by Liz Young
(Based on Matthew 2:1-12 and the Anglican Collect for first Sunday of the year)
All of us are welcome in Christ’s Church – His Love is for everyone.
The three readings today emphasize that we are all welcome in Christ’s church, irrespective of our natal culture. Isaiah prophesied, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”. The Matthew reading is the story of the visit of wise men from the East, possibly Zoroastrians, to honour the birth of Christ, and Paul, a Roman citizen and a Jew, having been converted on the road to Damascus, writes to the Christians in Ephesus that they, and we, have become fellow heirs and sharers, in the promise of Christ Jesus in his power and Love.
These words are reiterated in the ‘Collect’ for this Epiphany season:
“Almighty God, revealed to the world through prophecy, sage and star,
Open our hearts to see your presence in all humanity,
to bow down in adoration
and bring unity and inclusion to a divided world,
For you are alive and reign with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit , one God, now and forever.”
The beginning, ‘Open our hearts to see your presence in all humanity’ is a prayer we should remember each morning, as we face our children, or friends, going on about their favourite theories over the meal table, or we watch Donald Trump making amazing fictitious statements, or wonder about Putin’s motives.
I’ve been privileged to watch at least 600 births and the joy of the crowning moment and the safe delivery, never diminishes. It’s felt by everyone in the room. Even though a couple of days later you will be watching a new mother struggling with breast feeding, and coming to terms with her new responsibilities. Responsibilities which change over time but never leave us as parents. It’s certainly easier to cope with children if you look for the Christ in them, the moments of innocence and the spontaneous demonstrations of love. My three sons all changed for the better when they became fathers. The love that you give children in infancy will set them up for life: if a child never experiences love, in that first year of life, they will find it very difficult to feel love themselves, and towards others.
Alternatively, I’ve met women who I feel were born with a double dose of oxytocin, the socializing hormone: they are able to extend and surround you with warmth. Not forgetting the men I’ve met who must have inherited a natural warmth, have had it nurtured in infancy, and not had it suppressed by school or work experiences. So my message for today is, demonstrate love at all times and look for love in all you meet. For God loves life – His creating never stops. God is Love: the enduring, patient kind. God is beauty; let’s be aware of nature’s beauty all around us each day, and develop our passion for beauty. We must seek, absorb and trust love in all its ‘humanizing’ forms; this helps us strive towards the divine. We will trust the stranger, and welcome him into our hearts. We will not be afraid of the different, the ‘not-us’. We who pray together already know this. And let us thank Bruce (Gilberd) for sharing his book of prayers with us, giving us a thoughtful, heartening start to each day.
Today’s Collect goes on to ask us to ‘bow down in adoration’.
The wise men brought their treasures as gifts: gold, symbolizing earthly Kingship, frankincense, a very expensive perfume, and myrrh, used for anointing, recognizing the birth of a very holy person. They may have been Zoroastrians, a Persian religion then 500 years old. They knelt down to present their gifts, an act of honour to the child. Joseph would have known the value of these gifts: which one would have been the lightest? Would he have buried the gold and carried the frankincense with them to Egypt as housekeeping money?
And the prayer continues: ‘Bring unity and inclusion to a divided world’.
Unity begs the question, what divides us ? Difference. When I was eleven my mother invited a Nigerian couple to share Christmas with us. I’d never seen a black person before and I was conscious of a reflex withdrawal, which I hadn’t had with strangers before. I realized it was innate. But in time I changed. As a medical student I worked in a mission hospital in the Transkei, one of the Bantu areas in South Africa. Meeting the nurses and working with them meant that reflex disappeared. My enduring memory is of going on the annual official medical visit to the leper colony to see who was fit to be discharged: I was horrified, that all these men had to walk past us, white coated medics, naked, to have their nerves in their arms and legs examined for thickening. They were sweating profusely. I never knew if it was from fear or embarrassment, but I felt as one with them.
So how do we create unity? What brings us together? Common goals, shared worship and regular hospitality offered to all. God’s top priority is the creation of a world in which material goods are shared equally. Where no-one is forgotten or left out. Our commitment to the spiritual journey is not a commitment to pure joy, but to taking responsibility for the whole human family, its needs, and their destiny. We are not on our own. No man is an island unto itself. We belong to everyone else. May we all work together in unity in this coming year, and act on the Collect for today, opening our hearts to see Christ’s presence among us. Amen.