A sermon for Epiphany based on the readings Ephesians 3:1-12 and Matthew 2:1-12
May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
What makes a wise man or woman for that matter? Is it having knowledge of many things? Is it using the knowledge you have to make wise decisions? I would say it needs to be both, after all knowing that a tomato is a fruit does not mean it will go well in a fresh fruit salad…. or maybe it would if you’re Heston Blumenthal!
Today Matthew gives us a beautifully compact version of the story of the wise men, no word is wasted. I say version, because there is an ancient manuscript, The Revelation of the Magi, but that is an apocryphal gnostic text, so let’s stick with the gospel.
These men have the knowledge that they have gained from studying the stars, researching their own texts and discerning what the appearance of an apparently new star might mean. They could have parked that knowledge there, recorded it for future generations to wonder if it were in fact, just the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn to produce a Great Conjunction that we could witness in 2020, for the first time in 800 years.
But then it wouldn’t have got the more familiar name of ‘the Christmas Star’. What they did was to use this knowledge to make a wise decision, to follow it and see where it might lead, and to come prepared to honour a child that was foretold to be the king of the Jews, a king worthy of homage and the travails of the journey.
So, these were indeed wise men. Then I found this unattributed quote that says, ‘Wisdom is the perfection of knowledge of the righteous as a gift from God showing itself in action’. Surely in this story, here is wisdom as knowledge and wisdom in action.
‘Wisdom is the perfection of knowledge of the righteous
as a gift from God showing itself in action’
But what of wisdom itself? Over my desk, I have a lovely painting of a figure entitled Divine Wisdom, she is called Sophia, the Greek word for wisdom, and she is a central idea in Hellenistic philosophy and Christian theology. She appears in the Book of Proverbs, ‘Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice’ (Proverbs 1:20). However, she come into her own in one of the accepted apocryphal books which is often used in our lectionary of readings, The Book of Wisdom. She is described as, ‘more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior (Wisdom 7:29) and ‘She gave to holy people the reward of their labours; she guided them along a marvellous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night’ (Wisdom 10:17).
The Book of Wisdom, was written about fifty years before the coming of Christ. Its unknown author was probably a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria in Egypt and his profound knowledge of the earlier Old Testament writings is reflected in almost every line of the book; the first ten chapters in particular providing background for the teaching of Jesus and some New Testament theology about Jesus. However, its primary purpose was to convey the message about the splendour and worth of wisdom.
Accordingly, here too is wisdom as knowledge and wisdom in action.
In Jesus, the mystery of God was revealed, as Paul tells the Ephesians ‘In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5)’ and it was to those who not only gained this knowledge but who were to act upon it that wisdom was given, ‘so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities (Ephesians 3:10)’
So why should we, as the church and as individual seek wisdom today?
Well, there has been much over the last year that has tested us like never before. The free will that we have, to gain knowledge and learn and discover, means that we are much wiser about a virus that has threatened and changed nearly every aspect of our lives.
Wisdom and knowledge have led us to develop new medical devices, procedures and medicines as we have pooled that knowledge. Our governments and global organisations have had to gain wisdom and knowledge to understand what is happening and then to apply that knowledge in the wisest way possible.
Of course, there are always those who would say they have not always been so very wise, and hindsight is a wonderful thing; but whilst the foolish or unwise have developed conspiracy theories that frighten and disable, theories that can be debunked just as quickly as they spring up, wisdom enables us to recognise the difference.
Definitely then, wisdom as knowledge and wisdom in action
On an individual level, I think we have learned a lot about ourselves. Maybe things that have surprised us. We have experienced emotions and seen and heard things first-hand as never before in our lives, whether we are young or old, wise or unwise.
However, as Christians we are privileged to receive God’s grace that gives wisdom. Our knowledge of God and our faith enables us to see his leading, to hear his guidance and gives us a heart of courage to journey faithfully and find our way even when the path may seem difficult and dark.
It also means that we are enabled to reach out and to bring light into the lives of those around us. To shine in the darkness by putting our knowledge of God into action – to make known the wisdom of God.
The star that shone so brightly some two thousand years ago, can still illuminate and reveal the way – the way that leads to a child, who would grow into a king. The king of the Jews, the king of all God’s children, the king of the past, the present and the future, the king of kings, the wisest king of all!