The Christmas story can seem, or become a very cozy one. We associate it with children and nativity plays with wonky halos and baby dolls. The Christmas card industry has added to the soft focused glow, a thousand fold.
Then in comes Matthew with a very different, mysterious, disturbing story. Nothing about it is comfortable or cozy , and it leaves a trail of questions in its wake….
Who were these wise men? Why did they leave their homes to travel so far on so little information? What did they think they would find at the end of their journey? What was it about the young child Jesus that brought them to their knees?
We don’t know a great deal about them, but it seems they weren’t worried by mysteries they didn’t have all the answers to. They were Seekers, following an unusual star, following their dreams and an inner call they probably couldn’t explain. Whatever else they had , they had a huge capacity for wonder.
Wonder is something every child is born with, and somehow as we grow up and become more worldly wise, we use the gift less and less, leaving it behind like a toy we don’t need anymore in our grown up world. And yet wonder is a profound threshold to experiencing God. It opens our soul to hearing His voice, feeling His touch and sensing his Presence. We suddenly sense we are standing on Holy Ground and can exclaim like Jacob, waking up from his dream of a stairway to heaven. ” Surely God is in this place and I knew it not! ” The ordinary becomes transformed as we see things in a new light.
What makes room for wonder in your life?
What dreams have you had in the past that you may now have tidied away to a safe cupboard ?
Have you ever thought you heard God call you to something…but then thought maybe you just made it up ? Or it was just foolishness .. But somehow if you listen very carefully there is still the faintest of whispers?
Dare you listen again?
The wise men challenge us afresh each year with their simple faith as they set out with a pocketful of dreams, and only the very vaguest idea where they were going.
Where is God calling us to go with Him in this New Year that stretches ahead of us?
What journeys would He have us travel with Him?
Are we willing to leave to leave our familiar, inherited boundaries, to find God in ways and places we did not expect?
The wise men could have stayed star gazers, observing the unusual star and studying its progress from the comfort of their own homes, palaces and borders. It could have been simply an interesting intellectual exercise for them. That would have been the sensible thing for them to do. But they listened with their hearts and knowledgeable as they were, they didn’t let their heads get in the way. They got involved. Upped sticks and set out eager to see for themselves, fuelled by a desire to worship even though they weren’t sure who they were going to find. They didn’t have God sewn up in a neat and tidy box. Surprise was part of the deal. Their journey had some very unexpected twists, and yet they kept following.
Jesus, when they found him, may not have been the just-born child in the manger- he may have been anything up to two years old ~ but I hardly think a peasant baby or toddler was what they were anticipating , or to whom they thought they would present their gifts. (They had headed straight to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem, first off, looking for a King.)
Nevertheless their response isn’t cautious or skeptical – it is spontaneous and childlike. They were overjoyed. Crown of the head to the tip of the toes sort of joy. The Greek word is apparently the same as that used for lambs skipping and bounding.
Awe-filled, they simply fall to their knees, casting dignity and status aside they bow before him and worship. Grown ups don’t do that. Grown ups of riper years certainly don’t do that. But these were grown ups who had never grown up. Never lost their curiosity or wonder, and willingness to take risks. They knew that growing old was inevitable, but also that growing up was optional.
They offered him the best they had. Costly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold- perhaps signifying his Kingship, Frankincense – the precious & costly oil associated with priesthood and worship. It is the main component of all incense used in churches down the centuries and in the temple mentioned throughout the Bible.. They also offered Myrrh – another costly essential oil, used for healing and for anointing the dead, perhaps pointing towards his death certainly the only time he received his title, King of the Jews was when he was hanging half dead on a cross, wearing his crown of thorns- the only crown this world ever gave him.)
They came to worship– and the literal translation of that word means ‘come forward to kiss. That is what we do when we offer God our worship – in prayer and in the service of our lives – we ‘come forward to kiss’ him.
We worship God in church of course, but the word is SO much bigger than that. We worship with our lives as we give our whole selves to Him.
Romans 12 v, 1 says this : “So here is what I want you to do, God helping you. Take your everyday, ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him” (Message)
The Magi gave him costly gifts, and God asks us to give him our whole lives as worship to Him- allowing Him into all of it- not just the Sunday part. He asks for the ordinary – in order to turn our water into wine – with his grace and power. He wants to transform us into the new wine of His Kingdom poured out for others, just as he poured out himself for us.
And so we come full circle. The Christmas story isn’t cozy. It isn’t the comfortable, health and safety approved scenes we get on all lot of our cards. No, it is a tale of mystery and disturbing, unanswered questions. But it definitely IS a place for children – children of all ages, wide eyed with wonder.
Who called the rich to travel towards poverty,
The wise to embrace your foolishness,
The powerful to know their own frailty;
Who gave to strangers a sense of homecoming in an alien land
And to star gazers true light and vision as they bowed to earth-
We lay ourselves open to your signs for us.
Stir up in us a holy wonder. A longing and a listening ear to hear your faintest whisper.
Open our minds to your mysteries and disturb us afresh from our comfortable certainties about ourselves and about you.
Give us the hearts of a child and help us to discover you in places we hadn’t thought of looking before.
Rise within us like a star
And make us restless
Till we journey forth
To seek our rest in you.
The following is an Epiphany Hymn, written by the Revd Canon Sue Wallace, to the tune of I vow to thee my country.
O Christ, You came from Heaven to Earth,
Infinity made small
Revealing Heaven’s surprising plans,
You show God’s face to all.
We offer You our gold,
(That is we crown You as our king).
The incense of our worship, a fragrant offering.
And with myrrh we’ll touch the wounded ones
With precious healing balm
Be your eyes and ears and healing hands
To comfort those who mourn.
We have looked for love and seen its face,
Within a loveless world,
And to those who hope for happiness
A sign has been revealed
For we saw Your star while searching,
And we found You in our lives
And Your legend took on flesh,
Your reality arrives.
Even now You guide the travellers,
Through dangerous dark lands.
Till the day we reach our Heavenly home
Held safe within Your hands.
Christ You dived into our water
and you made our water pure
And You lived within our tangled lives
and made them so much more
For the hand of God has touched us,
Bringing Christ into this place
And there’s hope for each culture,
Each nation, every race
And the baby grows and shows us
The true face of the Divine
For we simply lived on water
Yet you turned it into wine.
You can listen to her sing it here.