St George’s, Headstone
4th January 2015
Tuesday is the Feast of the Epiphany, so this homily will anticipate that event. Most of this morning’s hymns were written to celebrate it: so let’s seize the opportunity to learn what those Wise Men can teach us about how set about ‘looking for God’ – and what to expect if we actually find Him!
Many people today say they are ‘searching for God’; but because they fail to find Him immediately, they give up the search. Some preachers say they ought to have been asking God to find them, and not vice versa. But Scripture, encourages such a search – though Isaiah had warned his hearers that God is Someone who ‘truly hides Himself’; and went on to say that God might be found by those who did not seek [Him], and might reveal Himself to those who did not ask for Him; and, as Jesus Himself said, ‘Seek and you will find’. So man’s problem today isn’t because he’s searching, but is both looking in the wrong direction, and giving up too easily.
The Wise Men set out to find the King of the Jews; they ended up by finding God Himself – the Word-made-Flesh. That’s the first lesson we can learn from them: don’t be surprised to find, when you enter God’s Presence, that He isn’t quite as you supposed Him to be. So if it’s God you are looking for, be prepared for surprises!
But we are jumping ahead. Their ‘surprises’ came much later on. Being Wise Men they would have spent a lot of time studying books and prophecies, before they set out, , including perhaps the Jewish Scriptures (which we call the Old Testament), and what they would have called ‘Science’ (or ‘Knowledge’) including the movement of stars and planets, before they realized that God was trying to tell them something.
Being Wise Men they immediately compared their experience with that of other Wise Men. Wisdom (and experience, and the Bible) agree that when God chooses to reveal His Plans to a Wise Man, He often includes two or three other Wise Men besides, So if you feel that God is asking you to do something for Him, it’s wise to share it with someone who takes God as seriously as you do – and often our ‘sharer’ will reply, “That’s strange! I had just that same thought the other day”. When two or three of God’s agents simultaneously come up with the same idea then it’s probably come from God rather than their own imaginations; or else each different idea fits in with the others, like pieces of a jig-saw to form the complete picture of what God is calling them to do.
So the Wise Men set out together to look for the ‘new King of the Jews’. Being Wise Men, each one of them listened carefully to what the others had to say because they were wise enough to know that they didn’t know everything. So when their guiding Star temporarily disappeared as they approached Jerusalem, they were Wise enough to ask the help of the local ruler (who happened to be the worldly-wise King Herod the Great).
Being well-read, they knew of King Herod’s was a cruel, unscrupulous, secular-minded, untruthful tyrant; but they were Wise enough to know that even secular Worldly Wisdom can have a vital part to play in discovering God’s purposes. Would that our Church Leaders today were just a little bit wiser than they are! But those Wise Men were also wise enough to know that when somebody like Herod stated that he himself intended to worship the King in due course, it needed to be ‘taken with a large spoonful of salt’ and if necessary, totally disregarded.
Those Wise Men set out to find an earthly king. Very wisely they took gifts with them to show their respect for him. That’s the sort of thing earthly kings are always finding themselves doing! But sometime during their journey they began to realise that it wasn’t their gifts that God was looking for, but their worship.
So, they found the Person they were looking for: but, much to their surprise, the Person they found was no mere earthly King – He was (and is) God-made-Flesh, in His Mother’s arms! – and having found, and seen, God Incarnate they wisely did what God had intended them to do from the word Go: they ‘fell down and worshipped Him’. It was only after worshipping Him that they opened the gifts they had brought to give Him.
That’s the most important lesson the Epiphany has to teach us. It’s not primarily our gifts that God is looking for, though our gifts and talents certainly have a place in His Plan. God is looking to us to give up our very selves, to His Service, after the example of His Son who for us men and for our salvation gave up Himself into the hands of His heavenly Father. As St Paul so memorably wrote, “I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto God: which is your reasonable service”.
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