I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. I certainly hope your seasonal plans went a little better than mine, which were delayed and then cut short by the recent storms. Getting to and from my parents’ home in Anglesey was a scary journey, with winds and flood and closed roads.
All of this came to mind when I was thinking about what to preach on because if you read the Christmas story, the theme of journeys feature quite strongly.
Indeed throughout the Scriptures we see that God’s people are always called to be on the move and this applies especially to the people in the story of our Lord’s birth who are called to travel in the most difficult of circumstance, more difficult I might add then Storm Frank.
During the variety of nativity plays of the season, we saw Marys and Josephs and Donkeys marching up and down the aisles making the journey to Bethlehem seem like nothing at all. But which of us would dream of undertaking a 100 mile journey when one of you is so heavily pregnant & with no better means of transport than a donkey? Especially with no accommodation pre-booked at journey’s end?
Our crib under the nave altar may look quite cosy under its warm spotlight, but those who have visited Bethlehem will know of the steep stone cut steps and the narrow opening to the cave which is believed to be the birthplace of Our Lord. We shouldn’t let our carols mask the stark reality of Mary & Joseph’s desperation in bringing their special child to birth in a damp, dirty hole in the ground.
And in today’s gospel reading, and in our celebrations today, we have another long and dangerous journey coming to its conclusion as the wise men have travelled following the guiding of a star to worship the new born King and to offer their gifts, gifts so unusual and inappropriate for a baby- reveal their deep understanding of the significance of the child they seek.
It’s a wonderful story that opens up so many possibilities but is tantalising in its lack of detail, which is perhaps why it has been so embellished by artistic imaginations over the passing years.
Such as TS Eliot’s wonderful poem “The journey of the Magi” with its opening lines
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year for a journey
And such a long journey
The ways deep, the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
The poem speaks of the Magi’s temptation to turn back, of their regret at swopping their creature comforts- “The summer palaces on slopes, and the silken girls bringing sherbet”- for the stark deprivations of the journey.
“At the end we preferred to travel all night, sleeping in snatches,
with the voices singing in our ears that this as all folly”
If the journey itself wasn’t bad enough, it was made worse by their visit to Herod. “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising & have come to worship him”.
We may question their title as wise men at this stage, is it ever wise to ask a monarch with the murderous paranoia of Herod, ‘where is the child, who is not your own, whose reign will eclipse yours?’
And at journey’s end they are left questioning “were we led all that way for birth or death?”
The Magi’s inadvertent alerting of Herod to the Messiah’s birth leads directly to the Massacre of the Innocents and causes the Holy Family to set out on yet another journey into the unknown, to flee Herod’s violence and live as refugees in Egypt until Herod’s death.
There are so many questions and issues around the Magi that we can barely scratch the surface of what those long ago travellers have to teach us.
But one of them is the message that God is always leading us forwards, often to places and situations where we need to grip our courage and our faith close to us. God is constantly calling us forward to embrace new challenges & new adventures of faith and leading us ever closer to his kingdom.
This goes for the church as well as us as individuals.
As Jesus says later in Matthews gospel, we are to ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness’ to look for Gods Kingdom and all these things will be given to you as well because God will guide you. So our job is to travel with him, and be on the lookout for the next direction to go.
And we can be certain that just as he was present to guide the Holy Family to safety and to lead the Magi to the Christ child, so he will guide and protect us in our journey through life.
So may the courage and obedience of Joseph and Mary in undertaking the task of parenting the child who was the long-awaited Messiah, and may the courage and perseverance of the Wise Men in Journeying so far to seek the child born King of the Jews, inspire and encourage us as we begin this New Year to follow wherever God may lead