St Barbara’s Church 3.1.2016
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Journeys are a common theme at this time of year.
It may be the journeys that we made to see family or friends over the Christmas season.
It may be those hard journeys to work or to the shops in the ice and cold.
Or it may be the journeys of a different kind. New Year is often a time that prompts us to reflect on the year that has just gone, and the year that lies ahead, to ponder where we will be this time next year. Our lives are on a journey. For some of us, the road may feel quite smooth, the tarmac new and pristine, the road signs clear and encouraging. For others, the road may feel it has been bumpy for some time, or we are still recovering from the huge pothole we hit a mile back down the road. The journey feels less clear, less inviting.
So it seems appropriate as we begin a new year to think again about those travellers from the east, the magi, and to ask how their journey may speak to our journeys too.
We don’t know much about these magi. There is nothing to suggest they were kings. They were astrologers/ astronomers (the two tended to go together in those days), who had the time and the resources to plot the constellations of the stars and to be able to up sticks and follow a new star in the sky. We don’t know how many they were. Tradition assumes three, because three presents are later mentioned, but truth is, we don’t really know.
But as was common in the day, these magi clearly believed that great events on earth would be reflected in the heavens, and the new star, quite possibly the conjunction of Jupiter (thought of as the royal or kingly planet) with Saturn (often thought to represent the Jews) three times around that time, would have led them to believe something significant was happening in the land of Israel. Quite what, they had less idea of, but they knew it was worth pursuing.
Maybe for some of us today we can identify with those magi. A new future is opening up. We don’t know quite where it might end up, but we can begin to start taking some tentative steps. It may be in the area of work, or friendships, it may be in the area of where we live, or how we care for others. But as with the magi, the key is to keep one’s focus on the star, on God’s guiding light.
And it may be true for us too in terms of our spiritual lives, our journey with God. Maybe you have caught a glimpse of a place of deeper communion with God than you have experienced up to now. Maybe you have begun to pray more, or to pray with others for the first time. Maybe you have begun to read the Bible by yourself, or begun to talk to others more about your faith. You’ve caught a glimpse of the next stage on the journey ahead. At the beginning of this new year, will you follow God’s leading?
But the journey for the magi is not a straight-forward one. There are wrong turnings and mistaken routes. The sat-nav on their camels was undoubtedly recalibrated on several occasions: “recalculating route”. And one senses they took their eye off the star completely when they arrived at Herod’s palace. After all, it was the obvious place to come. If something important was about to happen in Israel, if a new king was about to be born, then surely the king’s palace was the place to come. Who needs celestial navigation to work that out?
But the travellers from the East are to discover that the obvious, natural assumptions do not always apply in the upside-down world of God’s kingdom. Herod, the source of political and military power in the country, is the obvious place to look from a worldly perspective, but the last place from a heavenly perspective. It may be the obvious place, but it is not the right place.
At the beginning of a new year, I wonder if there are any aspects of our lives where we feel like that: “this is the obvious place for me to be, but it is not the right place… this is the comfortable place, the expected place to be, but it is not the place that following God’s leading would lead me to.”
Have we looked up to the heavens, have we sought God’s guiding light for our direction of travel, or have we ended up where we are because it seemed to be the obvious place to be?
The great encouragement for our Eastern travellers, and for us, is that a wrong turning does not forfeit the journey. In our Pilgrim Course one of the people interviewed on the video uses a lovely analogy using the sat-nav. The Holy Spirit acts as our sat-nav in life, guiding us, directing us. Occasionally we will perceive him calling us: “where possible, make an authorised u-turn”. After a while, if we continue to ignore the instructions, the Holy Spirit, like our sat-nav, will acknowledge that where we are at is not where we were meant to be but he will recalculate our route, he will still find another way to get us home.
There can be times when we feel that we have got things so wrong it is impossible for God to get us back on track. Well, our magi couldn’t have got it more wrong – going to the very person who posed the greatest threat to the new king and telling him all about it was far from ideal – and yet God still finds them a way. He finds us a way too. Trust in him and he will recalculate our route.
So the magi finally arrive at the crib and bow down and worship the child Jesus. They worship in reverence on bended knee, and through the giving of gifts. It is an extraordinary culmination of a long journey.
This is our journey’s destination too. At the end of our life’s journey, we will fall down in worship before the Son of God, now enthroned in heaven, and we will give him our all. But worship should be the destination of all our shorter journeys too. Asking ourselves the question – how will this new year, how will this job, how will this period of retirement, lead me to worship God afresh? Worship of Christ is where all our journeys should lead.
May this new year, this year of 2016, be a year where we follow God’s leading and come to worship him.