Sunday, January 06, 2013

Epiphany 2013 - Finding that which was lost.

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the feast of the Epiphany and after an adult Baptism.

Where has it got to, this time? You had it a minute ago and you’d just put it down while you went to collect something else, and it’s gone! Where do you look?

Well, you try retracing your steps but that doesn’t work. You check various containers and jars and boxes that you’ve got round the house.  Finally, with great dread and trepidation, you realise that there’s only one thing for it. You have to look down the back of the sofa - such uncharted territory!

The back of the sofa is one of those places where things just go. Change, keys, and safety pins seem to be the most common items, though one might speculate that the lost tribes of Israel could be found there too!


 Looking for things is a common experience to us all and it generates within us a great sense of unease and distraction as we wrack our brains. We cannot get settled until it’s all been sorted out; our hearts will only become eased again when it has been found with imaginary trumpets and a sense of relief and elation.

But what if we don’t really know what we’re looking for?


Wise men from the East – probably Persian Astrologers – are searching for something that they don’t really know. They follow a star in the East to find a baby, the king of the Jews who is worthy of worship. They can only be looking for God Himself.

 Does that sound a little odd to you? Magi from a far distant land East of Israel travelling westward following a star in the East? Are they walking backwards? You can’t really find anything by walking backwards, can you? But then, you might retrace your steps to find something! Of course, the text means that it was while they were in the East that the Magi discovered the star.

Scholars believe that the star of Bethlehem was more of an astrological event than astronomical. After all, the relative positions of the stars and planets matter more to an astrologer than an astronomer. Rather, they have seen in their charts and almanacs an event in the stars that signifies the birth of this new king who must be worshipped.  The Heavens are telling the Glory of God, the wonder of His work displays the firmament.

This is what they are looking for, even if they don’t know what they might find. They have to journey across rough terrain and dangerous country with precious gifts, ever at risk from bandits and robbers. This is not a search down the back of the sofa; this search is based on a reality which is not yet fully formed in their understanding. Yet this has been placed in the hearts of these men by God Himself, and they know that they will be uneasy until they do find this child. After all, this child is not only the king of the Jews, He is worthy to be worshipped!

And yet, they find him in the manger in a little stable, not in a great palace.


The experience of the Magi is common to us all. Human beings have within themselves a desire to know, a capacity to seek and find out. This research leads us into the solving of many problems, a cure for HIV, a perfect house, an act in law that saves a case. Until that research is complete, we cannot rest or relax. We have to deal with a sense of unease in our hearts until that search has come to an end. We have to endure frustration because we don’t get all the answers we want at once.

All Christians go through this journey of seeking, not necessarily by going anywhere. St John the Baptist is looking for his Christ by doing what he believes his Christ wants him to do – to baptise people. St John puts himself in God's way. His search takes a major turn when He finally meets the Lord at His Baptism in the Jordan, but that’s for next week! It is important to realise that, although St John meets Jesus and recognises Him, His search is not complete even then for this is God revealed as Man. St John must wait for this Man to be revealed as God. For St John, this does not take place in his lifetime, but rather after his death.


Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.
The Christian life is one long search for God. It is a journey to a place that we’ve only heard of based on the words of people now far away in the distance, people whom we only vaguely know. But we know them nonetheless, and their testimony is true. It is a journey to find God, One whom we seem to recognise in a deep memory , almost a dream but cannot pin down. Yet God is always with us! It’s a search that we can refuse to make, or can put down at any time, or try to drown the sounds of our unfulfilled restlessness with the trappings of superficial amusements.

To come to Baptism as an adult is a conscious decision to engage with one’s personal search for God. Baptism puts us in God's way where we might get closer to finding our heart’s desire in the Love of God and to be part of a community of others who have also entered on this search. Together we can draw each other’s attention to glimpses of the Divine in our world and share experiences of His presence. By becoming a member of the Church, we commit ourselves to finding the One Who Made us – a search that will eventually succeed with great joy.

Sometimes though, we find what we are looking for has been with us all along, tucked away somewhere safe. Might this be true for you?

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