Summary: A sermon for Covenant Sunday based on the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus
In a carol service ta one of my previous churches, one of the congregation was taking part in a dramatic reading of the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus. And the dreaded happened. When it came to the line ’and I bring frankincense’ it came out as ’and I brought Frankenstein’. I had read about it happening but hadn’t heard it.
Someone said that if the wise men had been women things would have been different. They would have asked directions sooner, would have arrived on time, would have helped Mary to deliver the baby, cleaned up the stable, and taken practical gifts like nappies, baby-wipes and milk.
Today is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, the day when the decorations should have been taken down and packed away for another year. Epiphany is an important festival in the church calendar which we often ignore, sometimes because we get hooked on Covenant Sunday. And maybe there’s good reason to move the Covenant Service to another part of the year and so give full justice to both.
Epiphany is a celebration of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles – the wise men from the east coming as non-Jews, to bow down and worship the infant Jesus, bringing with them their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I don;t want to think about the gifts this morning, we will be reflecting on them in our meditative service this evening. This morning, as we renew our covenant with God, I want us to think about the journey that the wise men made.
Of course, the story is shrouded in mystery. From tradition we know every detail and all the facts. But, if we follow the Biblical account, we know very little. There are lots of unanswered questions – how many were there – don’t know; where did they come from – don’t know; how long they travelled – don’t know.
They showed up mysteriously and then, just as mysteriously, they are gone. So with all that mystery and lack of detail what can we say about them. I want to think about 4 things to do with their journey.
Journey of Faith
First, the wise men made a journey of faith. They travelled from home to Bethlehem to find Jesus.
What would prompt someone to leave the comfort of their homes to go on a journey, not knowing where they would end up? Romance maybe; wealth maybe; but faith? The wise men set out in faith on a journey to find the king they believed had been born. They’d seen the evidence, the star was there. They had faith that he was alive, he existed. All they had to do was to find him. And these men were willing to give everything to find him. They were willing to leave the safety and security of their homes to go on a journey.
Can you imagine their neighbour’s reaction? ’Oh, you’re going on a journey’, ’Yes’, ’where are you going?’, ’I don’t really know,’ ’How far is it?’ ’Don’t know that either,’ ’How long are you going to be away?’, ’Well, don’t know that either.’ ’Well, for wise men you don’t know a lot.’
Faith means going on a journey, a venturing forth, taking a journey to meet with Jesus. The wise men took their gifts and offered them when they arrived – gold, frankincense and myrrh. They bowed down in the presence of Christ and worshipped him. The wise men had to meet Jesus, had to go on a journey.
That was Herod’s mistake. He wanted the wise men to go in his place and search and only when he found out exactly where Jesus was would he go himself.
The story of faith, the story of our own faith, is the story of a journey. We can know all the facts about Jesus, we can know the gospels by heart but, like the wise men we need to see him for ourselves, to bow down in adoration and offer ourselves to him.
But for us, and for the wise men, the journey doesn’t end there. The whole of life is a journey, a continuous pilgrimage, growing in our faith, learning more, deepening our spirituality and our knowledge and understanding of God.
Today, in our Covenant Service, we make our promise to do just that – to journey to Christ and beyond as we learn and grow in our faith.
Journey of Risk
If the journey of the wise men was a journey of faith, it was also a risky journey. The land where Jesus was born was dangerous, just as it is now. Bethlehem has always been a turbulent place, a violent place, a dangerous place for anyone who is travelling.
Bethlehem is a dangerous place today because of the conflict being fought out between the leaders of modern day Israel and Palestine. It was a dangerous place when Jesus was born for similar reasons. King Herod, who in the main was a good king, got very nervous and jealous when he heard that a new king had been born. He thought this new king was a rival to him so wanted to see him dead.