Rev. Mona Denton, Westworth United Church, Sunday, January 4, 2015
Jeremiah 31:7-14, John 1:10-18
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18)
Today is the final Sunday on our journey from Christmas to Epiphany. In these days after Christmas, we are asked to reflect on the gift we have received in Jesus, the Christ Child, and our response to this annual blessing.
Each year, we treasure the familiarity of the story, and yet we look for newness as well; something different and lasting to take with us through the year, once our nativity sets have all been packed away, and the carols no longer echo through our church and home.
The last day of our pilgrimage to the stable is marked by the arrival of the Magi with their mysterious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. While their arrival is not a surprise, the realities their caravan must have faced, travelling to the unknown, leaves room in our quest for the unpredictable to happen.
The magi remind us to set out for destinations on our spiritual journey that we could never imagine in advance. We need to set out with the desire to meet and encounter the Son of God, the one who has the power to make God known.
Any long journey was perilous in those days, and there must have been thoughtful and deliberate preparations to travel so far from their own country on this mission to honour a king who was born to another tradition. Routes had to be picked, supplies purchased, appropriate royal gifts selected, and so on.
And yet, despite this advance planning, the Magi in the end were following a star, a star they believed signalled the birth of a king somewhere to the west of where they lived. As much as they must have planned for the trip, the journey itself was taken on faith, trusting the direction in which the star was leading, hoping to arrive at their destination, whatever it might be.
A Bethlehem journey is a risky one. It asks us to look up for our direction, instead of at the horizon and our immediate surroundings. While Mary and Joseph followed the road to Bethlehem, the road that was to be travelled for the census, those who came to visit them and to witness the birth of the Messiah, God incarnate, found their bearings by looking up to the star that led them to the Christ Child.
While travel by road would be best done in the daytime, with all the landmarks clear to the naked eye, navigating by the stars happens after dark, when the surroundings are shrouded by the shadows and the light may well be dim. Travelling by the stars is risky. It also reminds us of the vastness of the universe and the one who created the heavens.
Recently, I was very fortunate to get to hear Chris Hadfield speak at the Concert Hall about his experiences on the International Space Station and the journey he made to get there. It was clear to me that on more than one occasion, Chris had been overcome by the sheer wonder and majesty of the heavens.
He described an amazing experience of being out on a spacewalk when the space station travelled through the northern lights. From the midst of those lights he experienced a full rainbow of colour dancing all around him. He said that it took his breath away to be surrounded by the lights he had seen from earth as single streams of colour, not as a dance of all of the colours of the rainbow at once. I will never again look at the northern lights without remembering his story of the kaleidoscope he travelled through.
On this Epiphany Sunday, as we start the year 2015, we need to take stock of how we are navigating our path to Jesus, and make a place for those who are open to following the stars with wonder.
If everything old and familiar about this season of welcoming God as a new-born baby is to be new again, we need to be ready to look up and be less concerned about the landmarks that have always marked our path to the manger. We have to be prepared to travel in the darkness and the shadows, immersed in the mystery of discovering this child, with new eyes.
Everything we know about church and faith in our time is telling us that the landmarks are not as predictable or reliable as they once were. The maps we used to follow, don’t necessarily take us to the same destinations any more.
And so how do we become stargazers instead of map-readers as church communities today? What might the magi have to teach us about seeing our faith journey in a new dimension?
Sometimes it feels to me like we are so busy looking for the familiar landmarks that we have failed to look up and see the wonder and the direction to be found in the stars.
There is a chastening message for us in this unusual story of Epiphany. I must confess that I am usually a map-follower. And so I especially need to hear the story of the Magi. I need to be reminded of the incredible wisdom and vision of those who follow stars; those who trust in their intuition, and those who will even cross faith and cultural boundaries in order to seek out and discover what is true.
God calls us to be discerning and risk-takers as people of faith. God calls us to new places, trusting that at the end of our journey we will encounter Jesus Christ our truth and our light – our Epiphany.
In 2015, we all need to rediscover that original journey, to listen for the voices crying in the wilderness of the new destination toward which God is calling us to travel. We need to set about our preparations for that journey as diligently as those magi, and once we have reached the limit of what we can know or plan, we need to pick out of the night sky the star God is calling us to follow, and journey forward in faith.