Tag Archives: Epiphany

How To Fill The Time In Between

Questions

The First Sunday of Christmas is what I call the in-between time. It sits between the great festivals of Christmas and Epiphany and doesn’t seem able to muster up its own special liturgy after all the awe and wonder  of the Saviour’s birth and the star lit revelations of the Wise Men. We also leap from cradle to the teenage years and then back to a toddler in the space of two weeks marking three of the four biblical appearances of Jesus as a child, which still leaves us with a lot of questions. Who, where, why and how? But as with all questions, if we ask the right ones we should get the right answers and learn something.

Based on Colossians 3:12-17 and Luke 2:41-52

I suspect that we all have stories of our childhood, some which show us in lots of different lights – the early achiever ‘Yes, she was walking and talking before her first birthday’; the dexterous enabler, ‘Oh he could put together all of the Star Wars’ Lego models by the age of two!’; the future celebrity, ‘I think she came out of the womb singing and dancing, we LOVE all the ‘shows’ she creates for us to watch’; but also the innate rascals, ‘every tree, every wall, every supermarket aisle shelf would need to be climbed – I think he’s going to be a mountaineer.’

Of course, we don’t always remember the things that we did from a very early age but have to rely on stories that are passed down to us and which become part of our family’s history. No doubt for Jesus, there were also stories from his childhood, that his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins would remind him of as he grew up, but we don’t get to hear about these, despite his later ‘fame’. Nothing comes out of the woodwork to show us the times when he wasn’t so obedient or got into scrapes with other children or indeed did anything out of the ordinary.

We have to be content with four brief episodes to tell us something about the child that grew into the man who was God, his extraordinary birth, his presentation in the temple, that he had some special visitors when he was a toddler, and that by the age of twelve he was displaying wisdom and knowledge beyond his years, astonishing his elders whilst at the same time being utterly respectful and freely submitting to his parent’s authority.

Yes, we could look for other remarkable stories of the child and youth Jesus, offering healing and miracles, that were recorded in the Infancy Gospels of Thomas and others, but these were gnostic texts, written some two centuries after his birth and we have no way of knowing whether any of ‘these’ stories are true and reliable and they were certainly not accepted into the canon of the bible

In our gospel today, the gap between the twelve year old on the cusp of becoming a nominal adult through his bar mitzvah and the man Jesus beginning his ministry following his baptism, is covered in one brief sentence, that he grew ‘in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour

Perhaps this is all God determined that we needed to know, but it’s obvious that these were the years in which he would have been able to experience humanity to its fullest extent before living the last three years of his life in a fishbowl. If we recall the verse that Luke give us immediately beforehand (v40), ‘the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him,’ it indicates a normal childhood and early adulthood. We can imagine Jesus learning his trade as a carpenter from Joseph, his adoptive father; being a pleasant and hardworking individual, inquisitive and innately knowledgeable beyond his years, which amazed some who saw him as an uneducated handy man; growing physically, spiritually and mentally under the cover of God’s grace.

As devout Jews, his parents would each year travel to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, they would have travelled together with a large group of family and friends, and at twelve, Jesus would not have been expected to stay with them. So, the fact that they would not have noticed he wasn’t among the returning celebrants, would not have been negligence on their parts, and with men and women generally travelling in separate groups, it wouldn’t have been until the end of the day, when they came together that they might notice that he was missing. You can imagine the conversation of Mary asking Joseph, ‘Have you seen Jesus since this morning?’ and Joseph replying, ‘No, I thought he was with you’.

No doubt they were worried and spent the next few hours increasingly frantic, asking all their friends and relatives whether they’d seen him, before setting off back to Jerusalem, and finally the relief of finding him after a three day search, calming sitting among the teachers, asking questions, not quite oblivious to the apparent distress he has caused them, as indicated by their understandable reaction, ‘Why have you put us through this anguish’ but reassurance that why would they think he would be anywhere else but in his Father’s house, not Joseph’s house, but God’s house.

‘Why were you searching for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’
Luke 49

For Mary and Joseph, there was still no full understanding of who Jesus was and what his work would entail, but Mary would once more reflect carefully on these events and would add them to her treasured memories of Jesus’ life. So, we hear that Jesus, returned with his family and as far as we know caused them no further upset, accepting their authority of parenthood, and at the same time growing and maturing into perfect manhood.

Now I don’t know about you, but I did not have a perfect childhood, mainly because I was not the perfect child! I can remember that I was not always obedient to my parents and would often find myself in trouble. However, I do know that I was loved, and any discipline metered out was undoubtedly for my own good. But that’s another story!

Let’s, therefore, get back to this morning’s story. We know that Jesus’ calling was to follow the will of God, so for him to spend time in the temple, the centre of Jewish worship, was an opportunity to discuss theology with experts, develop his own understanding and challenge people on their concepts of God. He was able to do this because of the personal relationship that he had with God

We too are called to develop a personal relationship with God in order for us to better understand his will for our lives. However, for many people the sense of being drawn closer into the story through the events leading up to and celebrated at Christmas is already dissipating. ‘Phew, I’m glad that’s over and done with, let’s pack the baby Jesus away with the rest of the nativity set and get back to some kind of normality’. Of course, they don’t really mean it like that, what they do mean is they’re glad the frantic shopping has ended, no more stressing about whether the presents you bought are appreciated and family member and other guests are finally heading home… and even though you love them and have been glad to spend time with them, there is the relief of getting back to your regular routine.

Relationships can be pretty tricky; there was an article I read the other day that asked people if they had argued more over the Christmas period and what had they argued about? Most people said, ‘Yes’ they had had a row and that it was about petty things like the tree decorations, how the turkey was cooked and what they wanted to watch on television. An expert commented that this was perfectly understandable as when people in families are thrown together for a time, tensions can be unearthed and expectations can be different.

Just like Jesus’ parents were stressed, there was probably some tension between Jesus’ true identity, what his mission is and his relationship with his parents. I am sure that they didn’t expect to find him discussing theology in the temple, otherwise they’d have gone straight there and not spent three days searching.

Why Jesus

But Jesus was setting the foundations for a new understanding of family. One that would be built on a relationship with God the father though his son, Jesus and which would be founded on love, forgiveness, peace and thanksgiving. A family not sharing a bloodline or DNA but linked together through the Holy Spirit.

Our reading from Colossians sets this out in more details. It’s a reading that a lot of wedding couples choose for their reading as they too set out on a new relationship. It starts by reminding us that we are all part of God’s family, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. Many people feel unloved and some are damaged psychologically. Yet no-one is unloved. God loves each and every person so much he sent his son Jesus to die in their place on the cross.

It is a wonderful, unconditional, free love and we are called to live lives that reflect this. To clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. To bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances we may have against one another.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony
Colossians 3:14

Showing compassion that comes from within, concerned about meeting people’s most basic needs; kindness that is gracious and humble; a gentleness that is not weakness, but a willingness to suffer injury rather than inflict it and patience that forgoes anger and resentment and does not seek revenge.

Of course, we all have our own faults, but God has forgiven us and so, who are we, who have been forgiven, to withhold forgiveness from someone else? This is based on God’s choice and love for us and is completely undeserved and helps put into perspective any problems that really are no more serious than a Christmas tree or a turkey!

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attempt to correct any conduct that is not part of God’s will, we are Christ’s ambassadors, we bear his name and we should reflect his kingdom values in everything that we do.

Many people came to church this year, and we hope that they would have felt loved, welcomed and accepted. But let’s not be complacent, instead let’s make sure that we continue to reach out to show even more compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. In that way we will all grow in wisdom and in both human and divine favour

Amen

colossians k3

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – The Wise Men’s Story

The Wise Men Came Travelling

The Wise Men Came Travelling

Originally written for a Messy Church service storytelling slot to celebrate Epiphany

I want to tell you the story of three men who decided to leave their comfortable homes and travel a very long distance in search of…..well at the beginning they weren’t entirely sure what or who it was they were searching for? They just knew that it was so important that they set out on a new adventure.

Some people called them wise men…but I’m not so sure they were very wise to consider going on such a journey …at least not at the start. Others call them kings… In fact only one of them was a king and his name was Balthazar. He was a very kind king and looked after his wives and servants very well. His life was extremely comfortable, because he could afford to buy anything he wanted. The trouble was he had bought everything that he wanted and now he was bored!

He was also very intelligent and liked to try and find out everything about the world around him. He read loads of books and his favourite subject was history. However, he was not as clever as his best friend Melchior, who was indeed a wise man. Melchior, was also very rich and so he could spend all of his time studying the stars. That is he looked up at them at night and watched them as they moved across the sky, and during the day when the sun hid the stars he plotted their movements on his charts. Whenever Balthazar went to visit his friend he had to try and find him behind a mountain of papyrus rolls

Also living in the city was another man called Caspar, who was also a friend of the king. He was a man who thought a lot about the world – about how it was created; about who created it; about why it was created; about why he had been created! He had read all of the ancient scriptures of lots of different faiths and had come to the conclusion that there must have been a very powerful God who had done all of these things

One day Melchior, rushed into the palace when Caspar was visiting Balthazar. He was very excited and told them both to come and see what he had discovered. He spread out a large chart on the table in front of them and pointed to a small object that was separate from all of the other stars.

“I noticed it the other night…I’m sure it wasn’t there the night before! Come and see it for yourselves.

They all went back to Melchior’s house and waited…..and waited….and waited. Actually they had to wait for quite some time as it had been lunch time when Melchior had rushed to the palace and the sun needed to set before the stars would be visible…

Eventually though, when the night was very dark, they saw an incredible sight…. on the skyline a bright light was shining… it was brighter than all the other stars and seemed to twinkle and sparkle as if it was waiting for them to make a decision.

“I think I know what this means,” said Caspar, “I read about a star appearing in the sky when God wants to send a message to the world”

Balthazar and Melchior wondered how a star was going to tell them a message. Stars can’t talk after all.  But they did notice that the way the star hovered over them it seemed to be saying ‘Follow me’ before it disappeared as the sun rose. Over the next few days they kept on seeing the star and each night it seemed to flicker more brightly and urgently.

Eventually they came to a decision. Caspar had reread one of the ancient books and declared that the stars appearance was because a very, very special person had been born…a prince or a king!

Melchior said that the star was moving very slowly westward, so perhaps that was where it had happened. Balthazar just thought it was the chance for a great adventure and began making plans for a journey…. and because he wasn’t sure how long that journey was going to be he packed lots of things, including gifts for whoever they were going to meet…after all it’s only polite to take a present when you go visiting.

The three men travelled for many months and days through the desert. They tended to sleep during the day when the sun was at its hottest and then set out again as the sun set and the stars began to appear; and every night the brightest star in the sky seemed to lead them onward into new lands, never stopping. Even when it was a cloudy night the light seems to glow through the clouds so that they could see where it was.

Then one day they were sleeping in their tents when some men entered their camp. They told Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar that they were King Herod’s guards and that their master would like to welcome them to his country, so they were escorted to the palace of King Herod

Now King Herod wasn’t a very nice king. He was greedy and cruel and extremely jealous of anyone who threatened his power. None of his own people were ever allowed to see him. Only the important people were allowed into his palace. So we’ve got to stay outside…

…However, Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar were allowed in. King Herod seemed very friendly to his three visitors. Apparently he asked them lots of questions about their journey, about how they had got there and where they were going. Melchior, who was very excited about how the star had led them on their journey, told Herod about his discovery and Caspar tried to explain that they were looking for a very important person, possibly a new king… Balthazar just felt uneasy.

After a while, despite all the splendour and luxury of the palace, the three men thought it would be wise to continue on their way. Especially as the star had moved on – and they had to spend three or four nights travelling very swiftly to catch up with it. King Herod had made them promise to let him know when they found the new king, so that he could come to welcome him. Balthazar thought that was one promise he really didn’t want to keep, and had kept his fingers crossed behind his back when he said they would!

After a few more days they approached the town of Bethlehem. They were only expecting to top up their food supplies and allow their camels some rest, as the city was not very grand – there were no majestic palaces, or magnificent houses within its walls; only ordinary houses, in ordinary streets. Yet the star seems to be hovering right over the town, as if it had come to a stop.

As they made their way through the twisting and winding streets, they kept asking themselves was this the place? Surely not! Yet the star was right there in the sky above them and was shedding its light onto a particularly small, very plain looking house. The three men stood in front of the wooden door

“You knock,” said Caspar

“No, you knock,” replied Melchior

“Oh for goodness sake, I’ll knock,” sighed Balthazar, as he rapped very smartly on the door. At the sound of the knock, a woman’s voice from within the house bid them to come in and so they entered the house.

At first it seemed very gloomy, then they made out a young woman sitting on a stool, with a child on her knee. Maybe it was the light from the star, or maybe it was the candle but the room seemed to glow with light and all three men fell down on their knees as they felt the presence of someone very special. It may not have been a palace, there may not have been hundreds of servants or furniture of gold and silver, but there was definitely someone royal there – a future king.

Balthazar then remembered the presents that they had brought and he laid down his gift of gold – certainly fit for a king! Melchior had some frankincense, which would be useful if he turned out to be a great priest and teacher. When Caspar hesitantly laid his gift of myrrh in front of the cradle the others were a bit confused. Surely myrrh was used when people had died.

“He may need it later on,” explained Caspar

Mary, the child’s mother, just smiled and thanked them for their gifts.

“His name’s Jesus, and Joseph, my husband and I, are very grateful. He is truly a gift from God.”

The three men bowed again and each thought that they would remember this journey and this night and this child for a very long time. As they left they knew that were all leaving wiser than when they had arrived.

Oh, and by the way – they never did tell King Herod where they had found the child. Which was just a well, as Herod did turn out to be a very, very nasty man!

Wise Men Came Travelling

Wise Men Came Travelling

The visit of the Wise Men or Magi to the Holy Family is celebrated in the Church of England as Epiphany on Twelfth Night (6th January). An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation, which the wise men experienced on seeing the Christ child. Despite their names not being recorded, some traditions believe they may all have been Eastern kings –  and of the three Balthazar is an alternate form of the Babylonian king Belshazzar, mentioned in the Book of Daniel.

As to whether there were only three of them, this may be an assumption from the fact that there were just three gifts mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 2:1-12); in the East, the Magi traditionally number twelve,

However many there were, they certainly didn’t arrive on the night of Jesus’ birth, as the family had relocated from a stable to a house (Matthew 2:11). It would also seem that only Mary was there at the time of the visit to her child, who was likely to have been several months old but no more than two years old (Matthew 2:16)

And the star that they followed? Now known as the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas star, and which astronomers throughout the ages have attempted to link to unusual astronomical events, such as a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a comet or a supernova. Whatever it was it led them to the correct place.

May Christ’s love be revealed in and through you this Christmastide!