Follow the light


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We kept the feast of the Epiphany this Sunday. The feast actually falls on Wednesday 6th, but we pre-empted it as we are allowed to do in the Church of England. Here’s what I said this week.

Matthew 2.1-12

With all the newspapers filling their pages with news of the Pandemic and Brexit, you wouldn’t think there would be room for anything else.

There it was in the Telegraph headlined: Epiphany 2021 – When should I take the Christmas Tree down?  It was in the Express, the Metro, the ‘i’, even Good Housekeeping! And the Daily Mail’s Australia edition even went with A furious debate has erupted over when to pack away Christmas decorations

So two questions which the press think particularly important this year!

When is Twelfth Night?

And when do you take you decorations down?

Who has taken them down? (One or two hands went up at this point).

Well, we still have them up in the vicarage! And in fact if you follow tradition you’ll keep them up for twelfth night! And then take them down the following morning. Who can tell me when Twelfth Night is? (Guesses ensued of either the 6th or the 5th).

There is some confusion over whether Twelfth Night is the 5th or the 6th. In fact, the keeping of twelve days of Christmas goes right back to the year 567 when a Church Council, a meeting of all the bishops of the Church, met in Tours in France, and decreed that Christmas should be celebrated for twelve days beginning on Christmas Day itself. So counting Christmas Day as day one, day twelve is on the 5th

And the twelfth day would end with celebrations in the evening – twelfth night. And then the following morning, on the feast of Epiphany, all the decorations come down.

Except for the crib of course – which stays up until the feast of Candelmas on the 2nd February. As can the Christmas tree, if yours will last that long! But usually everything else comes down after Twlefth Night, and on the feast of Epiphany the wise men are placed in the crib – or they can be placed there on Twelfth Night itself, ready for the celebration of Epiphany the next morning.

Well – people are sometimes surprised to come to church when they think Christmas is over and find us with the crib scene still up. Jesus will still there all the way up until Candlemas, lying in the manger surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the ox and the ass.  And on Wednesday the shepherds will have gone back to their fields. Or as we say in the church, to the pew at the back!

And the gospel reading for Epiphany, which we also hear today, is about the wise men going on a long journey, guided by a star, and coming to worship Jesus. They’re nearly there, almost – but not quite – at the end of their journey. There they are behind me, carrying their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – and they’ll reach their destination four days time!

And we hear how the wise men have undertaken a long journey. And it’s not a straightforward one either. They start off not really knowing where they are going but follow the light of the star to see where it takes them. On the way they get lost and end up in Jerusalem rather than in Bethlehem. Only after seeing Herod do they then head off for the correct destination. And then – having paid homage to the king they have been seeking they head off, but only after having had to change their plans and take a different route for their journey home.

And our journey through life is much like that. It’s not straightforward. Sometimes we have a rough idea of where we think we’re going but – like the wise men – we get lost. And sometimes – through no fault of our own – we have to change our plans. Our journey through life is not straightforward. And often we can’t see the way ahead clearly. Don’t we all know that only too well at the moment!

But the wise men had a guide, just as we do. The wise men didn’t simply get out a map and find their own way. They were guided by the light of a star. They observed its rising, realised its significance, and set off to follow where it led them. They don’t seem to have seen it all the time, but it was always there. But in the end it led them to where Jesus was. A light in the heavens guided them to the Light of the world.

‘Light’ is a word we use a great deal at this time of year. All through Advent we think of light shining in the darkness and showing us the way to go. We celebrate Christmas with lights. The Christmas seasons ends at Candelmas – yet more lights! And we think of the light of the star that guided the wise men. It is the light of Jesus that guides us along the journey of life – without that light we get lost, but with that light we can come to our journey’s end – which, like the wise men, is Jesus, except for us it’s not a little child but a Saviour.

For the wise men journey’s end was not a stable, but a family home. Jesus is no longer in the stable. And I know that we’ve got the wise men visiting Jesus in the stable in our Christmas crib, but you can blame Saint Francis of Assisi for that! Matthew tells us that they entered the house where Jesus was. This is a family home, and Jesus is no longer a new-born baby. It’s a family home that is at the centre of this story. And just as the wise men visited Jesus in his home, so Jesus himself now comes and visits us in our homes.  

And when we take down all the Christmas decorations after Twelfth Night, the feast of Epiphany serves to remind us that as the wise men followed the light of a star to find Jesus, we can follow the light who is Jesus as we go forward into the coming year.

Let us pray

Lord of our journeys,
help us this day to have
eyes to see your leading,
ears to hear your guidance,
and a heart of courage,
that we may journey faithfully and find your way – 
even when the path may seem difficult and dark,
Amen.

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