Epiphany

Today’s reading is Matthew 2:1-12Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Helen.

Many years ago, I played one of the three Kings in a school play. I only had one line ‘I bring gold’, but I had a cracking costume and a rather neat gold crown which I managed to keep on my head throughout the performance. The visit of the kings—usually the last scene of the nativity play, with their appearance completing the tableau.

A nice image, and I’m sorry to start this talk by de-mythologising it for you, because I think that by over romanticising it, we can miss the point of what we can learn about God and our own spiritual journey. As we heard in today’s passage, the visitors were not kings, but astrologers, probably from Persia. We don’t know that there were three of them. They did not complete the nativity tableau but would have visited Mary and Joseph some weeks later. Since the time of the exile from Jerusalem, almost six centuries before Christ, Babylon and the former Persian empire were home to a large Jewish population. It is highly likely that the Magi, as astronomers, were aware of the prophecy recorded by Moses of the ‘star’ out of Jacob. These men identified an unfamiliar light in the sky. They attached historic significance to the star and believed it pointed to the appearance of the great king of the Jewish people. There is debate about the star—was it a conjunction of the planets of Saturn and Jupiter? Or was it a supernova? Or was it a supernatural manifestation? We don’t know—but we do know that it led the magi to Jesus. We read that the Magi presented three gifts to Jesus—gifts which I think may have surprised his parents. Gold, the most precious metal—for Jesus the King. Frankincense—for Jesus our great high priest—the one who opens the way to God. Myrrh—a sweet smelling gum resin—used to preserve bodies for burial—for Jesus who died for us.

In Matthew’s account, there are three different responses to Jesus. Firstly, there is Herod—this was Herod the Great, a Gentile puppet king under the Romans. In many ways a successful ruler and administrator who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. But jealous and fearful of losing power he murdered many rivals including his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife and two of his sons. We hear that he was ‘disturbed’ by the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem. Possibly something of an understatement. The thought of another King of the Jews made him angry—it made him so angry that he ordered the horrific massacre of all baby boys under the age of two in the area of Bethlehem—an often forgotten part of the Christmas story. It is not unusual for the name of Jesus to make people angry. I wonder if you have ever mentioned the name of Jesus in a conversation and been taken aback by the reaction of hostility which you faced? Many Christians are suffering persecution today because their allegiance to Jesus makes regimes angry—rulers who resent anything which threatens their power. I think of North Korea, where pre-school children are taught to bow down before pictures of Kim Jong Un and where, according to estimates by the charity Open Doors, between 50,000-70,000 Christians are persecuted for their faith. Closer to home, I was looking for Christmas cards recently online—there was a horrible selection of cards featuring Jesus which I can only call blasphemous and vitriolic. I think you’d have to be angry with Jesus to author those.

The second response to Jesus is that of the chief priests and teachers of the law to whom Herod goes for advice. He asks them where the Messiah will be born. They know the answer—they have studied the scriptures and they can even quote the relevant verse from the Old Testament. But here’s the thing—they know that the Magi are on to something—that this might be the time for the most amazing prophecy of all time to be fulfilled, and you might expect them to go rushing off to Bethlehem themselves. But no—they give Herod the answer and they get on with their lives. How many people, like the religious leaders here, know the facts in their heads but don’t acknowledge him as king of their hearts? How often do we become apathetic about the Christmas message, failing to give ourselves the time and space to let the wonder of it sink in?

Let’s turn to the Magi and to their spiritual journey. They seek truth—they study the stars and when they see something which they think could be significant, they ask questions. They then set out on a journey which will involve risk and vulnerability, not knowing where the star will lead—I am reminded of Abraham setting off from Haran. And at the end of the journey, filled with joy, they worship Jesus and offer him gifts. And I think that when they return home—delivered from Herod’s wrath by a dream which tells them to take another route, they return as changed individuals.

This account perhaps gives us an opportunity to pause and to reflect on where we are in our spiritual journey. Are we angry with God like Herod because of hurt or disappointment? We can share that anger with him, as the psalmists did. Are we like the religious leaders, knowing the facts, reading the bible, but apathetic – needing a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit to awaken our hearts to the joy of knowing Jesus? We can ask for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit today so that we can be like the Magi, honouring and worshiping Jesus with our hearts. Let’s use the final verse of a well known carol as a reflection and a rededication of ourselves to Jesus this morning:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man, I would play my part,
What I can I give him, give my heart.

There will be a video version of the service.

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Alpha Day of Prayer

A Day of Prayer for our Alpha Course starting Wednesday 13 January.

If you would like to join in we have 3 times of gathered prayer via Zoom and people are welcome to fast if they are able.

7am 1pm 7pm

Each will have a short time of led sung worship, followed by a time of led but open prayer for our Alpha course on zoom.

The meetings will be 40 minutes each. We really hope that you can make one of these vital times to pray for Alpha. If you are unable to join us these are the areas we will be praying about:

  1. Everyone at St Matthews to think and pray about who they could ask and then invite people
  2. Guests to sign up
  3. 30 guests to come along
  4. The right number of team members
  5. A great experience for all guests and profound moments with Jesus throughout the course.
  6. The Holy Spirit Day to work exceptionally well.
  7. Protection for all the team members, their health, families and lives.
  8. All the technology to work well and no hiccoughs, power cuts, internet crashes etc.
  9. Praise God for the wonderful; opportunity to share faith with people.

Please start praying about these things now if you are able. Contact the office or Gaby for any further details.

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Happy New Year

This weeks Everyone @ St Matthew’s presentation from Chris.

Available from 6.15am Sunday.

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Morning Prayer

Luke 2:15-21Open Link in New Window

Upstairs

Leader & Preacher: Revd Richard Pendlebury

Listen Again

 

…or download for later (right click and save). | Open Player in New Window

There will be no Bubble Church or online service this week.

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