Arise and Shine!
Matthew 2 :1-12
Arise and shine for your light has come !
How hard it is to emerge from the darkness, the long dark nights and the cold wet days. What a joy the sunrises and sunsets and the days we have had where the sky is blue and we can feel the strength of the sun, that bright shining star that we depend on to survive.
So, moving on from Christmas and into Epiphany, the time when the light shines on us all as we realise that the day has dawned when Jesus is with us for ever. The greatest ever moment of Epiphany.
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, mentioned in Isaiah, 700 or so years before Jesus was born, we have God’s word that this will happen, gold and frankincense and myrrh. But people then were just like us, we need it to be spelt out sometimes. We would ideally like to be told exactly what will happen and when and how.
The wealth of the nations… camels… gold and frankincense. So what did that mean to people of long ago.? Would they not rather have been told the whole story and when it was going to happen and how?
Would we rather actually know when this virus will end and how we can then deal with our lives?
Life isn’t like that though, is it?
How may times do we say, if only I had known that before, if only I had realised that I could have done something different.
As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, he has come to brig that light to all people and to the Gentiles, that is us!!
Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning!
We know the story, we know why the kings brought the gifts they did, they were gifts for a king, Melchior from Persia brought the gold, Caspar from India brought the myrrh and Balthazar from Ethiopia brought the frankincense.
This the real celebration, we have all the story, we have the light of the world come to live with us, and he will be with us forever. We hear quickly in Luke that when he is about 30 Jesus is baptised buy John the Baptist, given full gifts from God to carry out his work and his word, the work of God.
We should spend more time on this than we ever do, it is the most glorious moment in the Christian life. We have been given the greatest gift, a son, the light and the word. What more do we ever need?
Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning, i.e. the light of God’s chosen people, that is you and that is me!
Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid i.e. we need Jesus with us every day
Star of the east, the horizon adorning, i.e. think of the beautiful sunsets and dawns we have been having!
Guide where our infant redeemer is laid. i.e show us where we can meet with Jesus
We have four weeks in Epiphany, the colour is white and gold, to indicate a very special time, and used for Christmas and Easter, the light, the joy and the coming down to the world of God, through Jesus His son
Four dark weeks in our winter, but let them be four BEST weeks of brightness as we walk with Jesus, look to the East and Son dawning, the Stars that shine so brightly and Thy… will be done.
Epiphany – Christ appears to the Wise men from the east. The manifestation of God through Jesus.
Epiphany can also mean a sudden realisation of a great truth. An epiphany moment – a time to shout eureka!
Epiphany falls on Jan 6th or the twelfth day of Christmas and marks an end to the Christmas period and into the four weeks of Epiphany.
Jan 6th, etched in my mind as the day to take down the decorations, the Christmas tree already having shed its needles all over the lounge carpet to be carefully taken outside. On the way to the outside of course the remainder of the needles are deposited on the way.
A house full of needles.
Only to be outdone by the holly berries, dried and fallen, like little red bullets on the carpet. Cunningly still able to leave a red mark as they are trodden on by unsuspecting children and people.
‘Oh, I didn’t realise they were real’, they say and probably quietly think to themselves, what an odd thing to have real berries and tree when you can have no mess at all with artificial!
And so Epiphany takes over from Christmas.
In Matthew 2:1 – 12, we have the passage of the wise men from the east, no reference at this stage that there were three. This is the only gospel that makes a reference to them at all.
Wise men indeed from the east, it is thought they would have come from Persia or Arabia. They definitely would have travelled a distance across the deserts, through Babylonia over the river Euphrates, through the Syrian Desert and into Judea, on to Bethlehem(Ephratha), a distance of thousands of miles.
To follow a star and to search for the Messiah.
As magi, they were thought to be Zoroastrians, learned men of the stars, watching constellations, spotting changing patterns, making predictions. Probably working for Kings, to provide wisdom and information.
They were called Gaspar, or Casper; Melchior, and Balthasar. Balthsar has a Persian sound. If indeed these men were scholars from Persia, they would have been familiar with Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah or “Anointed One.” (Daniel 9:24-27, NIV).
Their gifts were gold, for a king, frankincense , as incense for God and myrrh, to anoint.
As they entered Judea they went to Herod, to pay their respects and to ask for the way to find the Messiah.
Herod being terrified that the Messiah would mean that people would not want him as king anymore asked them to return when they had found the new born baby. And we all know what he had in his mind. A little and very nasty plot that was never to come off!
The star rested at Bethlehem and there they found Jesus with Mary and Joseph. They left their gifts and bowed down to worship Jesus.
But they did not return to Herod as an angel had appeared to them in a dream and had warned them to return a different way.
What a story! It brings the magi and a sense of wonder and awe. This is not just another story of a famous person who did great things. It brings a sense of majesty to an otherwise very humble scene.
And what can we learn from the magi:
These men were determined to find the Messiah.
When we seek God with sincere determination, we will find him. He is not hiding from us, but wants to have an intimate relationship with each of us.
Wise men such as these knelt before the baby.
These wise men paid Jesus the kind of respect only God deserves, bowing before him and worshiping him. Jesus is not just a great teacher or admirable person as many people say today, but the Son of the Living God.
So let’s just get on with our lives?
After the Three Kings met Jesus, they did not go back the way they came. When we get to know Jesus, we are changed forever and cannot go back to our old life.
At times it is very tempting to just say,
‘ What a lovely Christmas that was, family to stay, family to visit, time for a rest or time to have a real feast.’
‘Back to normal then now, let’s take down the decorations, tidy up the house, eat up the food…..’
But there is more to do and we have the rest of our lives to do it in.
We cannot ignore what we believe,
We cannot put Jesus back in the manger
He is with us forever and all he asks is that we follow Him;
We live our lives with courage, in peace and in love.
We try to do what he asks; we try to help where we can.
When life gets tough it is not a sign that he is not there for us but that at times we all face problems and with Him beside us we can overcome them.
Putting Christmas away and moving into Epiphany is not the end of Christmas, it is really just the beginning of all that we believe.
Revd Sue Martin
Readings Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43 and Matthew 3:13-17
I think one of the things that many people find confusing about the Bible is the time scales.
One week we are with the kings travelling to greet Jesus in the stable and then the next week, we have the baptism of Jesus as a fully grown man and with his cousin John the Baptist. If it was a film we would be on one of those time shifts, moving swiftly from one scene to the next.
And another time shift!
Let’s move to the time when the prophet Isaiah was writing. Isaiah was the son of Amos, he lived in Jerusalem in approx 8 BC, when the Assyrian empire had conquered the Northern Kingdom. Judah, in the southern kingdom existed by paying tribute to the Assyrian rulers. Isaiah was from a priestly family and was gifted with the ability to write poetically and compose songs amongst other things.
As an important prophet he had many visions and was able to translate these into words and prophecy. He was vocal on social injustice, particularly the exploitation of the poor by the rich. His prophecy of the arrival of the Messiah was as a forecast of God’s importance and love for all his people, not just for the wealthy.
So we have the last verses, 8,9.
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
A light to the nations
To open the eyes that are blind
To bring out the prisoners from the dungeon…..
It was a prophecy that Jesus was coming. Not just to help us and to forgive but to fulfill God’s plan. Not just for us to feel better but that the promises that God made could happen. There for all his people, the unloved and the poorly treated.
The wind of change, the warmth of the spirit, the breath of new life, the spirit that stays with us.
But back at scene 1, where Jesus has arrived at the river Jordan and asked John to baptise him…
Just for a moment let’s think about a stage performance at Christmas, the pantomime, Aladdin! Enter stage left, the fairy godmother, beautiful, elegant and telling us about the characters and the plot.
Now we are a little spoilt because we know both the story of Aladdin and the story of Jesus so we know what is going to happen, But just for a moment let’s imagine that we didn’t know! We didn’t know that Aladdin was going to root out the greedy. We didn’t know that Jesus was going to walk with the most unlikely of people and cast aside the wealthy and powerful
The opening scene… An Arabian town full of people, the main person enters and declares what is to happen.
But then we meet Aladdin, a young lad who changes everything, who sees what there is to be done and undeterred goes about to make things better.
Back at the river Jordan,
And for John he must have felt things were the wrong way round. He was by all accounts a fiery character, maybe he expected that the son of God would appear in a blaze of glory, sweeping everything before him.
But this was never the style of Jesus. He was and is here for all people, not in a blaze of glory; there I think is only one instance when Jesus looses his temper.
And so John baptises Jesus in the river Jordan.
The heavens opened and he saw God’s spirit coming down like a dove, descending on Jesus.
Peace, promise and fulfillment
We also should be surprised by Jesus and to keep learning. He came to help us and also to fulfill God’s plan for the world and his people. Not always does he do things that we expect, he changes our plans just when we had things sorted.
A favourite quote of mine from John Lennon,
‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’
Not always understandable, not always easy, but if we follow with strength and courage, love and hope we will find Him there waiting for us, hand reaching out, our loving father.
Revd Sue Martin
Epiphany 3 Follow Me
Readings Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinth. 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12 – 2
Follow Me and I will make you fish for people.
Imagine the scene… its a beautiful summers day and you have decided to do some work in the front garden or you are taking the dog for a walk. And someone that you have heard much about says, ‘ leave that now and follow me!’
Mmmm… do you go or do you stay?
So what was it that made Simon Peter and Andrew, then later on James and John obediently follow him?
Perhaps they thought that they would be back later in the day, what did James and John say to Zebedee, ‘See you later Dad, just carry on with all the work till we get back.’
But of course they didn’t come back.
Maybe they did realise that this was it, Jesus had such a special presence that they were delighted to be choosen to follow Him.
One day a normal Galilean fisherman, the next a disciple of the Son of God and then later to become apostles and part of the most well known story in the world. It’s quite a ‘biggy’ really.
Follow me. The words of Jesus that were there for the fishermen and the other disciples and they are hear for us all.
No excuses, no.. well I’ll just take the dog home first and then I’ll be back.
No, can I make it next year, you see I have so much on at the moment that it’s too hard for me, you know with all the need to pay off the mortgage, a thriving career that I am just starting out on.
No, I will follow but it’s going to have to be later this week, you see I have lots of medical appointments and the bus services are not as good as they were and well I think that by the end of the week I should see myself clear. Can you come back next Sunday, then?
What do you think Jesus would say?
But its hard isn’t it. We tend to think that we all have to give up everything and in a sense we do have to. Some of us are called to give up all of our lives for Jesus.
I have some friends that are nuns or anglican monks and that is the traditional way of expressing totally giving your live to Jesus.
A calling to ministry in some ways is the same, and there are many ways in which we can express that ministry. It is not the easy option and there have been times when I think, well I would just like to know where this is going?
But then again maybe its not a good idea to know, if we knew the direction then would we put ourselves in the right place?
We are better led by Jesus than by ourselves.
But we don’t know the whole answer and however hard we try we will not know the whole answer. Little by little the plan that God has for us evolves and we can see why the path led us along that way.
I was reminded yesterday that Saturday was the day for the Conversion of Paul,the road to Damascus.
Paul, the tax collector and persecutor of Christians. We know that on the road he felt the presence of God in such a striking way, blinded and talked to by God. A conversion of huge dimensions.
So he too, got up and followed. Harsher words, but in essence
Back in the passage from Matthew, at the start, we have that Jesus withdrew to Galilee. He had been in the desert and was tempted by Satan and during that time John had been killed, by the dreadful wife of Herod demanding John’s head.
And from there we have the link to the passage from Isaiah;
‘ Land of Zebulun and Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and the
shadow of death
light has dawned.’
Jesus was a much awaited person and the light that he brought as the Son of God was that light that is with us still.
Even in the greatest darkness the light of Jesus remains with us.
We are all called to follow in different ways and the lives we lead with our families and friends and in all that we do have as much a sense of calling as being called to minister to God’s people.
And how do we have to do that….
We have to follow, we have to go along the path that He asks us to tread on, uncomfortable as it is at times, rocky, steep, windy, long and often boggy and covered in brambles.
Sometimes we feel alone, but it is at that time that God is with us more than we know, holding us keeping us free from harm amd breathing warmth into us along the way.
A passage from CS Lewis The Horse and His Boy,
‘ So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.
‘Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” sadi the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.’
Have faith, believe in Jesus as God’s Son and follow…
Rev’d Sue Martin