Canon Chancellor - The Reverend Canon Mandy Ford
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, a word which means “revelation” or “manifestation”. As we remember the arrival of the Magi at the stable, we celebrate just one of the moments when Jesus was revealed to be more than just an ordinary human being, a moment when something of his divine character was glimpsed
The Magi have been on a long journey, following their astrological charts, expecting something amazing at the end of the road.
Theologians and poets have reflected on the emotional turmoil that these Wise Men must have experienced when their assumptions were disrupted by the discovery that the extraordinary King they anticipated greeting was simply the child of a working class family, temporarily homed in a stable.
Making sense of this experience would be a lifetime’s work. Over the years, many stories have grown up about the Magi and their journey. There are folk tales from all over Europe about these men and the people they encountered along the way. One of my favourites concerns a fourth member of the party, who loses sight of the main caravan and travels for thirty years seeking the child whose birth was signaled by an unusual star.
Following the family, he travels to Egypt, then to Nazareth, around Galilee and to Jerusalem. The fourth wise man has a casket of jewels to present as his gift, but along the way he gives away the jewels to people in need.
Arriving in Jerusalem, he finds the city in turmoil, as an execution is taking place. Asking about the criminal who is attracting so much excitement, he is told that the man to be crucified is Jesus, the one they call
“The King of the Jews”.
The fourth wise man wonders if this is the King he has been seeking for the past thirty years. But before he can find him the whole earth shakes the sky turns black and a huge crash of thunder splits the sky. The houses shake and tiles fall from the roof tops.
The last of the Magi is injured in the earthquake and close to death. He realises that he will never meet the King who he had spent so much of his life seeking, and that he has no gifts left to give him, until he hears a quiet voice…
It is the voice of Jesus, welcoming him to heaven, and thanking him for the gifts he has given others on his journey through life, gifts that have healed the sick, set captives free, and brought freedom and joy to others.
The fourth wise man has found his King at last. But he has also been meeting him all his life. The story is a reminder that every life is a journey, a pilgrimage, on which we may meet Jesus unawares along the way, always grateful for the gifts we are willing to give:
whether it is the gift of our valued possessions,
or the most valuable gift of all,
the gift of ourselves.
The story is also a reminder that no revelation, no epiphany, is complete in and of itself. One moment of insight, one moment of glory, is a gift which we can allow to transform us, or a fleeting glimpse which may almost pass us by.
WH Auden, in his poem, Musee des Beaux Arts, comments on the way in which, in the paintings of Brueghel, the Dutch Renaissance artist, religious events often take place on the margins of the picture, while children carry on skating, or animals scratch around in the dirt. It is a reminder that, even on the day of Jesus’ birth, or the day of his crucifixion, people passed by who did not recognise the importance of the event, people did not see what they were seeing.
But for those who see, for those who are given the revelation, the epiphany, something will always change.
The there is a particularly magnificent painting of the Wedding at Cana in the Louvre by Veronese, which shows the feast taking place in the midst of a magnificent palace, full of sumptuously dressed guests, servants and entertainers. You have to look quite hard to find the wedding couple and even harder to find the steward tasting the water which has been miraculously turned to wine.
This incident, which the gospel writer John describes as the “first of the signs” took place before people really knew who Jesus was. For most of the wedding guests, he was simply Mary and Joseph’s unmarried boy, the carpenter. When the wine appeared, most would top up their wine cups and toast the happy couple, with no more thought than to notice that the wine was rather good. But for the few, for the couple, for the steward, for the host, there was a glimpse of something else, a moment of God’s generosity made real in the lives, and for some, it stuck.
For those folk, the journey did not end with a revelation,or an epiphany, but began with one. An epiphany which continued to glimmer through the fabric of life. An epiphany which brought joy in the dark times and hope in the struggles of life.
While the fourth wise man was sustained on his journey by the hope of seeing Jesus, the couple at Cana would hold on to what they had seen for the rest of their married life. The poet, Cathy Kofey, imagines them reminiscing as they looked back on their married life together.
The Cana Couple Reminisce
That was only the beginning:
Ached and awkward we were then,
Embarrassed enough without the wine incident,
Indebted to Mary's son for flow of joy.
Ever since it has been miracle:
Touching the shoreline of the other in our sleep,
Waking warm beneath our roof,
Hoeing the wheat shoots in our fields.
Even the threats brought blessing:
Brooding death intensified our life,
Illness taught nurture of cherished child,
The needy repaid us with Cana's own poor gold.
Our union was not singular; we fought
And sulked, sickened like the other folk.
But in every glass of common water,
We tasted hints of garnet-gold.