The Revd Margaret Legg
I went to the Panto at Wilton’s Music Hall; behind former Royal Mint, a Victorian gem, proper old fashioned production, written and starring as the panto dame ROY HUDD. Isn’t he the ‘emu’ comedian? Mid 70’s at least.
What's the connection with Epiphany? - you say
Remember that hymn:
All things bright and beautiful!
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The lord God made them all!
He made all creatures great and small, not only the chosen race the Jews, but all people, even these Gentile strangers with their unusual gifts. The BCP ‘Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’ And at Epiphany we focus on Jesus as God of all creation and on the unexpected ways that God breaks into our daily routines, surprising and challenging us.
He made all things wise and wonderful. They were wise men, as we heard. They were wonderful too, in the sense of exotic, mysterious, unexpected (all we know for certain is that they came from the East, that they brought 3 kinds of gifts, and that they followed a star. The rest is all surmise). They are usually identified as priests of the cult of Zoroaster who were well versed in astronomy: the science of the stars.
Like religion, science is concerned with the search for truth. Although it would grieve Richard Dawkin’s heart to hear me say this, science and religion are friends! Science asks how things happen, what are the processes at work in the world? Religion asks what is going on in what’s happening? Religion raises issues of meaning and value.
Cosmology is all about the origin and structure of the universe.
Currently our laws of physics are not capable of describing the very first moments of the universe, and Stephen Hawking and others are hard at work to unify general relativity with quantum theory- no I don’t get it either, but it’s about understanding that first moment!
Does this mean Christianity is threatened? Only if we think of God as a designer who drew up a blueprint for creation that we can one day access, understand and master. On that day, God will be proved to exist but will also be reduced to no more than a kind of cosmic architect. But if we believe in a God whose nature is one of love and justice then this is a long way beyond such proofs and we are put firmly in our place! How can we, with our finite minds, functioning within a finite universe, ever know anything about an infinite God, a God with no beginning or end, who created a universe that has no beginning or end, no first cause or first moment. In Jesus, God decided to reveal truth and justice to our finite minds in a way that we would understand and at the Epiphany to teach us that God is a God for all creation, for all creatures, great and small, familiar and unfamiliar, expected and unexpected. In a world where unexpected and unimaginably awful disasters and horrors befall people, Jesus and his unexpected visitors give us a base line for our understanding of God and the assurance of the personal, of the love and of the justice that is God. Impersonal scientific theory is given a human face in the long and dedicated journey of the astronomers to worship the new king.
What would today’s wise men be like?
Our God is a God of surprises, a God of the unexpected.
Red hot scientific discoveries give us new insights into his power, majesty and mystery.
My new phone Samsung which can take apps. There is an app, apparently, which will keep us informed of new planets as they are discovered, new planets which are outside our solar system. It happens on a daily basis! Some of these are similar to earth, in that they are located in a habitable zone in relation to their central star. A multiverse not a Universe!
As extra-solar planets seem plentiful in a universe of 100 billion stars in each of 100 billion galaxies then it seems there really could be other life out there. Not necessarily intelligent life – it is a long way from an amoeba to an accountant – but would alien accountants or for that matter alien wise men be a difficulty for the Christian faith?
Be ready to encounter the unexpected so we are not caught wrong footed when it crops up.
Mary could have turned away the unexpected strangers, but she didn’t. What was the value of these amazing gifts? Was her little one really worth their worship and homage? The Wise men could have given up when they discovered King Herod was not their goal, but they didn’t. They wanted to find out the meaning of the star they had seen. Was their long journey (2 years?) worth it?
Who were they really worshipping, this king that was a toddler in such a poor family?
Epiphany reminds us to be ready for the unexpected to break into our lives and handle it. For better or for worse it will happen. It is a reminder of the unpredictability, power and majesty of God. It may even be years before the true significance dawns on us.
When it is for the worse, may it be an opportunity to accept from and indeed to offer to others: help, comfort and prayer for strength to continue.
When it is for the better, may it be an opportunity to rejoice, to share our happiness and to give thanks to God.
Above all, may we be ready when the unexpected enters our lives. Remember, the Lord God made them all!