Epiphany reflection

”They offered him gifts….and left for their own country by another road.” 
From Matthew 2:1-12.

“When are we going to be out of this? It’s not going to be an event, it’ll be a process.”
Prof. Neil Ferguson, Epidemiologist, speaking of the process of national vaccination.

Today is Epiphany, the time of the visit of the Magi to the Christchild and the revelation that the child is born for all people, Gentiles as well as Jews. Matthew’s Gospel simply refers to wise men from the East and, because three gifts are given, it’s been assumed that there were three of them although they would have had servants too. Probably from the Zoroastrian faith, men of great learning and stargazers who worshipped Mazda the god of light, they later became the three Kings of the carol, given the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Traditionally, one is older, one younger and one dark skinned and they are often depicted on camels although wealthy travellers in the time of Christ would probably use horses which were speedier and more comfortable.
Matthew states that they saw the rising of a star, a significant astronomical event, and travelled to Jerusalem to ask the whereabouts of the child born king of the Jews. In doing so, they alerted insecure Herod to what had happened which, when they returned by another way rather than report back to him, lead to the massacre of the innocents. But, in offering Jesus precious gifts from their treasure chests, the child was given gold for the King of Kings, frankincense used in worship and myrrh to anoint dead bodies, indicating the suffering and death that lies ahead. The gifts are symbolic as these men of great wealth and influence who had travelled such a long way are able to recognise that the child is the King they are seeking. They humble themselves before him whereas King Herod asserts his authority in so terrible a way that many other children are killed. By going home by a different way, the magi take another route as their lives and understanding are changed by what they had witnessed and who they had encountered. That is so for us, too, when we find Jesus and worship him, being changed by the encounter with Love incarnate.
The wise men were attentive to God’s purposes as they gazed at the heavens and discerned the star’s rising – we too need to attend to what God is showing us and respond, as did they. In setting out on their journey they were willing to take action without knowing where they were going, which must have been costly as TS Eliot describes in his poem ‘Journey of the Magi’:
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey.
The ways deep and the weather sharp
The very dead of winter.” 

Like the magi, we find ourselves on a difficult journey in the very dead of winter, as our family and travel plans have unexpectedly changed and none of us can be sure what lies ahead or how long it will all take. Waiting for the vaccine is a hard process and, sometimes, the going is so hard for us that it’s tempting to give up and stop travelling spiritually or to be taken in by those with other agendas. The challenges have been so great that many of us have been forced to stop and question where we’re going in life or what we seek and need on life’s way. Our lives now are very different, changed as we are by the mutating virus and what the process of national vaccination is demanding of us. But still the example of the magi can inspire us: they found what they were seeking through perseverance and showed their love through worship and the offering of precious gifts, being willing also to change their future because of their encounter with the Christchild. 

As our futures have also suddenly changed, what is being revealed to us this Epiphany? Where can we find God’s love and what precious gifts can we give the Christchild in the time, treasures and talent we can offer him and those around us? Giving of ourselves can be costly and we’re not always willing to persevere at those times when the journey may be too deep or sharp. But, as Eliot also reminds us, “….were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” 

As we honour the example of those shadowy figures worshipping the Christchild and offering gifts, where do we go from here and who are the wise ones whose voices and advice we should heed today as they guide us step by step on this strange journey and the process we’re all having to undertake?

With my prayers, Christine