2Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. – Matthew 2.1-12
I LOVE THE FEAST of the Epiphany – or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. And I love it because it reminds us, amongst other things, that life is full-to-bursting with marvellous and extra-ordinary manifestations and revelations; daily epiphanies – in which the Spirit of the Christ in one another takes us all by surprise – because surprise is what God, what Life, what Christos, the Anointed, is supremely good at. It’s a revelation.
I thanked God for the gift to my life, and to many other lives, of my own dear Dad at the Eucharist this morning. A large gathering of the Marsh clan later assembled at the edge of the Parkgate marshes, and the River Dee of my childhood memories, to honour my father’s eightieth birthday. It was a right royal do!
I was honoured, as the eldest of three children, by an invitation from my sister and my brother to propose a toast to the birthday boy:
I’m in the business, we’re all in the business – all of us who are blessed with the gift of life and of breath – of patriarchs and matriarchs, and prophets and priests and kings.
I ask you to charge your glasses that we might make a toast to one in whom I have recognised something of the patriarch, something of the prophet, something of the priest, and to one in whom we, me and thee, have seen something, too, of the king.
Family and dear friends I propose a toast to this patriarch and to his matriarch, Irene. To Robert Marsh. To my father. To Bob. Wishing him many happy returns.
There’s something of the wise to be found in the heart of a family. Something that recognises that real kingship is to be found – before it is found anywhere else – in the unknowing innocence and familial dependence of a baby, a Christ-child. And though we’re all trained, properly, to become independent, the human family will also be reminded, from time to time, of our abiding inter-dependence. We need one another. We all need one another.
And this kind of epiphany is something that suggests we avoid “returning via Jerusalem” – going back to the places, the opinions, the oft-repeated histories and certainties we’ve been and heard so many times before; this kind of epiphany invites us to recognise ourselves as changed people, as people who’ve grown up a bit more; it’s a revelation that is bigger than power, greater than religious certainty, or political persuasion, of any kind, whatsoever and wheresoever. And that something, that epiphany, that manifestation, that revelation – in the heart of the human family, and in the heart of the Marsh family, is LOVE.
Wise women and men, having travelled, each from their own place, wish for one wise man in particular today, a happy birthday. And with gratitude and wonder have now “returned to their homes by another way”.