This Epiphany Sunday we remember the magi who visited Jesus when he was very young.
Matthew calls them magi, not wise men. Magi were magicians and astrologers who lived in ancient Persia. Matthew doesn’t say how many magi came looking for the infant, only that they brought three gifts.
Our Christmas cards usually show the magi grouped together with the shepherds. But Matthew tells us that Herod chose to kill all the Hebrew children under the age of two. So Jesus could have been as old as two when the magi visited the holy family.
Have you heard the one about how the magi were obviously women? They stopped and asked for directions.
I wonder if we would call them wise today. Imagine ordering your life by the stars and by dreams. I know some people do that today, but it’s not the most reliable way to live.
As astrologers the magi had a belief that significant events in the sky would indicate significant events on the earth. The stars attracted them to seek an infant who had been born, so they might come and offer him honour.
What brings us to worship each week? My parents introduced me to church from when I was an infant. What brings you? It might be a lifetime habit of Sunday worship. Or a deep personal need. Or maybe you are looking for an explanation of the meaning of life. Or just getting filled up again for the week ahead.
It is now thought that the star of Bethlehem might have been something that was uniquely attractive to astrologers. It could have been a coming together of the planets Venus and Jupiter and the star Regulus, between September of 3BC and June of 2BC. This would have been far less spectacular than a passing comet or exploding supernova. It would have been something very subtle, something only astrologers would notice. For those who didn’t observe the sky so closely, it probably would have had no meaning at all.
What made this cosmic display significant is that it would have come at the right time, coinciding with the birth of Jesus. It would also have coincided with a point in history when stars were important for making great decisions, such as taking long and difficult journeys. And it would have coincided with certain men, or women, who had an interest in observing the movement of stars.
So there were many coincidences, and just the right timing. It was as if someone had written the score of a great musical composition, from before the universe began. And it was slowly being performed.
In English we have one word for time, and that word is ... time. In the Greek of the New Testament, there are two words for time. One of these words is ‘kronos’, which means the time of day. We get our word ‘chronological’ from kronos. Chronological time is the time on our watches and clocks. Our worship starts every Sunday at 10, chronological time. As we get older, it is chronological time that is passing.
The other Greek word for time is kairos, which means the right time, the favourable time, the perfect time. The magi looked at the stars and saw it was the right time, a significant time, in the history of the world. As a consequence they made a leap of faith of two kinds. Their first leap of faith was their decision to make a great journey, which would have been long and difficult for them.
Their other great leap of faith was to be open to what they might find at the end of their long journey. When they set out they only knew it would be a significant birth. What they found was that a king had been born, but not just any king. The child was king of kings. He was the light, as St John says, that was coming into the world. And they knelt down in worship. Their discovery was the greatest of blessings for them.
I think that most of us will at some point in our lives say that we don’t have enough time to do what we want to do. What we are saying is that we don’t have enough chronological time, we don’t have enough of the kind of time that is passing, moment by moment. Have you ever wished that there were 8 days in a week? Lord, give me more time. But that is probably not the kind of time we really need more of in the coming year.
Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It says that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. So if God gave us an extra day each week, we would probably just fill it with more things to do, and so run out of time again.
Do we want more chronological time in the days and weeks of the coming year, just so we can work longer? Probably not. What we really need more of is the right time, more of the favourable time, more of those moments of inspiration such as the magi had. What we really need more of is time to respond to those hints of the eternal that God has, in his pleasure, designed for us to notice. Just as the magi happened to notice the unusual coming together of the stars.
For the magi it was the right time in the year 3 or 2 BC to notice the stars; for us in 2018, who knows? It may be for us the right time to notice eternity in moments of silence, such as in our Sunday Eucharist or in our times of private prayer. There may be right times to receive a new filling of the Holy Spirit. There may be the right time to notice the hand or footprint of Jesus in things around us and in us. We may be awakened to new possibilities. We might even take a journey of pilgrimage to increased faith like the magi, to worship the Son of God.
What would increased faith mean for you in the coming year? What would it enable you to do? What dream do you have for yourself in this year 2018? When you arrive at the end of this year, and look back, what would you like to notice about yourself? What do you need to get there? What would increased faith mean for you?
As I close this morning I would like us to have a time of silent prayer: ask God what he wants to give to you in 2018, and what you will need to get there.