Sunday 7th January
Year B: Epiphany
Liturgical Colour: Gold or White
(The Epiphany actually falls on 6th January but a lot of churches will celebrate it today. If it was celebrated on the 6th then today is the First Sunday after the Epiphany and The Baptism of Christ: Psalm 29: 1-11, Genesis 1: 1-5, Acts 19: 1-7 and Mark 1: 4-11)
The Visit of the Magi and The Baptism of Christ are separated in our calendar. However, they are both part of Epiphany, which continues the festal season begun at Christmas until the Presentation Of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas) on 2nd February. Epiphany means appearance or manifestation. This is understood in these two contexts as Jesus being revealed to the Gentiles (represented by the Magi) and the heavenly declaration following his baptism by John: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1.11). The Western Church tends to focus on the Magi and the Eastern Church on the baptism.
Other manifestations will follow soon with Jesus performing miracles, including at the Wedding in Cana, demonstrating his authority teaching in the temple and performing acts of healing. It is a bit confusing as over the next few weeks Jesus goes from being a baby to a man over thirty and then back to a baby again. However, the theme is consistent; someone very special has come into the world and signs all over the place mean that he cannot be ignored.
Custom perhaps dictates that Christmas trees and decorations are removed after the Twelve Days of Christmas. However, the crib usually stays as a point of focus during Epiphany and many churches also retain the Advent Wreath and Jesse Tree, alongside other banners and festive flowers.
Matthew’s gospel speaks simply of ‘wise men from the east’. It is only later that tradition limited their number to three, made them kings and named them Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. For a read about the history of changes in their representation see here and here. The actual timing of their visit has also been much debated and opinions are divided as to whether the Magi visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, or between forty or so days or up to two years later in Nazareth. (This one’s a bit of a heavy read – scroll down to page 12 if you are interested!)
The following ‘Meditation of the Magi’ is from Nick Fawcett’s free resource website.
Meditation of the Magi
Do you know what we gave him –
that little boy in Bethlehem?
Go on, have a guess!
A teddy bear?
No, nothing like that!
In fact, nothing you’d associate with a child at all,
even if he was destined to be a king.
Gold, that’s what I brought!
And my companions?
Wait for it!
Frankincense and myrrh!
Yes, I thought you’d be surprised,
for, to tell the truth, we’re pretty amazed ourselves looking back,
unable to imagine what on earth possessed us
to choose such exotic and unusual gifts.
It wasn’t so much that they were costly,
though they were, of course –
to a family like his they were riches beyond their dreams.
But we could more than afford it –
little more than small change to men of our means.
No, it wasn’t the price that troubled us afterwards,
but the associations,
the possible meaning his parents might have read into our presents when we’d gone.
Not the gold, there was no problem there –
a gift fit for a king and designed to say as much, of course.
Well, the main use his people have for that, as we learned later,
is to sweeten their sacrifices,
to pour out on to their burnt offerings
so that the fragrance might be pleasing to their God.
Hardly the most appropriate gift for a baby.
But compared with myrrh!
Don’t tell me you don’t know?
It was a drug used to soothe pain,
either for that or as a spice for embalming –
more fitting for a funeral than a birth,
having more to do with suffering and death than celebration!
So what were we thinking of?
What possible significance could gifts like those have for a little child?
Frankly, I have no idea.
Yet at the time the choice seemed as obvious to us as following the star,
as though each were all part of some greater purpose,
which would one day become clear to all.
Were we right?
Well, after all I’ve said, I rather hope not,
for if this king was born to die,
to be offered in sacrifice rather than enthroned in splendour,
then his must be an unusual kingdom,
very different from most we come across –
in fact, you might almost say, not a kingdom of this world at all!
Sometimes it is useful to revisit the most basic questions; perhaps even together as Focal Ministers or with the PCC (Parish Church Council)?
How do we know Jesus?
How do we show Jesus to others?
How might we grow in both?