The Reverend Richard Terrell is a retired Priest
who remains in active Ministry.
Recently he celebrated the Fiftieth Anniversary
of his Ordination to the Priesthood.
He is the Co-ordinator of the Norton Festival
which brings together the local community,
with support for the Parish Church and other local concerns.
ARE WE ‘THE WISE’?
Have you noticed the crib at the front of the church?
This year it is very striking and demands attention. But have you noticed there is something missing? I invite you to look at the crib and consider what it might be? We see can there Mary, Joseph and Jesus. We see there some animals – a cow, a donkey etc. Isla, my dog, says she can’t see a black Labrador! But then there weren’t any around at the time. We see some shepherds with a lamb or two. We see a star and an angel. We see three wise men, though we can only guess there were three because of the three gifts they brought. So what is missing?
Might I suggest, if you haven’t noticed, that there’s no ‘stable.’ The characters in our crib scene do not appear to be in a stable. Instead the Nativity Scene is presented in a kind of artistic way.
One of the Christmas Cards I received this year showed Jesus, Mary and Joseph in what appeared to be a kind of mock Tudor house. As I saw it I began to think that surely this isn’t right. But then I began to look at this morning’s Gospel Reading which was Matthew’s recording of the Wise Men’s search for Jesus.
At first, we are told, the Wise Men looked for Jesus in a King’s palace. This was surely the place to find a new born ‘king.’ But King Herod was puzzled by the Wise Men’s visit and told them to continue with their search and report back to him when they had found this ‘new king.’ Scripture suggested that Bethlehem was the place. So the Wise Men headed there, still following the star they had seen at its rising, until it had stopped over a place where the child was eventually found. I don’t know whether you noticed but in verse 11 of the second chapter of the Gospel Matthew tells us that it was ‘on entering THE HOUSE’, the Wise Men saw the child with Mary his mother.’
So this morning we heard about the Wise Men’s search that eventually led them to Jesus. The Wise Men visited Jesus and saw Mary and Joseph not in ‘a stable’ but in a HOUSE. So our artistic depiction of the nativity scene, without a stable, is actually more accurate. It is in tune with Scripture and the record of Matthew.
Over the centuries the Christmas Scene has evolved until we now get a somewhat romanticised picture of Jesus in a manger in a stable with Mary and Joseph looking over Him. Somewhere in the background we also find shepherds and wise men. This ‘traditional’ scene is not really accurate. All the characters mentioned in the Christmas narrative would not all have been in the stable or there at the same time. So if we are to maintain a degree of integrity we must say that our crib scene is really only full of symbolism and not any kind of accurate representation of the actual scene. This being so we must try to see the ‘real’ scene and discover what it tells us.
A crib scene must help us to ‘experience Christmas’ and to know the true and real meaning of our celebrations. I suggest it would be helpful to place ourselves into the scene and become ‘Mary’ and ‘Joseph’ on the first Christmas – in a stable or in a house.
So we are in this place with a new-born baby. We had travelled to Bethlehem because the tyrannical Herod had decreed we must return to our place of birth for a census, or count, of the population. As a result all available accommodation had been taken, so we stayed wherever we could find somewhere to lay down our head. Then the worst happened. Mary, who was pregnant, gave birth in the most unsavoury circumstances. Imagine how you are feeling.
Then, ‘knock, knock.’ ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Shepherds.’ ‘Shepherds? What are you doing? There are no sheep in this stable. What are you doing here?’ They tell us of their experience that night on the hillside above Bethlehem. How an angelic choir announced the birth of an important child. So they have now come to see him. Do you believe them? Is what they are saying pure fantasy? It must surely be something of a strange experience and as they leave you are left wondering. But you move on and the scene changes.
‘Knock, knock.’ ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Wise men.’ ‘Wise men? What are you doing? Why are you here?’ They tell you of their experience – how they saw a star which indicated to them that the birth of someone special had occurred. They had tried the palace but it wasn’t there. So here they are! Then those Wise Men offered gifts – of gold, of frankincense, and of myrrh. How strange, you are thinking. As they left the house you are left wondering what that was all about. Not until many years later do you realise that those Wise Men knew something you did not know at the time. The gold symbolised kingship. The frankincense spoke of priesthood and the myrrh of anointing and death. They were telling you something about this innocent child of yours. These visitors were ‘wise’ to something yet to be revealed to you. So what was Matthew telling us in the reading this morning? What are we to take from it?
No doubt, by now, we have, or soon will be, taking down our Christmas decorations. Our celebration of Christmas will be over. But what is its lasting legacy? Is there more to Christmas than meets the eye? Are WE ‘wise’ enough to see a little further and to know what it is all about? Over this Christmas period we have been taken to a scene that has an air of mystery attached to it. We recall the Christmas cards with their romanticised portrayal of Christmas. But did we dwell upon the scene and become a part of it?
Were you, like the shepherds, affected by the Christmas message? Did you put aside your regular routine to see the Christ-child and to worship Him? Has your life been totally changed by the experience and are YOU wanting to tell everyone else about it? Like the Wise Men did YOU seek and find? Did you offer, to the baby born in Bethlehem, gifts so meaningful that they showed you were aware of who this baby really was?
I am reminded of some words of Christina Rossetti, which we are singing this morning. She said this:-
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give him;
Give my heart.
Many Epiphany Sermons will end with those words but I would like to add some more. They are words from a very popular song of yesteryear that came to my attention during this past week and which I thought could be adapted for our Epiphany Sunday message. The song is called ‘Can’t help falling in love’ and was made famous by Elvis Presley.
Now if we change the word ‘you’ in the song and give it a capital ‘Y’ it can become a ballad not just about affection for a ‘loved one’ but about our love for Our Lord and Saviour. ‘Wise men say only fools rush in,’ says the song and there will be some who regard us Christians as ‘fools’ as we declare that we can’t help falling in love with ‘Jesus’. We can listen to that song and hear it speaking to US of the Babe of Bethlehem. ‘Some things are meant to be,’ we declare. So in our version, which speaks to us of Jesus, we say ‘Take my hand, take my whole life too, for I can’t help falling in love with You.’
This morning we have been pondering the question of who might be ‘The Wise Men.’ We have considered that they might not just be the mysterious characters in our crib scene but may also be you and me today. Having found for ourselves the Bethlehem Babe and become ‘Wise’ we ponder what our response might be in the light of what WE know about Jesus and consider what gift or gifts we may offer to Him. So in recalling the words of Christina Rossetti we determine to give Him our heart as we say to Jesus ‘Take my hand, take my whole life too, for I can’t help falling in love with You.’
Martin the Monkey sometimes accompanies The Reverend Richard and helps to re-enforce the Gospel message. He usually attends on special occasions in the Church Year and shares his thoughts with you.
Sometimes I can be asked some awkward questions – like what do you really see in a banana? I recently heard of two people being asked by Jesus what they were looking for. They had been told by John that Jesus was the Lamb of God so they followed Him but then Jesus turned around and challenged them with the question, “What are you looking for?” (John chapter 1, verses 35 to 39)
How would you have answered? What are we looking forward to as we follow Jesus?
Today some people might recall the benefits of having a faith-led life – the fellowship; the comfort; the support; prayer and praise etc. But what are we really looking for?
The two people who followed Jesus asked a strange question. “Where,” they asked, “are you staying?” What a strange thing to say until it dawns upon us what they were really saying. They were asking to be with Jesus and they were invited to “Come and see.”
There may be lots of false ‘bananas’ to encourage us to follow Jesus but the most important thing is to want Him in our lives and to know that He welcomes us there being with Him.