Epiphany: Inquiring Hearts

Epiphany Sunday,  January 3, 2016

Matthew 2:1-12

So here we are again at the beginning of a new year.  2016 – such a cypher, such a mystery.  What will this year bring?  What do we hope to find?

There are the hopes for self-improvement – New Year’s resolutions.  Of course, we know what generally becomes of those.  Apparently (I read this week) that some gyms, at least in the city, bring in a bunch of new equipment at the beginning of January.  They bring them in on a short-term lease, knowing that by the end of the third week or so they will be able to return most of it.  I’m reminded of the line I read the other day: “I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I didn’t become a better person.”

New Year’s is also a time to reflect on the changes that await us in the coming year: some we can foresee, others we don’t yet know anything about. New starts – for some a move, perhaps; a new child or grandchild; a new job, or retirement; a child or grandchild moving off to school, getting married. And so we wish for a year of good changes.

Perhaps it is our health we think about, as we reflect on the coming year.  That’s a big one in our house this year. The hope that in 2016 we will be turning over a new leaf, that things will improve – which is a bit foolish and superstitious, I know. Perhaps it is concern and worry about our health that is foremost in our minds, the realisation that, while there are some things we can do to improve our chances, so much is out of control.  And so we pray for good health, yet we know also that we may have to face some hard disappointments as well.

I have always thought it wonderful that we begin January each year in the church with the tale of the Magi, the wise men from the east who set out to find the newborn king. I love their courage, their curiosity, their imagination, that leads them to set out on this quest into the unknown.  They are the bible’s answer to the knights of the Round Table, setting out on a quest. They are following a star, which they believe will lead them to something important.  But what an uncertain sign that must have been. How many thousands saw the star and did not follow it. Like us, they do not know quite what they will find – and when they find it, it turns out to be completely different than what they expected.  They are hoping for something good, surely – and yet their path leads them to a chilling encounter with evil, in the person of Herod.  They are looking for something fine and spectacular, no doubt – they go first to the palace – and yet what they find turns their expectation on its head. They are looking for that special child, that king who is so blessed that they have come to pay homage.  They are looking for something to worship.  What they are really looking for, though they might not use the word, is God.

And that is the reason why this is such a good story for us to hear anew at the beginning of a new year.   What better model for us, what better goal for the coming year, than to look for God in our lives. It comes straight out of two fundamental convictions of the Christian faith.  The first is that we have been created to be in relationship with God.   We have been called into being by a God whose name is Trinity, whose nature is relationship itself. We exist because of God’s exuberant, generous love of the other, because it is not God’s nature to be alone, but to wish to relate to others in love. And so we have been shaped for love, for relationship with one another and with our creator.

Add to that the second fundamental conviction of our faith: that God has entered into this world, that he came in Jesus to share our flesh and blood, our hopes and sorrows, our daily human existence.  Since Jesus’s coming we no longer look for God in the heavens, in far off realms of speculation, but in this world.  The Magi’s star led them back down to earth, to the cattleshed of Bethlehem.  Since God entered our lives in Jesus, he has left his traces throughout our lives, and it is there that we will look for him.

That is our New Year’s perspective: that we will seek and find God at work in our lives in the coming year.  If you like to make resolutions, then how about this one: to keep our eyes open for God at work in every situation.  If  you are looking to the coming year in hope and excitement, then let us remember that each new opportunity is a gift of God.  And if you are looking to 2016 with anxiety and fear, with worry about poor health or other trials – then know too that God is there in the darkness too, that he has gone before us, that we will never be alone or abandoned.

There is of course another new beginning we are observing today.  In just a few minutes we will be baptising young Reid into the body of Christ.  For him, though he doesn’t know it, this is the beginning not just of a single year, but of his life as a Christian. Of course there is a lot one could say about that – but there is one prayer in particular in the baptismal liturgy that I have always loved, and that might have something to say to us all this morning.  Immediately after the baptism we will pray:

Give him an inquiring and discerning heart,
the courage to will and to persevere,
a spirit to know and to love you,
and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.

Well that indeed is the blessing I would wish him: an inquiring and discerning heart, the gift of joy and wonder.  I would wish for him, and for every child, that their life be more than simply getting by, more than simply a comfortable existence with three square meals and a television, more than simply being healthy, though we wish that too: that he may have something of that holy restlessness and curiosity of the Magi, that he may learn to seek meaning and joy in his life, that he may learn to perceive God in his daily life, and know himself loved and gifted and called to a great adventure in living.

And indeed, we could do worse, all of us, to make that our prayer for ourselves in this coming year: Give us inquiring and discerning hearts, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.  Let our hearts and minds be attuned to the Magi’s quest, to seek God’s presence and God’s blessing in our lives.  Let us come together here to celebrate God, and to cultivate in one another inquiring and discerning hearts; and let us go forth to face the opportunities and challenges of the year in joyful confidence that God will be there to bless for us both our joys and even our sorrows.