theunfamiliarname

Homily for The Epiphany

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2010 at 12:39 am

Preached at All Saints, Dunedin, 2008

‘How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating,
where the shepherds had run barefoot!
How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries,
laden with such preposterous gifts!

‘You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage
and the great star stood still above you.
What did you do?
You stopped to call on King Herod.
Deadly exchange of compliments
in which began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!’

Words from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena
where the title character, the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother,
muses on the oddness of the wise men, their journey, and their gifts.
Gold.
Frankincense.
Myrrh.
And of course, King Herod’s unwelcome attention.

In this year of Matthew’s Gospel,
we might pay special attention to why it is that he alone
tells this story of pagan sages
visiting the Holy Family.

And sometimes the opening of a story is most closely related
to where we have got to by the end.

How does the Gospel of Matthew end?

It’s intimately linked to something we will be doing next Sunday.

And to missionaries and evangelism.

The Great Commission.

The very last words of Matthew’s Gospel:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the Wise Men, the magi,
we have the nations, the Gentiles, coming to acknowledge this King,
travelling and offering their gifts;
and at story’s end the disciples are sent out to all the world,
to offer their gift of good news and to baptise and teach.

Human wisdom bows before the infant Christ,
and God’s wisdom, the Logos, the Word that was from the beginning,
news and experience of God’s wisdom is set free into all the earth.

The wise men are astrologers,
are pagan,
are rich.

God’s wisdom offers something deeper
than fanciful ideas and systems about how our fate is shaped.
God’s wisdom offers knowledge of the only One True God,
but a God who knows us from the inside out,
who is in this Jesus somehow bone of our bone, blood of our blood.
God’s wisdom turns the wisdom of the world on its head.
Blessed are the poor, the meek, the sorrowful.
Helena, in the novel, has a prayer for the wise men and for herself:
‘For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts,
pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate.
Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God
when the simple come into their kingdom.’

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