In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The wise men said: we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. Then … they left for their own country by another road.
We are all on a journey. That journey begins with our birth and ends when our mortal bodies fail and our earthly pilgrimage concludes in death. Every life-long journey is different as each of us responds in a different way to the signposts, the chances and the challenges which ease or hinder the path we follow. On this feast of the Epiphany we are being invited to reflect upon how the wise men responded to the signposts, chances and challenges which led them to the Christ-Child in a far away foreign land.
Epiphany has always been special to me because it was when I was confirmed. I can vividly recall the text upon which the bishop preached. From the King James version of the Bible, the bishop began with these words: we have seen his star … and are come to worship him. For me, there has always been great power in these words. They make it plain that a signpost to God was seen, recognised for what it was, and followed … despite what must have been great inconvenience and uncertainty! Furthermore, these words reveal an intention ([we] are come to worship him) that leaves us in no doubt: for the wise men, and for us, the worship of God should come before all else!
Theologians and historians tell us that the wise men are most likely to have travelled over one thousand miles on their quest to find and worship the baby Jesus. If only we could demonstrate such strength of faith! I recently met someone who used to be a regular church-goer. He was clearly embarrassed to have bumped into the vicar. Before I could say anything he blurted out that he and his wife still believed in God, but they were, “Giving Church a rest.” What an interesting concept that is, as well as being complete nonsense! The Church does not need a rest, it needs to see the commitment of the wise men replicated day after day as we journey through this life and worship God.
As well as making that long and arduous journey, the wise men, we are told, returned by another road. As they sought to avoid the political machinations and cruelty of this world, they allowed God to lead them along another path, an unknown path. We are also called to follow the path God has laid for us, the path that will be unfamiliar, and that may seem unwise and dangerous. But, it is God who knows best. It is God’s signposts we should be following, and not our own well-trod and self-serving paths, those paths that will lead us away from God.
On this feast of the Epiphany, let us pray that we might continue our earthly pilgrimage with renewed determination and energy. Let us pray that we might join the wise men in following the signposts that will lead us to Christ. Let us pray that our worship might be renewed in sincerity and vigour. Let us pray that we might journey by that other road, the road God has chosen for us.