Epiphany January 6th 2019
Rise up in splendour, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory. Is 60:1,2.
I like to sit alone just thinking, usually in the evening, a time of much needed silence, often in the company of my contented cats. These are the moments of what I'd call necessary prayer, when I let go of words and images and try to find that still small voice of the Holy One. Often unbidden thoughts come and one such fixed in my mind this past week, about the magi and the feast of the Epiphany, and I'd like to share it as this week's reflection!
In order to fully explain my thoughts on the magi, I'll have to come clean: I get tired of the culture wars in Christianity, even more so amongst certain sections of the Catholic Church, one great annoyance is the woeful ignorance shown by people about church history, scripture and basic theology that gets peddled about in books and articles, even in the so-called church press! As a theologian and pastor, my instinct is to critique this nonsense because that's what a lot of it is, unhelpful comments at best and dangerous thoughts at worst! I'm also tired of the constant criticism of Pope Francis by people who don't even listen or really read what he has to say, but he too gives me hope. Yet, like the magi I too must let go certitudes, see my faith as ever increasing in knowledge rooted in the star I follow that is Christ the true Morning Star!
In his recent letter to the Bishops of the USA Francis wrote: '"In a word a new ecclesial season needs bishops who can teach others how to discern God's presence in the history of his people, not mere administrators."(Letter of Pope Francis to the American Bishops Jan 1 2019)
That must have been the catalyst for my musings, because I suddenly saw an image of the magi as my patron saints, as people who went on the same journey of 'faith seeking understanding' that we travel on each day. I began to sense the presence of these ancient people, men or men and women I don't know, three, four or more, it doesn't matter, for they were individuals called together in a community and we know them as a group called by Matthew the magi, just as we are called Christians.
This feast, their journey, so dramatically explored in the gospel of Matthew shone a light into my own soul and my own journey so far. Yes, I know the rich theology of all the elements contained in this celebration, the Epiphany of Christ, called the Theophany in the East, the hints of his baptism in the Jordan and miracle at Cana found in the liturgical texts and hymns, but in essence this is a feast of hurried journey to fulfil the aim of long years of learning, the search for the one true King, the God made present on earth. Yet their journey is very much our own, as T S Eliot puts it:
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey"
The cold comings of our lives are plentiful in our broken promises, the culture wars in the Church, or a world of greed, mendacity and destruction. In many senses we are at the worst times, because we could do so much better. But the journey isn't finished and the magi remind us that their thoughts and lives were changed by Christ, as ours will be. We like them meet the Herod's of our time, but if we remain faithful to that call to metanoia, to conversion of our lives demanded of us by Jesus, we will not go far wrong. We too like them have a star that never sets, and like them once the Christ has met us and taken from us the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, our lives will be freer to receive the greatest gift of all, his loving mercy, then and only then we will learn the new route home, that of mercy and compassion. May those ancient magi journey with us. Amen.
Fr Robert Gibbons 2019
In the chair, eyes straining in the darkling light,
A cat beside me, worshipping a better God,
The guttering candle gives one glimpse of bright-
The empty thoughts of Christmas seem so odd!
Yet in that distant outpost of my memories,
Childhood come and gone, and back again,
Deeper, older, warmer, more ancient stories
Resurface from my own ancestral kith and kin.
My magi? Am I one too? Following my star?
I only know like them I dream and cope,
My journey may yet be near-or very far
But their presence gives me ever-rooted hope.
Where they have gone, I too can often go-
In valleys, deserts or the mountain's craggy top!
Their compass mine, their busy ebb and flow
My faith's rhythm, my journey till I stop!
Epiphany by Malcolm Guite
It might have been just someone else's story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don't belong, it doesn't mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim's eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.
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