As we celebrate light from the east in this Feast of the Epiphany, I am reminded of a conversation between Mahatma Ghandi Gee and Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill once asked Mahatma Gee “What is the view on this question in the east?” To which Mahatma Gee responded “East of where?”
That’s the first of three aspects of this season of the Epiphany, which I briefly want to speak about. Visitors from the East came to worship the child Jesus at Bethlehem. The New Testament calls them magoi. We know that one of the terms for priests of Zoroaster in the Greek language was magoi. So the wisdom of the east (in this case Persia) came to worship Jesus. What we do not know, because the Bible does not tell us, is how many there were. Some Orthodox traditions have 12 Kings, others 7. The number of Kings cannot be important because the Biblical account does not tell us how many they were. What we do know is that three recorded gifts to the child Jesus were gold, frankincense and myrrh. These are gifts of adoration and worship, given in commitment. This is important for all of us, because it emphasises the importance of adoration, or worship for each and every one of us. Whatever our age, whatever our background, whatever our faith, as human beings this is our first and most basic human response- worship and adoration. It is our faith which makes us fully human and fully alive. This is shared by all the great religions. It is a treasure and richness, and as material riches increase, it is often the first thing that is lost. We should try not to lose it, or if we have lost it, to recover it. As children of God we come before God in worship, adoration, and thanksgiving- as magoi from the East. The Benedictine view, of course, is that simple physical work is a form of adoration. For that reason, this year we will be inviting people to renew their commitment to helping the work of the church in physical and practical ways as a form of adoration.
The second theme of this Epiphany season is the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Baptism is the sacrament that unites all Christians as they share in the death and resurrection of Christ. It gives Christians their identity, and it gives them commission to ministry in the Church. So as baptism gives all Christians their identity, so for people of other faiths it is a reminder of the importance of commitment in the faith. Whatever our faith, we need commitment to it to live out our values in a tough and difficult world. Those who have chosen education for their children know that this comes at a cost which will not be seen through without commitment – commitment of the parents, commitment of the children and students to hard work, and commitment by staff and teachers. Without commitment, none of us will achieve anything in life. So baptism as reminder of the importance of Commitment. This is profoundly and deeply anti-cultural. In contemporary culture all arrangements, all relationships, are disposable, and changeable. It’s not unusual now for people simply not to show up for a meal, having accepted the invitation. A better offer may have come in the meantime. So we are inviting people in this church in the course of this year to renew their commitment as a manifestation of the commission to ministry, which is baptism. Let’s all consider this year how we can be counter cultural and show our commitment in practical ways to our church and our faith. The basic form of commitment we show to each other is of course through this shared meal, the Eucharist.
We stay with the theme of meals for the third theme of the Epiphany season - the miracle at Cana of Galilee. This was the wedding party at which Jesus was present where he turned water into wine. As a priest, I particularly enjoy wedding parties, and I often remind people that we have no record of Jesus at a wedding ceremony in a religious building, but we do have a record of his attendance at a party. So the wedding party at Cana in Galilee is a reminder for all of us of the importance of celebrations in life. Today is such a day of celebration. And I do not need to remind anyone of the fact that celebrations are always shared – never alone. We all need occasions to celebrate, and our religious faith often gives us such an occasion. Anyone and everyone can and should celebrate- even that most basic of celebrations – the miracle of staying alive another day. Today we share this celebration together of the Epiphany with the gifts offered to Jesus. As we celebrate together, so we build up community and our knowledge that we are interdependent on each other. We become, together, a community of celebration, marked by joy. So this year, let’s recover that basic sense of celebration in all that we do. This too, is counter-cultural, as tired cynicism may be the prevailing cultural norm. The wedding at Cana as celebration.
So on this Feast of the Epiphany, and was we begin a new year, think of these three things- adoration, commitment and celebration. They are no bad way to begin a new calendar year, with a resolution that we realise that our Church is only as good as the input we put into it. Together, we can achieve great things. So at the beginning of 2019, my prayer for us at St John’s is that, as we share the load together, so we can make this year one of real wonders. Adoration, commitment, and celebration come to us in this Feast and season of the Epiphany. Adoration, commitment, and celebration will help all of us through life in our shared pilgrimage together – so please take a moment to reflect on how you can share your gifts for the good of church and society. During Lent this year, we will be inviting everyone who is a regular worshipper how we can do this together. May God bless us all in this Holy Season of Epiphany as we show, and share, the gifts of God in adoration, commitment, and celebration.