men’ had no knowledge but they had faith, they were prepared to travel widely on a hunch, a glimmering hope that the True King was out there. We are told that on their arrival at the palace, Herod was ‘troubled, and all Jerusalem with him’. You bet Herod was troubled! He reigned for 40 years and we will come across him many times during Jesus’s earthly life. (It is how we can date Jesus’s birth to 4 or 6 B.C and not year 0!) Herod could be compassionate and inspired many fabulous building projects; however, he was a puppet king and relied on the good will of the hated Roman occupying force. Therefore, he was paranoid – the only King would have to be him! He had no intention of worshipping Jesus himself, and was lying when he told the wise men to go and search ‘diligently’ and come back and tell him where to find Jesus. When he realised that the wise men had ‘returned to their homes by another route’ he instigated ‘the slaughter of the innocents’ – the murder of all boy babies up to 2 years old – neatly (for the Gospel writers) tying up with the Old Testament, where Pharaoh did the same to Israelite baby boys in the attempt to ‘get’ Moses – we all know how that turned out! Likewise, Herod’s ‘lackeys’ ‘knew’ about the prophecy of Jesus’s birth but they denied their knowledge to stay ‘in’ with Herod. Big Shame – don’t let us live like that!
The reality of the story of the Epiphany
has captured the imagination of many down the centuries. We don’t know how many
‘Kings’ there were and the usual jokes about men not stopping to ask for
directions, and presuming that The King of the Jews would be born in a palace,
abound! Depicted as regal kings they were Magi or astrologers, so not kings at all, in fact. The number may
have something to do with the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh that were
offered. Gold for Jesus the King,
Frankincense or incense that is still burned today as part of worship in some
traditions, sweet smelling it rises to heaven like our prayers and represents
Jesus as Priest. Myrrh was traditionally used to embalm the dead, fitting for
our Saviour Christ who died to save us from our sins and redeem us. However,
did you know that Myrrh was also used on the gums of infants as they were
teething? So, given that Jesus was a toddler, nearly 2 years old and living
with Mary and Joseph in a house by this stage, Myrrh was an eminently practical
gift, apart from its symbolism for death and Resurrection!
The Journey Of The Magi by T.S. Eliot
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
T. S. Eliot wrote ‘The Journey of the Magi’ in 1927 when he was deeply inspired by his conversion to Anglicanism (or the Church of England). He wrote it as a form of Advent/Christmas aide to how your faith can deepen over time.
As we discussed before the poem, the people who should have seen Jesus as the True King – the holy ones and religious leaders of the people, chose to pretend otherwise. They actively, right from His birth tried to destroy Him.
It is bitterly ironic that pagan men (& possibly women!) knelt in adoration before The True King Jesus, even though He was in the form of a vulnerable baby. (Christianity is unique in this). Hunted and hounded from birth; it is also ironic that the pagan land of Egypt, from whence the Israelites had fled in the Old Testament, provided sanctuary for The True King and His parents as refugees they tried to find sanctuary.
This should give us ‘pause for thought’ as we consider how we should live our lives with God working through us and with us. How do we translate our ‘knowledge’ and apply it to our faith. Even if we have no faith, or follow a different creed, these factors still apply.
Compassion, noun – Pity inclining one to help or be merciful, from Latin pass, to suffer and pati, patient. So compassion literally means to suffer with someone.
Compassion is one of 4 qualities which reinforce and support each other: Joy, equanimity and open-minded acceptance, are the other 3.
Unless these 4 work together, compassion can be exhausting. All religious traditions acknowledge this. Also stating that actively seeking justice and equality are vital, so that the compassion is real and not just posturing.
Who’s that knocking on the window
Who’s that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the kitchen floor?
Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children And who could have let him in?
Why has he rubies on his fingers, A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol, Does the salty snow run red?
Why does he ferry my fireside As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses And his tongue of gingerbread?
Why does the world before him Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes Burn like saffron buns?
Watch where he comes walking Out of the Christmas flame, Dancing, double talking:
Herod is his name. Charles Causley.
Our in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and glory are
yours now and forever. Amen.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God,
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
Be with us all,