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Epiphany Sunday Gospel reading : Matthew 2:1-12
When my daughters were young teenagers and petrol prices were more reasonable, we used to play a game with another family where there were also two daughters. We would all bundle into their car which had bench seats so that there was room for six. And armed with all we needed for a picnic and with a map, we would set out on the road. It was all smooth sailing until we came to an intersection. Then each of the four girls took turns to flip a coin. Heads was a Right turn and Tails a left turn, and if the coin got lost somewhere in the car that meant straight ahead. There would be squeals of delight or dismay from those who were using the map as we turned towards or away from perceived exciting destinations. Sometimes we would end up on a dead end road and have to turn back, and other times we seemed to be going around in circles. We had some great adventures, never quite knowing where we would end up or what we would see. And you could say, we never ever really found what we were looking for, because we didn’t have a goal or a destination in mind when we set out.
A very different type of journey to that of the Magi in our story today. Theirs was a journey with a destination. They travelled with a definite intention. They were searching for the child who was born to be King of the Jews. They knew what they were looking for and remained determined to find this child.
The beginning of the year is a time when we often look carefully at our own individual journeys. We reflect over the year that has been, and look forward at what is ahead. Perhaps already this year, you have spent time before God exploring your longings as you look ahead into a year. Where will each of our journeys take us? What will be our focus?
At the Cathedral, we are about to set off on a twist in our journey as a faith community. We cannot fully visualise what it will be like to become displaced people when our Cathedral building is finally locked until the earthquake strengthening work is completed. It can seem daunting as we stare into a future we have not chosen for ourselves. However we do know our goal. To continue to be the body of Christ in this place: to live out our calling as God’s hands and feet here, as Christ in this community, as a people of welcome, and as a people of peace and reconciliation.
In all of our journeying, we can choose to have the attitude of that car trip game: flipping a coin whenever we meet a cross roads as we travel, or we can be very intentional in choosing at the turns that which will lead us onwards towards a deeper knowing of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and in the calling he has placed on our lives as individuals and on us as his people here within the Cathedral faith family.
How does the journey of the Magi speak into the situation we find ourselves in, both as individuals and as a faith community as we walk into this year?
The Magi or wise men, were men who liked to examine the night sky. We can imagine them as they spent time each evening scanning the skies carefully. They could read the sky because they were very familiar with it. They knew what would be there. And then one evening as they watched in the stillness of the night, they noticed something different. A new star rising in the skies. A bright star. Different from the others, bright enough to catch their attention. There have been a variety of explanations as to what that star was, but for us today, that is not as important as the effect it had on these men. In this moment of wonder, they gazed at its light, captivated by its special newness. And then as they gazed, this star awakened within them a yearning.
The star drew them out of themselves, and onto a journey. A journey that they each felt called to follow. Can you recognise and name the light that seems to beckon to you this year? What stirs your heart? The first step is to pause long enough to be able to recognise the light which invites you to follow. Might God be inviting you to just such a slowing down. To spend time in stillness, to watch and to notice. To allow the wonder of fresh encounter with God to challenge and change. To invite you deeper into journey. Perhaps a journey deeper into the love which is God, given to us in this very child, Jesus Christ? Our gospel story today tells of a journey towards the discovery of Christ, a courageous, steadfast journey into the light. A journey which was marked also by times of darkness and danger.
We don’t know whether these men knew each other, or whether they met as they began this quest to find the Child born to be King of the Jews and to worship him. Perhaps there were others who desired to do the very same thing. Yet it was only a few, perhaps three who had the courage to set out to find this child. And set off they did. Not separately, each going their own way but travelling together, supporting each other on the long journey. Following the twists and turns towards – well, they were not sure! Scripture doesn’t say that the star led them all the way. Just that they saw its first appearing. Was that why they headed to Jerusalem to find King Herod? Had the star vanished, and being eager to complete their search, they decide to head to Jerusalem to enquire of King Herod as to where the future king was to be born, not knowing they were simply about 10kms from the very house where the Christ child would be found?
Our journeying can be like that: one moment all is going well, and we have that sense that we are listening to God, and are moving forward in faith and in love and with hope. We feel confident like the Magi were when they saw the star before them. Then there are other times when the light and our way seems blocked, and we find ourselves confused or troubled. And instead of moving forward we feel paralysed or lost. St Ignatius called these times of light and darkness within us, consolation and desolation. He cautioned against making decision when we find ourselves in darkness because it is easy at such times to be led astray or deceived. The invitation is to recognise the contrasts, the consolations and desolations in our lives. The Magi set out on their journey in consolation, and that consolation - the return of the star over the town of Bethlehem, returned after a time of absence. In their story, the time in Jerusalem with Herod can be seen as a time of desolation and they nearly fell into the trap that Herod set for them. We like the Magi, are more vulnerable when we sense are not in touch with the light.
This whole journey of faith, symbolised by the Magi story, reminds us of the ups and downs that we experience on the Christian journey – it is healthy to recognise these moments of strength and weakness and to pray when we experience periods of desolation - when the star or light seems to disappear. And to wait before making decisions when we sense we are in that desolation or darkness.
And sure enough, when the wise men went out from Herod and they looked again, they found the star ahead of them, and it led them to the Christ Child in Bethlehem. The period of darkness was over. Consolation had returned, characterised by deep joy.
The journey of the Magi was about seeking the light of Christ in a world of darkness. All about finding the Christ Child and worshipping him. Wherever we find ourselves as individuals and as a faith community in 2016, will we have our hearts set on finding Christ Jesus and worshipping him? Will we see him in the world around us? Will we see him in the poor, the displaced, the hungry and the marginalised? As we become displaced as a people of this Cathedral will we see Christ in each other?
In all that we do as we journey into 2016, may it be the light of Christ that illuminates our pathway and draws us ever onward in giving and receiving, in thanksgiving, and in worship. May we be as wise people, walking together, supporting each other in our journey to find afresh the Christ child in all we are and all that we do. Amen.