An Epiphany Card explaining the blessing can be downloaded HERE.
'When [the wise men] had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. ’ Matthew 2:9-11
Brothers and sisters, at a time when we are being told to stay at home, and not to make unnecessary journeys, we focus on a journey. A journey that was clearly essential. No ordinary journey but the journey of the Magi. Or the Wise Men. What does this journey say to those of us who have been told to stay at home?
Well before exploring that, I want to say a word about our homes and the custom of blessing them at Epiphany. It is an ancient custom for Christians, in the season of Epiphany, to write beside the front door of their home the traditional names of the Three Wise Men. This shows our willingness to offer hospitality and shelter to those who, like the Magi on their journey to Bethlehem, love and seek our Lord Jesus Christ. The initials CMB (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) also stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat - May Christ bless this house. This is the prayer used, as the doors are marked: 20 C + M + B 21. The Three Wise Men, (C) Caspar, (M) Melchior, (B) and Balthasar, followed the star of God’s Son who became human (20) two thousand (21) and twenty-one years ago. (+) May Christ bless our home (+) and remain with us through this new year.
Perhaps the command to stay at home may help us appreciate our homes in a new way this Epiphany, particularly if we see the place that we are called to “stay in” as blessed by God. The magi are on a journey of faith, for their knowledge is limited. Unsure of their destination, they travel under strange starlight to the court at Jerusalem, the Judaean capital and the most likely location of a Jewish king. There they meet Herod the Great, who is certainly a king. A long-standing ruler with a reputation for ruthless efficiency, it is he who started the ambitious project of rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple. But Herod loves power – having even killed his own sons to ensure he keeps it. He will go nowhere to bend the knee to another, and he now starts conspiring to crush this next potential threat to his crown. The Jewish religious leaders are also staying at home. They know their scriptures. They can quote Micah’s prophecy, given seven centuries before, foretelling the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem. Yet the magi’s arrival prompts no desire or curiosity to investigate this matter further, even though they are only a few miles from Bethlehem.
It is left to the magi, long-distance travellers, to take to the road again. The star leads them to find the infant Jesus in a humble village house, unexpectedly beyond the royal city. As Gentile astrologers, they also seem the least likely first worshippers of the one born king of the Jews. Their homage anticipates the full sovereignty of Jesus: his redeeming work will welcome those of all nations – whether Jew or Gentile – into his kingdom.
So what does this journey say to us who are prevented from making journeys at the moment? As Jesus’ disciples we are called to follow where He leads. This may mean stepping out in trust on a journey without knowing our exact destination – perhaps to take on a new ministry, let go of an old job, move to a new place or change our way of life. Perhaps God is calling us to a new way of being His church in the post-Covid season which we are yet to inhabit.
There can be many reasons why we would be spiritual stay-at-homes. Like Herod, we may like to stay in charge of our own lives. Like the Jewish religious leaders, we may not be attentive to God leading us in new ways, or we may lack a sense of urgency in responding to God’s call, preferring our home comforts. Or perhaps we just simply prefer to live in the past!
The magi teach us that in order to find Jesus we need to be open and willing to respond to the light we are shown, even if that means leaving behind what is familiar. We do not have to wait until we know everything before we set out on a new course. Jesus, the light of the world, will guide us, step by step, perhaps in surprising ways to a destination we could not have planned.
“Love,” as someone has said, “leads us into places where we would not otherwise go.”
Amen (from Fr. Neil, Rector of St Laurence’s, Chorley).