Magazine Leader - January 2014

From the Vicar

The question was a subtle one and the clue to the answer lay in the way it was put. We had fielded a St John’s team in the Hope FM quiz evening, held at the Junction, and we had already been asked in which gospel the wise men appear, to which the answer was St Matthew’s Gospel. Now we were asked if we could name the wise men. There were two possible answers. One was to write down the traditional names of Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. That might have been the right answer. The alternative was to say that St Matthew’s Gospel does not say that there were three of them, nor are they given names. On the night, that was the answer which won the point.

There were three presents, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, which were brought by some Magi, who came from the East. There is no suggestion that they came to a stable, but rather they visited Mary and Jesus, who by now were in a house. It is uncertain just what a Magi was, but some translations use the word astrologers. They were wise within the context of their day, for they were seen as people who could read the signs of the time in the stars. They knew something was happening and they risked their very lives to come and see. And they brought gifts, for to give such precious gifts was a sign that here, in this child, they discerned something of deep value and significance.

In the Eastern Tradition of the Orthodox Churches, Christmas Day is kept as the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. It is an important day, but nothing to get overexcited about. Their great celebration is The Epiphany, on January 6th, which is the day on which we remember the visit of some Magi to Jesus, bringing the three precious gifts. It is sad that our practice is to put away the Christmas decorations on the twelfth night and to say that Christmas ends on January 5th, because by then the story has barely got going. On the thirteenth day of Christmas the Magi arrive and, if you have a Christmas crib, you should not really add them until then.

It seems to me that the challenge of The Epiphany is to ask ourselves what part the celebration of Christmas really plays in our life. In terms of money spent, food consumed, gifts given and goodwill enjoyed, Christmas seems to dominate the annual cycle of the seasons. Yet the story of Jesus goes on. Those who have devoted their lives to searching for such things, in this case the Magi, discern in Jesus a new kind of sovereignty which will change the world. It is a very different kind of sovereignty. The gold signifies a king, but the incense signifies Deity. Somehow, what is Divine has broken into human history in this child. The Myrrh signifies death. God reveals himself not only in what is weak and vulnerable, a small child, but in time the very nature of God will be revealed in the way he will embrace death in his love for us. As we hear again this story from the pages of the gospels, we might ask ourselves whether we too can find here something that causes us to bow down in worship. To find faith is to reach that moment when we recognise the Divine reaching out to touch our hearts and, like the Magi, we can then only respond with the most precious gift we have, which is our very selves. And that is where the story really takes off. Jung once described the difference a faith which is external, like a veneer, and faith in which our very souls are infused with the Divine. The story of Christmas takes root, and continues in the present moment of our lives, when what is external, an ancient tale of a baby and some astrologers, becomes internal, as the Divine touches our souls and we give all that we are in return. I wish you all a joyful continuation of Christmas!

Nigel LLoyd 

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