Saturday, 1 January 2011

Epiphany Sermon

Matt 2:1-12 (All Age talk - sort of!)

Epiphany is a time of tradition, when we celebrate the visit of the Magi – but how well do the traditions relate to the Bible? So Let’s do a little quiz..

How many Kings were there?

0 because they were Magi

How many Magi were there?

We don’t know

Did they visit Jesus in the stable?

No – the Bible says it was a house

Did they visit Jesus when he was a baby?

No – the Bible says he was a child

So how old was Jesus when the Magi came?

We don’t know, but Herod asked when they had first seen the star and then killed off the boys under the age of two.. so he was probably about two

And what was the meaning behind the gifts?

There are two traditions at Epiphany…two stories.. one that I think you will know and the other that you won’t..

The first is that wise men came from the East and brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh:
Gold because Jesus is King, and Kings have gold
Frankincense because Jesus is God, and incense is burnt to represent prayers
Myrrh to represent the death that Jesus would endure, because myrrh is used to embalm dead bodies..

This is a tradition that comes from a time when people would allegorise texts – they would find a hidden meaning for each word.

There is an older tradition and it is the one I favour... That magi came from the East and laid down the tools of their trade before Jesus and worshiped him as the one true God, and went away to start a new life. The magi, you see, had lots of Gold because people gave them gold to foretell the future. If someone’s child was poorly and they thought that their child may die, they would pay the magi money to foretell the future and to tell them whether there was anything they could do to save their child. Of course they wouldn’t pay just anyone money, they only paid people that they believed in, and so Magi would come into town and perform magic tricks, they would light fires and pour on frankincense and myrrh, and the smoke would have two effects – the first was that it helped them disguise their magic tricks, so people couldn’t see how they were done, the second was that it gave people a sense of mystery, a sense of the spiritual because when we smell these odd smells we feel that some mysterious thing is happening.

So, the old age was passing – the one of fear and superstition and the magi are symbolic of that. Fatalism, reading fortunes in the stars or on hands or in tea leaves – and the age that Jesus brought in is love – where we practise kindness, where we know there is a loving God and where we live in the presence of that love and not in fear.

Well that is the end of my quiz… so looking at the passage, there was one thing that struck me.. When Herod heard of the birth of the Messiah, he was excited? Joyful? No –afraid.. Well I suppose that was inevitable – after all Herod was a King and the Messiah would depose him. But what about the common people of Jerusalem? The Bible says they were afraid too.

Why were they afraid?
- is it because they thought God would judge them harshly?
- is it because they thought there would be an uprising and the Romans would fight back?
- or is there just something really scary about being before God – with God – a place where we can’t pretend..

Is it sometimes easier to go the route of the Magi – live with superstitions and rules.. be fatalistic and think nothing can change – perhaps paying for things with Gold is an easier route to filling the emptiness than turning to the Messiah and knowing that it will fundamentally change us. Perhaps if we thought the Messiah was coming in the flesh we would be afraid too.

I hope not. I think, for each of us we have the choice between fear and love.. and the Bible tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. Let us set aside all the things to do with the old age, the fear and the fatalism and the suspicion and the darkness… and remember that our God is a God of love, and Jesus was born to be the Light of the World.


  1. My thoughts are at my blog
    What the tide brings in

  2. Hi,
    I am interested to know the name of the artist of the wonderful picture above.
    Thank you!

    1. Did you ever get a reply to your question? I am also interested to know who created this.

  3. Can you please tell me the name of the artist who created the image n this page?