St Stephen’s Lewisham

January 22nd 2012

Wise Men of Today

‘When the Wise Men came into the house… they fell down and worshipped Him… and opened their gifts’

Matthew 2:11


The Book of Common Prayer is 350 years old this year. It reckons that Epiphany (when we celebrate the Wise Men searching for and discovering Jesus Christ in Bethlehem ) lasts from 6th January to February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation. So this morning’s homily will be an Epiphany one.

Let’s think about three things which Matthew tells us about the Wise Men and what they did when they found Him: the Word made flesh. Matthew says they were wise men; they worshipped Him; and they gave Him their gifts.

  1. They were wise men. Being wise isn’t the same as being brainy, or well-educated, or simply clever. Even clever, well-educated, people sometimes do stupid things. Being a gifted person is no guarantee that we shall use that gift wisely. This present time has been called an ‘Age of Foolishness’ because there are more people today doing more foolish things than was the case, say, 50 years ago. If you doubt this just read the newspapers or listen to the News!

By contrast, there have always been comparatively simple people who behave wisely. So having GCSEs, A-Levels, Degrees or Doctorates is no guarantee that their owner also has wisdom.

In the Book of Psalms, and the Wisdom Literature, the Bible tells us many times that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ and one thing which most (supposedly) intelligent people lack today is any knowledge of, or therefore fear of, or respect for, the God who created them.

Mind you, fearing the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom. Becoming wise, unlike getting a Degree isn’t a one-off thing which we get after spending a year or two’s study; becoming wise is a life-long process. In this Age of Foolishness, many have stopped seeking wisdom, with the result that the well-known proverb ‘There’s no fool like an old fool applies to them – except that today’s fools seem to be getting younger and younger (as people used to say about policemen).

But believing that God exists is only the first step towards becoming wise. The purpose of the Wise Men’s journey, Matthew tells us, wasn’t just to find the new-born King; they came to worship Himso when they did find Him they immediately ‘fell down and worshipped Him’.

To ‘worship’ someone means literally ‘to give them what they are worth’, because we have recognized who that person really is. So we refer to the Mayor of Lewisham as ‘His [or Her] Worship’ – not because we believe they are God, but because that person is the Queen’s representative and therefore deserves (or is worthy of) our respect.

Worshipping someone also calls for obedience on the part of the worshipper. With a Mayor, a Monarch, a bishop or a policeman, we are dealing with mere human beings – so our duty to obey them is limited by the Law. If, for example, they were to tell us to do something morally wrong, we not only have the right but also the duty to disobey them. By contrast, our worship of God, whose power and goodness are infinite, involves our total obedience to Him at all times;

The Wise Man knows that God, Who is perfect, will only tell us to do whatever is in our own, (and others’) best interest. So God is always to be obeyed; and it’s a good test of someone’s wisdom, to see whether they keep God’s commandments or not. Do they, for example, take part in public worship every week. It’s not an infallible test. Regular churchgoers, clergy and laity, sometimes behave foolishly –‘I speak as a fool’, as St Paul once said about his own behaviour.


  1. What else does obeying God involve? The Wise Men’s Gifts provide a clue. They gave Him their gifts

  2. Gold. Our gold means all the gifts that God has given to us: our life, our health, our intellect, our talents to name but four. It makes no difference whether such gifts are great or small, many or few. As Jesus said about that poor widow he saw putting her last farthing into the collection ‘she has given more than all the rest’. Our talents may be few and far between: but if we offer them to Him, God will use them in His service.

  3. Even if our health is poor, He will lead us to discover other sick, disabled or unhappy people for us to help and support. Even though we’re not brainy, God may enable us to discover that we have a gift for reaching out to others of our own intellectual level who simply want to find Jesus Christ like the Wise Men did. In every case, if we persevere in ‘worship[ping] the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ God will soon help us discover how He wants us to use the gifts He’s given us.

  4. Incense: Incense creates an atmosphere. The atmosphere which each of us creates and carries around with us depends on whether we’ve learnt how to manage our feelings; or do we allow them to manage us. Feelings are like influenza and are infections. When troubles come, Wise Men take care not to spread their feelings and infect everyone else. If we make a present of our bad feelings to everyone else, it’s like sneezing our unhappiness all over them. They will catch ‘emotional ’flu’ from us. By all means share your anxieties and griefs with just one trusted friend; but don’t go around all the time looking, and being, disgruntled, and passing your grumbleitis on to others. Always remember that useful saying, ‘when you smile it increases your face-value’

  5. Thirdly, Myrrh. All our griefs, disappointments, bereavements, misfortunes, frustrations or doubts come under the heading of ‘myrrh’. But the Bible assures us that all these troubles, if we offer them to God, will complement the sufferings of Jesus, and be used in the process of reconciling, in Christ, the World to Himself.

  6. God alone knows how often every one of us, without our knowing anything about it, has been healed, by the sufferings which other people have offered to God on our behalf. One of the great joys of the Life Everlasting will be the opportunity to meet and to thank those very people whose sufferings on earth have been used by God to further our wellbeing. The other side of the coin is that we ourselves shall experience the gratitude of those whose sufferings and sorrows we, without knowing it, have helped to transform. They may well be people we’ve never met, but our sufferings, patiently borne for Christ’s sake, and offered up in our prayers, will have been taken up by Him (as St Paul suggests) to ‘fill up’, or complement, His one true pure immortal sacrifice.

  7. Wisdom tells us there are no ‘ordinary’ people, not even ourselves. Our worship of God, and the gifts each of us offers Him as our reasonable service, are not only valuable; they are unique.