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5th January 2014 – Epiphany – Jack Noonan


Sermon (Click Link to Listen)

Bible Readings: Isaiah 60. 1-6; Ephesians 3. 1-12; Matthew 2. 1-12

Sermon Text:

There are moments of panic when I finally sit down and start trying to write a sermon. Seating myself at the table only occurs when every avoidance strategy is finally exhausted. Rooms are all tidied. Books and papers neatly stacked. All washing up dried and put away, all surfaces cleared and the temptation to wash windows firmly resisted.

Some readings, like todays, are readily accessible and the message ‘offers’ itself on a plate coupled with an internal confirmatory sense of reassurance, or witness of the Spirit, that you are on the right track.

There are other times, however, when you look at the text and the text simply looks back at you. Spontaneously one prays ; ‘O my God’.

But Proverbs 25.2 offers wonderful advice and perspective on this issue:

‘It is the glory of God to conceal things,

But the glory of kings is to search things out.’

Realising that God is not hiding things from us but hiding things for us is a great help.

Difficult texts are inviting us into a Divine game of hide and seek. That which is hidden is concealed for us. Those of us who honestly seek shall find. The process of discovery and the discovery itself are all part of our spiritual growth .

This morning’s gospel reading dealing with the Journey of the Magi; their meeting with the elderly Herod and the political and religious elite of Jerusalem. Their journeying on, to unassuming Bethlehem; encountering an unassuming infant, with unassuming parents in an unassuming house.

We travel in life like the wise men.

Was this what the Magi anticipated to find? They undertook a long, and arduous journey to worship one born to be king.

Had they expected a palace or grand house, an aristocratic and wealthy family?

Were they puzzled or perplexed at their reception with Herod and his advisors?

Did they question, when experiencing difficulties, the wisdom of their undertaking?

Did they question the trustworthiness of their interpretation of the celestial illumination which they committed themselves to… and… followed for so long?

Like us ,had they doubts to cope with? ( Exploration by TS Eliot)

Whatever their thoughts and misgivings; they followed the supernatural/natural light and… in faith accepting what they found as being what they were meant to find..

For they trusted sufficiently in the integrity of their journey and looked beyond ordinary physical appearances. We all must look beyond mere physical into the spiritual to see the real. Only the spiritual is eternal.

In faith they bowed down and offered their auspicious gifts. Offering gold in recognition of kingship; frankincense a gift for a priest/ a pontifex , which means a bridge builder. Learned as these Magi were, in contemporary science, history, astronomy, astrology and medicine they could not fully realise the full historical ,cosmic and spiritual significance of the Jesus infant. This infant in 30 or so years would build, for those who trusted in Him, the ultimate Bridge of Bonding between God and His human creation.

The final gift of myrrh; was for one who was going to die. And in dying the grown up baby would destroy death and its terror. Granting to those who would trust in Him the free gift of eternal life and resurrection.


The next key player we meet is the flawed King Herod. Surpassing Henry V111 in that Herod had 10 wives some of whom he also disposed of and numerous sons, some of whom he also disposed of. The Emperor Augustus bitterly said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.

Herod had been a brilliant administrator, monumental builder, and an exceptionally shrewd, but suspicious and insecure politician. He pleased Rome with his ability to ‘manage the truculent and awkward Jews.

In his latter years however, he became nothing less than a murderous old man. A cross between, Stalin, Pol Pot and Macbeth. Paranoia reigned supreme. He became almost insanely suspicious, savage, bitter and warped.

News of the birth of a rival to his throne readily caught his attention. Being part Jewish he had a great appreciation of the possible significance of this birth. It had been anticipated by the Jewish people from time immemorial. It is Herod, not the Magi ,who attaches the title The Christ/Messiah/ The Anointed One to the new born infant.

The Magi’s news causes consternation. Herod quickly summons a council consisting of the current chief priest, the former chief priests together with the theological scholars and lawyers to ascertain the location of this birth.

Herod’s survival instinct and cunning quickly comes to the fore. In a brief confidential meeting with the Magi he establishes

1. The approximate age of the child…..When did the star first appear.

2. He has the Magi undertake to establish the exact location of the child. Name and address.

3. He has them promise, on the lying pretext of wanting to revere the child, to report back to him directly asap.

Some time later Herod realising that he has been outflanked by the Magi…………… summarily orders the slaughter of all boys under 2 years of age born in and around Bethelhem .

There is an observation worth noting. Ever since the Emperor Constantine exercised undue influence in the Christian Church, drawing the early post apostolic church and state close together there has been a conflict of interests and some compromise within the Christian Church .

Forgetting Christ’s words; ‘’Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’’ We’ve ignored it at our peril.

The Christian Church must always be circumspect in aligning itself ,for even apparently most worthwhile reasons, with the political/civil establishment. ( The Church of England was viewed as the Conservative Party at prayer.)

The agenda of the Christian church will ultimately diverge from the state and in the ensuing divorce the integrity of our historic denominations’ rarely come out smelling of roses…..


The final group we encounter are the high-priestly aristocracy together with their legal eagles and the theological scholars

It is well to note that those entrusted with Holy Writ and its designated forms of Divine worship had their eye off the ball’ . The priests and theologians have ignored the sign that drew in the foreigners/aliens for outside in to Judea.

The leaders of God’s chosen people are complacent. No new meteorite trailing light has awakened their curiosity. The religiously observant/ correct are found wanting open minds and vision. Without vision we linger rather than live.


As so often happens within our churches. It takes an outsider/convert to recognise and appreciate the wonder of the Good News of Jesus; while we inside the church risk taking all for granted, become complacent and lose our first love.

Thus failing to read the signs of the times and failing to recognise the working of the Spirit of God in their midst.

As with people so with God. Relationships need ‘working on. What relationship would survive on an occassional 90 minutes a week ? Fact is ,it cannot be called a relationship.

The advent of this Jesus child is an inconvenience and best ignored. There is no hint of any of the Jewish religious authorities volunteering to accompany the Magi on the 6 or so miles to Bethlehem.

This Jesus the child and Jesus the man is a disruptive influence to the religious status quo and the well ordered pattern of life as we live it. Jesus, the Creative Word- Energy of God. He is a 2 edged sword. Not always a comfortable encounter but a life changing one.

Some 30+ years later ,the successors of this religious hierarchy will arrest Jesus, illegally try him, find him guilty of blasphemy then put pressure on the political and civil authorities to brutalise, torture ,disfigure and slowly execute him.

It is my sad conviction that should the politically incorrect Jesus reappear as he was then, the religious righteous and moral majority would not recognise Him and do the same. For religiosity is a cruel task-master. Regarding the letter of the law, greater than the motivational and gracious spirit of the law.

Its fruits are judgementalism, hardness of heart and unforgiveness.

Judge not ,that you be not judged…

For 2014 let us

1. resolve, through the Holy Spirit to overthrow hearts stone.

2.Let us mercilessly root out the malignancy of unforgiveness from our souls.

For unforgiveness is like my taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

3.Let us seek to grow in our relationship with God so that we have a genuine joyful reality with which to help and share with a wandering post Christian humanity.

Rejoice, we are not alone in this task. As we say in Irish ; ‘is goire cunamh De na an doras ‘ God’s help is nearer to us than the door. Draw down the promises of God. We live with and in great hope of faith and love. The greatest of these is love is available for the asking of it in the name of the infant whose advent we just celebrated.

Let us pray…