Sunday Sermon - Sunday 2nd January

Sermon for Feast of the Epiphany

The Knees of my Heart

Isaiah 60.1-6, Ephesians 3.1-12, Matthew 2.1-12

Today marks the beginning of the lovely season of Epiphany. The word means a showing or a revelation, and over the next few weeks our Gospel readings introduce us to people who encountered Jesus in his childhood and at the beginning of his public ministry, and who were among the first witnesses to the glory of God revealed in Christ. So, we meet Simeon and Anna in the Temple, who saw in the baby Jesus the fulfilment of their long lifetime's hopes and dreams. We meet John, suddenly overwhelmed by a new understanding as he baptises his cousin in the Jordan river. We meet the first disciples who walk away from their lives and livelihoods to follow him. We meet the stewards at a wedding feast who, at a word from Jesus, pour water into jars and draw out the best wine. And, first and most famously, today we meet the mysterious wise men from the East who followed a star to Bethlehem.

So firmly fixed in our minds is the image of three kings from Persian lands afar, that we need reminding that the Bible doesn't tell us how many there were, nor where in the East they came from, and there is no suggestion that they were kings. It seems much more probable that they were scholars, astrologers at a time when astrology was a respectable branch of scientific enquiry, a means of interrogating and understanding the natural world. We can imagine them sitting up late pondering over their charts and calculations, waiting for the star to appear, and then setting off on their journey fired with intellectual excitement.

But reason only carried them part of the way. It brought them to the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem, which was the logical place to find a new prince – but he wasn't there. To go further they needed the help of a different kind of scholarship– the wisdom of the priests and scribes, who were steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and who could tell them that the prophet Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea.

Yet even this guidance could only take the wise men to the door of a simple home in a small provincial town. What carried them over the threshold was something quite different. Matthew tells us simply, 'They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage.

There's a beautiful 16th century carol in old Scots dialect called 'Balulalow' which includes the line 'The knees of my heart shall I bow'. That seems to me a perfect description of what happened to the wise men. In the joy and wonder that overwhelmed them, they forgot their status and their pride and their intellectual pretensions and knelt just as the shepherds had done before them.

This is how we too are invited to respond to what Paul calls 'the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.' We can't see into that mystery with the eyes of reason, or even just by studying the Scriptures. We need to let ourselves see and be seen by Jesus, who gazes at us with the infinite love and compassion and mercy of God, and bow the knees of our heart before him. As another lovely carol puts it:

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part.

But what I can I give him – give my heart.