Creator of the heavens, who led the Magi by a star to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us, so that we may find our journey’s end in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Imagine all the people who looked up over 2000 years ago to see a new star in the night sky. “What is it?” they must have wondered. “What does it mean?” Yet of earth’s population, only a few astrologers discerned it was a sign from God, a portent that a king would be born of the Jewish people. And those wise, faithful ones, whom we call magi, left their homes in the East, and set out to follow the star. We don’t know that there were three of them; we only know that they brought three costly gifts. Gifts symbolic of what they foresaw this new birth would bring: a ruler of earthly and spiritual power whose sacrificial life and death would change the world.
We don’t know what motivated the magi to come all the way across the Middle East to a small town called Bethlehem in the Roman province of Judea. It would have been a long and difficult journey, with cultural and political obstacles and sacrifices along the way. We only know they were willing to do this radical thing because they had faith enough to seek the meaning of their vision of God’s light. All those on a pilgrim path can pattern their steps in a similar way to find the Epiphany.
The magi had the wisdom to 1) see the sign, 2) follow the path, 3) worship the revealed God, 4) offer up what they had, and 5) find another way onward. These five steps are also part of the interim process. Today, at the Feast of the Epiphany, let us consider how we at St. Martin’s may learn from their journey.
First of all, to see the sign is to recognize that there is a vision for this parish. The Anglican Journal, our national newspaper, came out this week. My heart sank when I saw the headline about declining numbers across the Canadian Church. But as I started reading the articles, I began to see a pattern of churches acknowledging the need for change in order to proclaim the gospel. In the darkness and the uncertainty, a light shines in. And those who look up will see God’s guiding star anew, lighting a path to the heart of what Christians believe.
Secondly, we need the courage to follow. Whether we are kings or shepherds, there is a personal call to come and see. The interim work is not for the priest or the wardens or the parish council: it is for the whole congregation. The sharing of stories, hope, and dreams helps us to signpost the road. Where have we come from? Where are the places we don’t want to get sidetracked, that are not life-giving? Where are the potholes that need to be mended? And what is the horizon we are aiming for? We’ll use a combination of small groups, community forums, and survey tools to discern the landscape and the route we will follow.
On this pilgrim journey, worship is central. When the wise men knelt before the Christ Child, they encountered God-with-us. As we gather in public services, we too are transformed by the presence of Jesus Christ. Word and sacrament are at the heart of who we are as people of God. During the interim time, our gathering together gives us the strength and purpose to take the next step. And it is the Holy Spirit moving among us keeps our decision-making holy. When we reach difficult points, and are not sure which fork of the road to take, it is by prayer that God will speak to our hearts and clarify the vision.
Fourthly, the wise men offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before God, and we are expected to do the same with all that we are and all that we have. It’s not solely our financial gifts that sustain this parish, although we are all invited to contribute as we can. It is the sacrificial gifts of our time and our talents. We come in humble service, week by week. During this interim, there will be particular tasks that will need your help. Every one of us, in our own way, can support this work: by your prayers, your reflections, and your presence in community events.
But lastly, the path of the magi led them on another way forward. We too are going to need to find a new way. It will not be the same road as before. But with God’s help to guide us, we are heading towards the kingdom. What is most important to the people of St. Martin’s will be retained. But we may discover different ways of achieving it in the work of the gospel.
So we are to look up and see the sign that calls us onward, and follow God’s call with prayer and humble service, so that we may find the new path. I am here to walk with you on the road. As your interim priest, I have responsibility for worship and sacraments, encouraging Christian formation, pastoral care, and the life and general business of the parish. In addition, I will help you set goals for the next two to three years and support first steps in renewal. You have the support of your regional archdeacon and your Archbishop, and the prayers of the whole Anglican diocese.
I have been a part of parishes that have come to different decisions as a result of an interim process. One decided to close its building and corporation and become part of another worshipping congregation to strengthen its numbers and mission. One found new mission living into a ministry of reconciliation and teaching, reaching out to the wider community and building relationships with First Nations partners. One discerned a calling to reach out to the elderly and lonely in the neighbourhood through its financial and building resources. None of them felt like they had abandoned what made them “church”. Rather, God’s light showed that faithful, small congregations can indeed experience an Epiphany.
Today we move into the time of transition, trusting in our adoption through baptism into God’s family. That child, whom the magi came to adore and worship, is our brother, our friend, and our true leader in this adventure. May Jesus lead us onward, as we follow His light. Amen.