Sunday Sermons

Epiphany: Welcome and Inclusion

In the celebration of Epiphany the Messiah is revealed as the Saviour not only of the Jews but also of all the world. So I want you to think imaginatively about the story of the 3 Magi who came to worship Jesus this morning. And I want you to think about the kind of people they were and  how that helps us to see what kind of Church Christ call us to be. A Church of inclusion and of welcome to all.

You see the kind of people the Magi are is crucial to what Epiphany means for the Church. We regularly retell the story of the Wise Men following the star with every school Nativity and Carol service but we do not perhaps fully appreciate what this story really means in it’s true context. The story is often told that the star was like a huge, bright beacon hovering above the heads of these men and all they had to do was to follow it. But in fact the Magi were most likely astrologers who studied the stars much like modern astrologers who find meaning in their patterns and brightness!

So the first worshippers of Jesus were astrologers and it is to be understood that their story of seeing the star of the King of the Jews was an astrological prediction. It was a story of the time the planet Jupiter had entered the constellation of Aries and remained there. How do we know this? Well to astrologers at the time, Aries, the ram, was the symbol of the Jews and the planet Jupiter was the sign of a king. The eastern sky symbolized birth so the fact that Jupiter at this time was visible in the eastern sky at sunrise, in the constellation of Aries, told them that the King of the Jews had been born.

So these men who came to worship Jesus were not devout Jews but eastern mystics. Not readers of the Jewish scriptures or even believers in One God. They were astrologers from the East with a religion of stars and symbols and predictions. And in their sincere quest for answers God revealed His plan of salvation to them!

Now ask yourself honestly if people who believed in astrology walked into a Church today looking for others with whom to share their journey how would we respond. All too often I think Christians can be quick to reject and denounce and dismiss people of other beliefs and faiths and backgrounds. We even dismiss people from different Christian traditions to our own as being unworthy of sharing conversation with. But to dismiss the idea that God might be at work in different religions and traditions and ideas than our own is exactly what the story of the Magi is there to challenge. The message of the Bible, the message written in the Gospel about the Magi, is that they came from another tradition and race and perspective, and they found a place beside the Holy Family to worship Jesus. Because Jesus is a gift to all and not just a few. The astrologers were welcomed in their strangeness and difference and mystery, and were acknowledged as being sincere worshippers of God in their own way. They were welcomed into that Holy place, that place of worship.

And what is more those wise men came bearing gifts that would in turn remind the Church of the kind of Messiah that had been born. Their traditions and perspective had a message for the Jews.

The story is that one was the king of Sheba. He’d brought a golden crown and this he gave it to Jesus in acknowledgement of his kingship.  Another was the high priest of Ephah and he had a jeweled box containing pieces of frankincense. These yellow lumps were burnt in the ceremonies of worship in the temple of Ephah, giving off holy fragrance. In giving this to Jesus he was acknowledging that Jesus was worthy of true worship.  The third rider was the chief embalmer of the Egyptian Pharaohs. He had brought, as a gift to Jesus, a jar of precious myrrh. Myrrh was a sweet-smelling substance that was used to prepare the dead Pharaohs for burial. This gift was an acknowledgement that the mission for which Jesus had come into the world was to die for the sins of man. .

The story of the Magi, those eastern astrologers, is a story reminding us of the importance of shared learning and shared worship between different people and religions and beliefs.

At the heart of the story is their journey. The fact that they have travelled so far to be at the stable in Bethlehem.  If we fail to recognise where these Magi have come from, we fail to see the significance of their arrival.

Epiphany is a reminder at the start of this year that anyone who walks through the church doors sincerely seeking God, whether on a Sunday morning or during the week, should be welcomed and listened to and received on their terms. The story of the Magis is there so that we should be an Epiphany Church that listens and speaks to all people in whatever language will help them to be able to worship God with us.