‘Journeys’ was preached by Ralph Mallinson at St John with St Mark on Sunday 6th January. It’s based on Matthew, chapter 2.
‘A cold coming we had of it’ – so wrote T S Eliot in his poem, Journey of the Magi (1927) – and later, ‘A hard time we had of it’. There’s no evidence in the Bible for this. But it seems not unlikely on such a journey, in days before expensive air-conditioned cars, motorways across the desert, and satellite navigation systems. It’s probably why they arrived a bit late at Bethlehem.
Later, certainly, than the shepherds, who, if St. Luke is to be believed, arrived the same night as the baby was born to offer their gifts. I’m not aware that T S Eliot wrote about the shepherds. Though he did write about Simeon and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth.
Flight of fancy?
Is it fanciful to see in these two journeys – the long, hard one of the Magi and the short, probably fairly easy one of the shepherds, who, one might suppose didn’t have a hard time, a long way to travel or a cold coming of it – pictures of two ways in which men and women come to Jesus today and offer themselves to him and continue in faith throughout their lives?
Some people, like the shepherds, have a short and easy journey. They encounter few or no problems on the way – and stay that way as they journey through life. These people have never known a time when they did not believe and haven’t ever had difficulties about belief in God. They have never wondered if it’s all a huge mistake and they’re wasting their time. They have never explored other answers to the many question life and death present.
Others have a journey more like that of the Magi – people for whom faith in God comes hard and often makes little or no sense. Their belief in God and the invitation to follow the Christian way of life is a struggle. The temptation to give up is great and it’s often only by an effort of the will that some people are able to hang on to faith, if only by their fingertips.
And for many the journey to faith, and the ongoing journey in faith, is a little bit of both. Sometimes it’s relatively easy and straightforward, like the shepherds’. Sometimes it’s hard and problematic, depending on the vicissitudes of life, like the Magi’s.
Lay down your burdens
But all people, when they do get to Bethlehem, perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the nth time, and know in their heart of hearts who it is who has called them and who it is they have come to worship, will bow down before him and proclaim his glory. They will lay before him their burdens of care, will offer their love and devotion, the adoration of their hearts.
And having come and worshipped, like the shepherds and the Magi, and like them offered to the Lord themselves, their souls and bodies, will, like the shepherds and the Magi before them, return home rejoicing, invigorated and renewed for the journey ahead.
Our journey with God
In the words of our Bishop in the January issue of the CRUX magazine, I’d like to challenge us at this Epiphany-tide, and the start of a New Year, to take the story of the Magi as a metaphor for our own journey with God. We may feel that we have arrived with our faith exactly where we planned it to be. But I suspect that, for the vast majority of us, God has some further steps he would urge us to take.
Like the Magi, what can we do more of than we ever anticipated? It might be the time we give to God in prayer or worship. It might be to get more involved in the practical care that our parish offers to those in deep need. Perhaps it might be to dig deeper into our pockets and purses, to increase our giving?
But whatever it is, let’s take inspiration from those wise men of old, and go the extra mile during this new year which has just begun. Amen