Tuesday, November 18, 2008
One of the things we have been asked to do on my course this term is change a standard sermon into a story as a way of teaching a congregation. I preached a sermon about the Magi last epiphany, so I decided to have a go with that as my topic...here it is!
I have always dwelt in the wild mountains of Tibet - cold and remote, wild and desolate, magical almost - a perfect platform for viewing the stars. The science of astrology is my passion and I have studied the heavens since I was a boy. Now I am approaching old age and thought that I would end my days in the foothills of ‘The Great Mountain’: but it was not to be...
My master mage, Yeshi called me to him some months ago when the snow lay thick upon the lowest slopes. The icicles hung sharp and clear, a jagged display along the roofline of his mountain retreat. The whole landscape seemed to melt into the sunlight. Brilliant ice and glittering snow sparkled under my feet as I climbed the final few steps.
Inside, Yeshi explained that he wanted me to help him examine a strange anomaly which had appeared in the heavens. I must admit that at that time I had not noticed it, but my eyes are not what they once were. Yeshi explained that it was a new star and that it shone more brightly each night. Curiously, it seemed to move steadily westwards, as if we should follow its leading. We looked at the ancient scrolls which contained star charts and prophecies and confirmed that this kind of celestial event usually foretold the birth of a King. An exciting thought, if this king was from our own land, but by the position of the star and its constant travelling it seemed that he would be born many miles away, to a people we did not know.
Eager to find out the truth, Yeshi sent a messenger to a Mage that I did not know who lived even further to the east in the land of the Mandarin Lords. Cong-Cheng arrived in the spring, flanked by his retinue of servants, asses and camels, groaning under the weight of his mobile laboratory. Star charts jostled with strange contraptions which he used to measure the constellations and to foretell the future. It was this gift which had drawn him to us. Cong-Cheng had been intrigued by our message and excitedly shared with us his own interpretation of the meaning of the mysterious star. That night, as we gazed into the firelight I realised that his ideas about the coming king surpassed our own in an amazing way. Our meal of roast chicken and rice was consumed with barely a touch to my taste buds as he wove a tale of majesty and power mixed with peace and ultimate sacrifice. This king, Cong-Cheng told us, was sent by none other than the Great Spirit who gives life to all things. This king was to be the means by which we could be reconciled to God himself.
I am ashamed to admit that I had not even considered that a divinity would want to bother with humanity, let alone be reconciled to us. I asked Cong-Cheng to elaborate. It was then that he showed me the ancient Hebrew scrolls which he had in his possession. In them there were prophecies which Cong-Cheng believed related to this star. My breathing quickened..Were we witnessing an event more important than anything we had so far imagined?
We talked far into the night but at last it was decided. We would follow the star until we found the palace where the new leader dwelt. A King sent by God was worthy of worship. We wanted to be there to pay him homage. In anticipation of what lay ahead I packed my scrolls and my astrological instruments as well as the provisions that I would need on the long journey to who knew where?
Many months later, after travelling over deserts and fertile plains, the star appeared to rest over the kingdom of Herod. We knew little of him and made our way through the crowded streets of Jerusalem towards his palace high on the hill. Naturally we expected to find the baby within. But he was not there. Nevertheless, King Herod welcomed up enthusiastically and wanted us to tell him everything we knew about the strange star in the heavens. Then he entertained us royally and asked us to return to his palace to enjoy further hospitality once we had found the child. We accepted his invitation and travelled on our way, little knowing that in a few days time, we would be warned strongly by an Angel not to go back. To do so would be to sign the child’s premature death warrant!
The star flared even more brightly that night. We travelled onwards and came upon the town of Bethlehem, nestled in the hills, quiet and calm...waiting...
At the edge of the settlement there was a modest house. Flat roofed and whitewashed, it shone eerily in the light cast by the ever present star overhead. Shadows ebbed and flowed beneath its beams. A few sheep and goats huddled in the corner of the yard. One goat nibbled curiously at my cloak as I edged past. Lamplight through the window betrayed the presence of those within. Yeshi knocked on the door. A tall, simply dressed man with tousled hair answered the door. He seemed somewhat bemused to see us there but bade us enter. His young wife baked flatbreads and served us a pottage made from a little meat and vegetables - it was all they had. In a corner the child lay beneath a sheepskin blanket in a beautifully carved cradle - a carpenter’s son enjoying the fruits of his father’s labour. I walked over to look at him. He was about a year old and he sucked his thumb as he slept. It was strange but his whole countenance exuded peace. Suddenly I knew for certain that this was the King we had come to worship. The son of a carpenter, living in an unremarkable town, without riches or majesty and yet...I knew...
With silent acquiescence we knelt and laid our gifts before him. Gold for Kingship, Myrrh for death and sacrifice, Frankincense for spirituality and godliness. Each gift selected to match the prophecies we had sought and studied.
‘Truly this King is the son of God, the Saviour who was foretold! proclaimed Cong-Cheng.
Yeshi and I could only bow our heads in silent wonder.