“Thank goodness that’s over with!” a colleague of mine said that as one year we packed away the Christmas decorations in our office.
Christmas has gone in the blink of an eye, the retailers know it, the programme schedulers know it. The lights and decorations may have been packed up for another year (or will be ) but still, the crib scene remains.
The season does not end so abruptly here. We still have an opportunity to gaze at the crib scene. Today marks not an ending, but a beginning of another journey.
Today we begin the Epiphany season – shifting from rejoicing at God’s coming among us to reflecting on what it means – to us and to the life of the world.
We know well the story from the gospel of the Wise Men or Magi who first visited the Christ Child to “pay homage”, but what did it mean then and what does it mean for us now?
This past week I came across something that helped me to reflect upon this morning’s gospel story. Thinking about the journey of the Wise Men, let us ponder these words.
People who journey without being changed are nomads.
People who can change without moving are chameleons.
People who go on a journey, changing as a result, are pilgrims.
Were they nomads? No purpose, no direction, no hope.
Were they chameleons? Travelling on a whim, as the mood took them.
Were they pilgrims? With a clear journey ahead – and a goal in sight.
The Wise Men could be described as pilgrims.
We can all identify with being a pilgrim or having done a pilgrimage. For some a pilgrimage doesn’t mean you have to travel far, with great expense, it’s just a journey to a special place, with special people.
The Wise Men on their pilgrimage follow the star until it stops over the place where Jesus was. It’s so simple. They are overjoyed to discover the child, they worship and they offer him the best they have to give. While it may seem mysterious and strange to us to follow a star this way, it is not strange for them. It is simply how they understand the world. It is simply how they found Jesus.
They are touched and transformed by the awe and majesty of finding their journey had stopped. In that moment, it seems they knew in some profound way that they have found the place where God and humanity – through the birth of this child – have become one. Their immediate response is to bow down and worship him.
Then they open their treasures chests and offer gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold: The richest of gifts they could bring. It indicates power and wealth. Placing Gold before the infant King makes a clear statement that it is God’s Kingdom, revealed through Jesus Christ.
Frankincense: used in worship so it was an expression of the worship they offered. We burn incense as a sign of honour. Censing the altar, the gospel book and ourselves is a reminder that we respect all these things, and they are important to worship.
Myrrh: The sweetest fragrance they could offer. Myrrh is also used for healing. Offering myrrh to the Christ Child allows us to bring our pain and our sorrow, our anxiety and fear and lay them at his feet. We all are in need of healing. We are all looking to be changed by God.
So, to come back to our question; are we nomads; journeying without being changed?
Are we chameleons, being changed all too quickly?
Or are we pilgrims, expecting to be changed by our encounter with Jesus.
We are called to be a pilgrim. Each of us has chosen to follow a star that has led us to this place to gather. Each of us has come to learn and to worship God made known through the birth of his Son. Each one of us comes to offer the best we can give.
Whatever gifts we offer, these are God-given so we return them to him – all to the glory of God. The Magi did not keep their treasures close to their chest, no – they dug deep and presented the very best of what they had to give.
Whatever our gift: music, reading or serving in Church, pastoral care, leadership, hospitality, outreach, I could go on, each of these gifts is given on the foundation of the gift of God’s love made known in Jesus.
Our pilgrimage leads us to offer God everything we have to give.
So, when the decorations for Christmas season have been neatly packed away, the crib scene will still remain for our few weeks, and our journey will still continue. We will travel towards the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday when our journey then takes us from the crib to the cross.
But for now, as we begin this New Year, with fresh eyes and expectant hearts, may God continue to sustain our pilgrimage, allowing us to bow down and worship and to offer all the best that we can give.