Matthew 2: 1-12
Joshua and Sienna walked to the top of the hill toward Strathmore Station to watch the fireworks and to see the New Year come in. Ian and I stayed home to care for Walter. Dogs traditionally do not like fireworks and so he needs our attention. We did toast the New Year in with some bubbly. I wonder what family traditions you have in your family over Christmas and New Year. Today is Epiphany and the beginning of the New Year,
Epiphany is known as the 12th day of Christmas, Theophany or Three Kings Day. So today , we will finish our service with an old tradition of chalking the front door of the Church with a blessing. So, I will invite you to gather out the front of the Church and process out together. The chalking of the door tradition is a centuries old, one that is not well known in Australia but is worth reviving. You will see that I will write some numbers and letters. The numbers correspond to this year. So the numbers 20 at the front and the end will be easy enough to decipher. They stand for 2020. There are three Crosses which stand for Christ. The three letters , C, M, B in between the numbers are a bit harder to discern. They hold two distinct meanings. The first is the traditional names given to the Magi, Casper, Melchior and Belthasar , the second and more suitable is the Latin Blessing, Christus mansionem benedicat which translates, ‘May Christ bless this house’. The names of the Magi may not be the best application. First of all, scripture doesn’t tell us how many there were, secondly their identity as Magi or wise men, depending on the translation and finally, the names ascribed to them only appear in about the For us, it is a moment in time to bless this house, the place we come together to worship God. The tradition is known to be done either on New Year’s day or on Epiphany. Chalk is used because it is made of the earth and it will fade with time. Like many moments In our lives, we mark occasions with actions to remind us as time passes. Today, we are blessing this house to remind us of the blessing of God’s grace in our lives, that as we begin a new Year, we carry the memories of 2019 with us and welcome the gifts 2020 will bring. It is a moment for us to reflect on the past, to learn from our mistakes, to grow into the coming year. I have also brought along with me today a basket with a small bag with chalk and a small sheet for you to go home and bless your house too. I encourage you to gather with your household, whether it is one or two people or a bigger gathering to bless your home. Traditions are a way of making concrete our faith. It is also a way of reminding ourselves.
Matthews visitation of the magi, magos in the Greek and denotes a people with special gifts, in this instance, astronomy or astrology. They obviously had some skill in interpreting the movements of the stars which led them to believe this star was of some importance. So much so, they leave their homeland to come and find this newborn king. On their quest to meet this new king, they brought with them gifts to present to Jesus.
The gifts they brought were traditional gifts given to royalty. But they also had special significance. The gift of gold is quite recognisable as a gift to royalty. Frankincense and Myrrh however are harder to understand from a twenty-first century perspective. Frankincense, was given to represent Jesus priestly role as it was used as perfume or incense. Myrrh symbolised Christ’s impending death as it was used in the embalming process.
Legends, myths, icons and images throughout history have contributed to some misunderstanding of who the these people were who came to worship Jesus according to Matthew. And it must be reiterated. Matthew’s is the only Gospel account of the Magi. This does not make it any less important or significant. A beautiful third century depiction of the Magi is to be found in the Catacomb of Prescilla in Rome. It is positioned above a doorway, distinctly showing 3 people bearing gifts. Another early fourth century example is of a bas relief image on the Sarcophagus of Crispina. It depicts four magi bearing gifts to the child Jesus sitting on Mary’s lap. Their clothes identify them as Gentiles. Saint Augustine when preaching on Epiphany, said of the Magi that ‘God did not reveal Jesus to the shepherds because they were learned, or to the Magi because they were righteous. Rather that, ‘Jesus, the cornerstone, joined both groups to himself, since Christ came to put to shame the wise and came to call sinners, not the [righteous] . Furthermore, St Augustine suggested, ‘though many kings of the Jews had been born and died, none of them did the Magi seek to adore. And so they who came from a distant foreign land to a kingdom that was entirely strange to them…that by adoring Him, they might be sure of obtaining from [Christ] the salvation which is of God’. The coming of the Magi, these gentile people were among the first to bend their knee in homage to the Christ child. They, by their example, show us the way to Jesus, to bring to Jesus our hearts and minds in worship of him who our hearts long for.
The tradition of Epiphany is a long one, celebrated for two thousand years of history. Today, as we continue our worship, may we honour Christ with our lives today. And then, come to bless this place of worship and indeed our homes in honour of the Magi who came to Jesus home to bless him with gifts of gold Frankincense and Myrrh. Amen.