Sermon preached for the Epiphany 2013

Here’s the sermon I preached for the Epiphany. My day was made when a member of the congregation came up to me at the end beaming. He introduced himself to me as a member of the Iranian Community of Glasgow and said: “We, we Iranians were the first to worship the Baby Jesus!”

And they brought unto Bethlehem gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I must say how pleased I am to be preaching this morning – the Epiphany is one of my favourite feast days. I suspect that you would find that many priests said the same. I find it oddly moving to preach on the Epiphany gospel. It is immediately apparent to me that we are in the realm of myth and magic. The Magi shimmer into view from the East and bring their curious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and there is no getting away from it. This is a strange story.

And the thing that moves me about Epiphany is that here in our worship today we use the gifts the Magi brought. Gold – both our symbolic colour of joy and celebration that befits the feast and also in wedding rings that we shall bless today in thanksgiving for one couple’s marriage. And frankincense and myrrh – both burning today in the thurible. The sweet smell of the incense conquering the tartness of burning myrrh and rising heavenward. Together they are a symbol not only of our collective prayer rising to heaven but also that the sweetness of God’s love always triumphs over bitterness in the end.

The use of incense in churches has long been rising though not nearly as fast as the use of incense in people’s homes.

This kind of thing has led to controversy in Scotland. Some people don’t like the smell of incense and there have been countless disputes between priest and people about its use. [Read more…]

BBC Prayer for the Day – Epiphany

Good morning.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany – the story of the strange visitors from the East arriving in Bethlehem to present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus and his probably rather startled parents.

There is so much we don’t know about these Eastern visitors. Though we might sing “We three kings of orient are” with great gusto, we don’t know if there were really three of them, the Bible doesn’t tell us they were kings but describes them rather mysteriously as Magi and it is hard to say with certainty precisely where they are supposed to have come from.

However, the story of those travellers tells us much that we can know with great certainly. Their story shows us that God is there for everyone, even people different from us. Spirituality seems to be something that human beings from different traditions have in common. Consciousness of God seems to disrupt and undermine any barriers and boundaries that religious people might put up. The visit of the Magi suggests that perhaps we need to learn about all that is holy from those whom we least expect to share common values and experiences with. God is amongst those who differ from us.

Gold for the holy refugee family on the run from Herod. Sumptuous incense to mark the birth of the most special child. Strange and bitter myrhh to keep us guessing what God has in store in the future.

Loving God, the Magi were guided by a star to where the infant Jesus lay. Guide us by the light of your love to walk pathways of peaceful discovery and make journeys beyond the boundaries of our expectations. Amen

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