The Feast of the Epiphany

A sermon from 2017

We have a number of children’s books in our house that provide regular and repeated entertainment. They’re based on the concept of ͞Where’s Wally? The character Wally, a man in a red and white striped top and bobble hat, is a creation of British Illustrator Martin Hanford. Wally was created in 1986 for Walker Books. He was created to stand out and be a focal point in drawings of crowds. What Hanford created was a character, hidden in plain sight amidst ordinary people engaged in a wide variety of activities. As we celebrate Epiphany this morning, we are remembering how some of the very first people recognised that God was in their midst in the person of Jesus. God was in their midst in what was otherwise a very normal, everyday occurrence in the world – in the birth of a baby. I wonder how many of us have experienced that kind of Epiphany? How many of us can tell a clear story of a time when we knew and recognised the presence of God? Or How many of us feel like looking for God in contemporary, everyday life is like attempting to find Wally?

The wise men or magi were some of the first people we are told about who have an Epiphany. They were looking for Jesus but were not sure where to find him. We don’t exactly know who the Magi were, or where they came from but the best guess is that they were scholars, religious figures, astrologers from Persia. Certainly they seemed to believe that significant events in the future could be discovered by studying the stars. They had become convinced that a new king of the Jews had been born. They may have heard of Prophecies like that of Isaiah that suggested that such a promised king would be a powerful and significant figure on the world stage. In any event they decided that they should travel to present gifts to this new king, perhaps as a way of buying his favour. Ironically then the story presents the people most faithfully seeking Jesus as foreigners, gentiles, people who probably followed completely different religions yet they undertake a dangerous and uncertain journey on the strength of what seems to be the very slimmest of clues.

They arrive in Judea seemingly with nothing more to go on than the conviction that a new king has been born. So they head to the Royal Palace to ask Herod the Roman appointed client king – where the new King, who has been born, might be found. I think we have to assume that the reason that the supposed ͚wise͛ men did something so monumentally stupid was that they were foreigners and therefore had no idea of the blunder they were making. It seems though, that they were willing to take the risk of being in a foreign country asking the sort of awkward questions that could get you killed. It’s a bit like they were engaged in a giant session of ‘Where’s Wally?’.  Where’s Jesus?. They knew he was on the page. They had faith. They just had to keep looking, keep travelling until they found him.

Kallistos Ware, an English Bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church says Christianity is more than a theory about the universe, more than teachings written down on paper; it is a path along which we journey—in the deepest and richest sense, the way of life. There is only one means of discovering the true nature of Christianity. We must step out upon this path, commit ourselves to this way of life, and then we shall begin to see for ourselves. So long as we remain outside, we cannot properly understand… No one can be an armchair traveler on this all-important journey. No one can be a Christian at second hand. God has children, but he has not grandchildren.  This is the sort of faithful journeying that the Magi undertook. Having discovered that a new king was born they committed themselves to going and finding him. They were willing to take risks, willing to ask stupid, perhaps even dangerous questions, they were willing to go on a journey with an unknown destination.

It’s this that makes this group of pagan philosophers and astrologers an example to us of what faith looks like. Christmas is all about proclaiming that God is with us, Jesus is here but what the Magi remind us is that this is the same thing as saying Wally is in all of these pictures. The point is you need to sit down with the book and find him. Searching, looking takes time. It is an active not passive calling to all who believe that Jesus is on the page, hidden in plain sight. So, how are we active in our following, our searching, our looking?

I want to suggest 2 types of things that you might do differently this year:

1-You might put yourself in a different place, see things from a different perspective by doing something different.

2- You might try to look differently at the things you already do.

As we offer the gifts of the wise men at the end of this service, we offer again ourselves to journey in faith that Christ may be revealed to us and to others and Let us pray that we will make seeking and finding Jesus a simple effortless habit as joyful and rewarding as realising that Wally was there in front of us all the time.