Sermon Epiphany January 6, 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6              Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14    

          Ephesians 3:1-12       Matthew 2:1-12

May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him”.  The Birth of Jesus shook the local world of the Jews.  Now, Herod was not a Jew, he was an Idumaean, appointed as a puppet king by Rome, but he considered himself the king of the Jews.  Herod’s position was insecure and he was paranoid.  He murdered members of his family to secure his reign;  it happened in ancient times and it happens today, look at any dictatorship.  Herod was prepared to kill anyone who stood in his way;  it happens today too in Saudi Arabia and in Russia, and many other places throughout the world.  Potentates of foreign birth, like Herod, are common.  The ancient Egyptians were ruled by Nubians, Cushites and Greeks, Alexander the Great being the most famous one, Pharaoh was seldom Egyptian.  Foreign monarchies, such as Queen Victoria as the Empress of India continued into modern times.  Of course there was the Austrian Hitler too.  Right now we have our German-origined royal family ?  Thankfully palace intrigues for us seem to be limited to whether or not Kate and Meghan are talking to each other.  We have a constitutional monarchy so it doesn’t matter much who sits on the throne.  But in Herod’s time any new factor could forewarn of regime change.  Herod knew it, there had been many perceived attempts to overthrow him, so he was prepared to act and he did, by massacring children in Bethlehem.  Herod could not stand the apparent threat of another  “King of the Jews”,  the true title that would persist for Jesus even until and beyond His Death on the Cross.

The people of Jerusalem were frightened because they knew the trouble that civil war would bring, they had lived through one just a generation earlier;  everyone would suffer, there would be no escape, and carnage would follow.

None of this seems to auger well for the Birth of the Prince of Peace.  But let us not forget that Jesus said  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”  (Matthew 10:34).  Peace will be achieved when the Sword of the Lord, which is the Gospel, has done its work, until then there will be unrest in society.

The unrest in society is brought about because we cannot live with the likes of a Herod among us, so Christ and Christians oppose them, which of course raises the ire of society and conflict begins and peace is disrupted.  We recall the fate of the Holy Innocents, the boys under two years old who were massacred by Herod, but such acts of persecution of Christians still go on around the world.  Christians continue to suffer heroically for the Gospel.  There is no Peace.

So I have set the scene, where terrible uncertainty pervades Jerusalem, anything could happen, and something wonderful did.  Opposite to that trepidation Wise Men from the East had received knowledge of Jesus’ Birth and celebrated the Good News.  Now Paul explains that he learnt Christianity from Jesus through a miraculous vision, there is no reason why God does not reveal His will to anyone, whether Christian, Jew or not, after all is said and done He is God.  So God chose a group, of some say Persians  (today’s Iranians),  the Wise Men, the Magi, to demonstrate to us how we should behave towards the King of the Jews, the Son of God.

They brought gifts, no doubt from their own possessions of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Gold is easy enough to explain, Christ and His Church need money.  It is the fuel that heats the buildings for the homeless to gain some respite from the cold, and to buy clothing to protect them when they venture outside again, it provides charitable meals for the hungry, it furnishes the necessaries of life to missionaries who spread the Word of God here at home and abroad, it gives a living to those who are chaplains to prisoners, it is used to provide clean water through gifting to those who lack it.  Gold, money, like everything else is a tool, a means to an end.  A worker doesn’t leave his or her tools hanging on a wall or in a drawer unused, tools are to be used not stored and accumulated for no purpose other than possessing them.

Frankincense is a pleasant smelling spice that speaks of the finer things of life.  This is what the Magi wanted to give Jesus.  It also is a tribute to His divinity.  It symbolises prayers rising to God when we pray.  What is the frankincense that we can bring to God ?  A pure spirit would be number one;  a heartfelt belief in Jesus as the divine Son of God and the desire to share that with God, and our family, friends and neighbours;  and sincere prayers to God, although God doesn’t get lonely it’s nice to share thoughts and dreams with God, God likes to hear them.

Myrrh, another spice was used for healing and was, given to Jesus in recognition of His humanity.  What is the myrrh we can offer Jesus ?  Well, we can heal.  We can heal all those broken relationships that we have left behind us.  If we look back on our lives we will see the scabs of things gone wrong.  Now is the time to put soothing balm on them.  We can also heal physical harm and we can comfort those who suffer.  Myrrh was used to embalm, put myrrh on the families who have lost loved ones, give them hope.  The Prince of Peace is just waiting for us to bring these gifts to others so that He may return and fulfill the Promises He made to us.  Amen.

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