Saturday, 4 January 2020

Sharing the Light.

It seems that I have either lost track of time or my mind has switched off having almost missed putting up my Blog this week. I think we were out at Coles Bay area yesterday and driving from Swansea to Cradle Mountain today through haze and smoke most of the way. Little in comparison to those in the South East of Australia where we have been focused for the last week or so. Thoughts and prayers are with all those supporting the battle or who have been affected. Certainly needed some sharing of the light in places as we were driving. Also had a visit to Marakoopa Caves and there was so much beauty that one would have missed without light. But back to thoughts about the upcoming feast.

Well, the Twelve Days of Christmas are ending in a burst of celebration and light. The Christmas biscuits and cake are nearly all eaten, even the fruitcake has been nibbled down, and the tree is starting to shed if you have a real one. The presents, every last one of them, are open -- and lots of them are already in use. I think I’ve spotted a couple of bright new ties, some wonderful shirts, and a fancy new dress or two out there! Did you get everything you wanted? What? You didn't get seven swans a-swimming or eleven lords a- leaping? Well, never mind. Maybe you will get them next year.

This year, at least, we got what we always get: the carols of joy, the angels' promise, the shining star, the glowing faces, the mysterious hush of the shepherds and animals, gathered around the newborn baby. And in them, we got the age-old promise: that there is peace, there is joy, there is hope. God will not leave us alone, stranded, lost in darkness and misery. God will come to us in joy, in light, in peace.  Here on this very last of the days of Christmas, we celebrate another part of the promise: that God will come to us ALL, everyone, if we seek his presence, if we invite him into our hearts.

Through these twelve days of Christmas, while angels and shepherds and donkey’s and sheep have surrounded the baby, a group of three stargazers have slogged along their weary way, day after day, seeking the promise, coming to find the baby. And today -- this day, this blessed day -- they have arrived at last. Have you spied the three figures, on their camels, moving closer, every day, to the crèche?

At last, here they are. And who are they? Oh, you know: "We three Kings of Orient are, one on a tractor, two in a car, one on scooter tooting his hooter following yonder star...." No, no, I've got it wrong: "We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar..." And you probably even know their names: Melchior, and Casper, and Balthasar. And you know that they brought gold and frankincense and myrrh. But who are they?

Well, you know something, they are us. You may have noticed, when we read the gospel, that it doesn't say anything about "Caspar, and Melchior and Balthasar." Those names date from stories people told of them in the Middle Ages, not from the Bible. And the Bible doesn't even say that they are "kings."

It calls them "magi" or "wise men." Scientists, scholars, learned students of the stars and the signs, they were, and not necessarily "kings" at all -- though Isaiah's prophecy, that "nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning," has helped us come to think of them as royalty, not researchers.

But most important, scripture says, they are "from the East." They are from outside Israel, outside the ancient covenant with the people of Israel. They are foreigners and strangers. Isaiah tells us, "Foreign nations will stream to your light and the rulers of the whole world will be drawn to you because you are a beacon of light, a sign of peace, of shalom." The Israelites are called upon to make room for the "stranger and sojourner". As the phrase goes all are called to welcome the strangers, to offer hospitality to all comers, to receive those who would come to live among them.

Matthew's story of the visit of the Wise Men says that the matter was decided by God, long before Peter and Paul fought it out. These "wise men from the East" were Gentiles, who saw the star -- a sign from God -- and followed it. And when they saw this King, Jesus in the manger, they knelt down and offered homage to him and in that sign permanently committed themselves to follow him. They were welcomed -- as we are. How do we know they were welcomed? Well, their gifts were accepted and symbolised the whole meaning of the life of this newborn King.

The gold, which represents wealth and royalty, was the sign that he would be king. The frankincense -- incense, which was burned daily in the Jerusalem temple as a holy offering to God was the sign that he was holy, our "Great High Priest". The myrrh was a bitter spice used to wrap the bodies of the dead, was the sign that, royal and holy though he was, he would die. And so, it was.

This newborn baby was given by God to be a king of a new and spiritual kind for all the people who come to him. We are the gentiles, called to be part of the covenant of love and peace, the promise of God given through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Not very many of us actually have to cross a trackless desert on camelback. But we do have to transcend our own barriers: our scepticism, our self-centeredness, our pride.

Remember, there are still strangers and sojourners in our world, people seeking light and truth, the love of God and the peace of Christ. The stable door is always open -- to all. And we, those of us who have arrived earlier, are called upon, like our Hebrew ancestors, to welcome the stranger and sojourner to the stable, to the table, to our hearts, and to the life in Christ.

This Feast of the Epiphany not only marks the end of the Season of Christmas, but the beginning the season of Epiphany. Through centuries of tradition, Epiphany has been the season to remember and celebrate the mission of the church, as it spreads throughout the world. As the light of the sun strengthens and lengthens each day of this season, so we are reminded that the light of Christ reaches ever further into our hearts and the hearts of the world -- even into its most troubled corners. As Christians we are called to move steadily into the world, bearing the light of Christ -- to the places we work, the places we study, the places we play. And we are called always to welcome all who come to share in the light.

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