Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 8th January 2017, Epiphany Sunday

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 8th January 2017, Epiphany Sunday

I wonder if you have seen the recently released film “A United Kingdom.” It’s the story of Seretse Khama of Botswana who shocked the world when he married a white woman Ruth Williams from London, prior to returning home. There is a lovely line in the film when he and his fiancé look up at the stars in the London night sky and he is reminded of the star spangled clear night skies of his home country. Seretse is a prince, set to become a King, and he has much wisdom. The film is set just after the war, in a London full of racial prejudice. An “about to be king” looking up at the stars, about to set out for a journey to a far country. Sounds familiar?
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the visit to the stable by the wise men. In the Prayer Book, the Epiphany is called the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the inspirational story of foreign visitors to the stable.
What lessons can the journey of the wise men teach us about ourselves? It only appears in St. Matthew’s gospel yet occupies a leading position in nativity plays, in Christmas poetry (T.S. Elliot and William Blake amongst others) and hymns such as (“In the bleak midwinter”).
I suggest there are three.
1.     Persistence and looking upwards.
2.     Unity and Equality
3.     Joyful hearts.
I’d like to consider each of these briefly.
There is the persistence at two levels.
In God’s plan, which St. Paul refers to in today’s Epistle (the mystery now made known to humankind and the eternal purpose of God).
There is the persistence of the wise men in overcoming obstacles to complete their journey.
God’s plan and looking at stars reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:5): He said to Abraham, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
God’s message to Abraham is that Israel’s God is not just for Israel BUT is for all nations and all people.
St. Matthew, writing for a Jewish audience provides evidence in today’s Gospel that Jesus was the ruler the Messiah foretold by the prophets.
The adoration of the Magi foretells that the Messiah is not just for Israel but for all nations. The wise men are among the first fruits of this reality, the realisation of God’s plan, which would soon be understood and grasped so effectively by St. Paul.
The wise men were persistent in their search. We do not know the details of their journey but they did not give up and the going would have been tough, travelling just at the worse time of year.
How different the world of the Magi to our lives today –Not just benefits of SAT NAV, no need to ask Herod for directions. And what lessons the Magi provide.
We live in a world of instant gratification, where we can buy things at a click of a mouse, for delivery tomorrow by Amazon Prime, where social media sites allow users to project a filtered life where everything is amazing, where people aspire to make an impact and be in control, but all too often are not prepared for hard graft and the need to persist.
The Magi reminds of the virtue of persistence and also the rewards gained from persistence. By persisting they came to the place where star stopped and “they were overwhelmed with joy.”
Another lesson from the Magi is that they looked up – at the night sky. Today we spend too much time looking down (at our handheld devices) when in the company of others. That is not valuing that company. It is not loving our neighbour.
So the first lesson of the Magi is persistence and looking upwards.
The second lesson is unity and equality.
The world Jesus was born into was one of division, of Jews and Gentiles, of the colonisers and the colonised, of slaves and masters.
The Magi were persons of high status (their gifts are evidence of this) used to receiving deference yet they found themselves on their knees paying homage.
The adoration of the Magi signposts the famous Pauline verse addressed to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
This Galatian message brings me back to the London of Seretse Kharma, and the racism that he encountered as did the West Indian community here in the years following the war, not least in streets close to this very church. We must these words of St. Paul and the example of the Magi, who looked beyond their immediate hinterland close to our hearts, it we are to truly love our neighbours.
Like the Magi, who did not return to Herod, we must also be protective and alert to the gift of God,
Lesson two, the Magi were symbols of unity and equality in an era of division.
Lesson 3. In the presence of the Christ child they were overwhelmed with joy.
“When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. And entered the house.”
What they found was the wonder of the incarnation. The creator becoming created. The infinite God becoming a finite human person.
They offered gifts and opened up their hearts to the incarnate God and in doing so were overwhelmed with joy.

In this country where we can worship in freedom and without fear, it should be the Church’s hope that when we come together, when we enter this house, we too are overwhelmed with joy,
that this community of faith gathered around God’s holy table is a joyful community.
We are deeply blessed to have received the gift of faith, to have opened our hearts to Christ and it is my hope that more and more people will come to learn that this gift has the power to overwhelm with joy.

Three kings

Three lessons:
Persistence and looking upwards
Unity and equality
Overwhelming joy

Close with a short prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, may we be persistent in our faith, overwhelmed with joy as we worship you.
May our hearts be open and giving, so that we too maybe instruments of equality and unity.

Holland Park Benefice