Today is the day before Epiphany. The day before the church calendar celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men visiting Jesus. Some days before a big day are marked – like New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. But some days aren’t. The day just happens.
I wonder how those Wise Men felt on the night before they found this king they’d seen predicted in the stars. I’m thinking that on Epiphany Eve they were feeling a bit confused. They made their way to Herod’s palace and got a cryptic message from him as he tried to cover up for the fact that he didn’t know a king had been born in his province. I’m sure they were pondering their encounter with this man and his words. Herod, even though portrayed in church tradition, as a tyrant, was actually a great leader. He build extensively, not just palaces for himself, but aqueducts, theatres and public buildings, and generally raised the prosperity of the land. I think the Wise men would have been perplexed that this leader, who was well connected through the known world, did not know of this king that they had seen predicted in the stars that would change the course of history.
Not much is known about the backstory of the Wise men. No one knows for sure where they came from or what status they held in their own land. We don’t even know how many of them there were or how big a retinue they came with. All they get is a handful of verses in gospel of Matthew and one day in Anglican and Catholic church traditions to look into them.
Our church has a tradition associated with Epiphany where letters are chalked on the church door. Last year they read – 20+C+M+B+20. The initials C, M, B are for the traditional names of the Three Kings. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, but also in Greek translation can stand for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” which means “May Christ bless this dwelling.” But it is a bit like a code. Until you are in with the “in crowd” you haven’t got a clue what those letters mean. But I think this is so relevant for the coming of the Wise men.
The Wise men weren’t part of the in crowd, either in the land of Palestine or within the Jewish tradition. They were as much outsiders as the shepherds. The shepherds were despised within their community but at least they knew how the community worked, whereas the Wise men, because of their wealth would have been viewed with respect and would have been honoured, but they were on the outside of something they did not understand. The person they had expected to support and lead them, Herod, had let them down and had sent them on their way with a vague description of where to go and what to expect, but had left them to it. They were camped at the end of a small nondescript town where Herod had sent them. I wonder how they felt?
So today, on Epiphany Eve, imaging being in your expensive Bedouin tent [imagine your equivalent of]. You’re with your friends but you’re not sure where you are going. You’re not at the place you expected to be. You also know it is one of those places where everyone knows everyone. You can tell that from looking at it. But the sign that brought you here, this big star, is still telling you this is the way walk in it. Personalise it and think about how many times you’ve stood on the edge of something you don’t quite know what it was but you know you have to keep pressing forward.
We are just five days into 2021 with the US about to enter a new presidency, the UK being out of Europe with the deal we have to now make work, with the vaccine being given to more and more people and things lifting but lockdowns continuing, not knowing what the world economy will look like and the East saying they’re doing alright. For many, there are exams and schooling to ponder how it will work out, babies being born, weddings happening, futures out there waiting to happen, but still there is waiting and not knowing, but we all have to walk forward.
As we didn’t know this time last year what this Covid virus would really mean to the world so the Wise men did not really know what awaited them in Bethlehem. But they followed, and they waited, and they arrived, and they gave their gifts, even though that must have seemed weird. But just for today they waited on the outskirts and pondered the journey they had been on and what their destination would look like. So at times, we also stand on the edge and wait and ponder but we must place our hand in God’s and keep on keeping on.
This poem seems more appropriate this year than it has for a long time:
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”
By Minnie Louise Haskins
So let us walk into the unknown, find God’s hand and walk gladly no matter what comes this year.