Here is a copy of an Epiphany Sermon I gave last year after a talk on the Journey of the Magi, by TS Eliot. It works equally well without the poem, and a little tweaking. Alternatively, you could just recite the first and last verses before you start.
The Journey of the Magi, by TS Eliot.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.
:A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way forBirth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.
I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
The Magi were called to a place and a time and to a person who they did not know. The Jewish messiah, the King of Kings, shunned by his people, was welcomed into his inheritance by three men who came from other lands, who had other gods, foreigners who were called to witness and end and a beginning. I wonder how we would welcome three immigrant Kings?
We are here today as well, to witness an end and a beginning. This season is over, the wise men are in the manger, the tree is down, all the turkey and ham is finished and the anadin packets empty. The church now begins narrating for us, as she does each year, the events of the life of the new born saviour in great speed, until we come to what seems an untimely death in April. It is fast and unrelenting. We move speedily towards another year.
After the journey the Magi had and the meeting with the holy family……what must Mary have felt? It’s all coming true, I’m not deluded! Help, then, God, for I have much to be fearful of. After that journey, they went back to their own places and kingdoms, looking forward to another death. Why is this? They went from their comfort zone, left their palaces and the things which surrounded them and made them feel valued and found that there was a true king, a better God, and they had seen him.
None of us like to have our comfort zone invaded. None of us look forward to change. But like the Magi, we are a pilgrim people. And as we travel, we learn about God and ourselves. We learn that god calls us to walk in his light, to follow the Morningstar wherever it may lead us. It should and DOES call us to witness in the darkest place we know and it SHOULD and DOES call us where we do not want to go. It leads us to death and to everlasting life, and it is so precious and vital for the light of the world that we must follow it wherever it goes.
What will we learn on the journey? What will we see in our reticence or our eagerness to follow? What will we see in our ability to adapt and change, to take the message ever forward but not to water down the message? Are we worthy bearers? Will our feet be lovely as the messenger who bears good news? Will we bring peace and the good news of salvation to a broken world? If we do not, what will happen to us? Slaves who were given talents…….
On our journey, a hard time we will have of it, and there will be, as for the Magi, towns which are not welcoming and places where we do not feel at home, but we bring the news of salvation. It is a message that people still yearn for and die for all over the world now. We are too comfortable. What will we learn about this building and our community? What do we value the most? If these walls fall and we live to tell will it be the heating bills and the arguments and the bad feeling that we remember? And what will other people live to tell of us? Will it be that we were that people of God, a missionary people who loved God and our neighbour visibly and clearly?
Are we still at ease here, in the old dispensation? Clutching onto our ways? Or are we open to the word of God? Do all our corporate actions show his wisdom and love? Will we walk towards the Morningstar with our community around us; inspired by the love we have been given? The wise men looked for another end, another death, because they yearned for the death of Christ for it would bring life to the world. We have seen the whole story and are just setting off on it again. Let us be a pilgrim church this cycle, to live with the story, to see the mighty works of God as they are told and to ask ‘what would I do?’. ‘Where do we, here at St Mary’s fit into that’?
We cannot allow the faith to be an alien people clutching at our god. We cannot allow the faith to be lost, but we must walk with it. Show it. As I was saying on Sunday, as soon as it becomes too easy, when we stop yearning, then we become caretakers of the faith, which must never happen here, for it is that which closes down churches. We must not be caretakers, for that which we love is not dead, it is not a building, it is the love of God. This year, as we follow the life of our risen lord and saviour towards Easter once more, and we see ourselves in that story, well, if you find yourself in the wrong story, or if you question the goodness of what you are doing, or where you are, ask ‘is it possible to show myself as a pilgrim child of god here? Is this the path of Christ? Would I be happy to bring Our Blessed Lady here? Am I worthy of the news I bear?
Look for help in God. Ask Our Lady for guidance, trust in the word of God, be succoured here by prayer and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Follow the Morningstar. And if you don’t see it’s light, then maybe we need to move another way. The life of the world may just depend on it.