The journey of the Magi

Sermon given Sun 6th Jan, 2019 at St. Andrew’s URC Ealing by the Revd Sue McCoan

Isaiah 60: 1-6    Matthew 2:1-12

We thought earlier about the kind of provision the Magi might have needed to make for their journey. But there was more going on than just a physical journey for them. The poet TS Eliot has reflected on the nature of their journey, and the more spiritual dimension of it, in his poem, ‘The journey of the Magi’. We shall hear that poem now.

T S Eliot ‘The Journey of the Magi’

Eliot reflects on the physical hardships of the journey, and also on the deeper questions that it raises. What did it mean, what did it mean, to those Magi, going back to the life they had left but not as the people they had been?

And we are invited, in Eliot’s reflection, and in our own imaginations, to see ourselves in this story, and to see what it can say to us, as we step out into 2019.

So I offer some thoughts for reflection.

Maybe we see ourselves before the journey began, responding to some inner call, some nagging thought that will not go away, that some new thing is required of us.  It could be a physical journey; perhaps a change of situation? Or a new challenge, taking up a cause, learning something new. What might God be saying to you this year?

Maybe we see ourselves in the support team, among the camel drivers and the cooks and the bringers of provisions. Someone else may be making the journey, leading the expedition, and our place is to encourage, and enable, and pray. Who might God be needing you to support this year?

Maybe we see ourselves in this story as people who are bringers of gifts? The Magi took gifts that were appropriate to a head of state, and almost completely useless to a young family in an ordinary house. They may have felt pretty stupid, taking them away from Herod’s palace and on to Bethlehem. But they offered them anyway, and those gifts had a symbolic meaning far beyond their material value. Maybe you have gifts to offer, and you hesitate for fear they should be the wrong thing, or not wanted, or not good enough? Maybe you can offer them anyway, and see what happens?

Maybe we see ourselves in the return journey, not knowing whether we had achieved anything, not knowing whether the journey was worth all the effort. We don’t know what happened to the Magi afterwards; but we know their visit was a building block of Matthew’s gospel in its fulfilment of ancient prophecies. Maybe you have wondered if a venture was, or will be, worthwhile. Might God be calling you to trust that God has a purpose you may not yet see?

Maybe we who know the longer story see ourselves in the unintended consequences of the journey; alerting Herod to the presence of a potential rival, and unleashing his murderous anger against little children. At the start of a new year, this is a good time to see if there are things we have done, or not done, for which we need God’s forgiveness and grace.

The thing is, the Magi need never have made that journey. Nobody was expecting them; nobody would have missed them; nobody would have gone out looking for them. They could have stayed at home in comfort, and Jesus would still have lived his life and died and risen again. But if they had not gone, we should all be so much the poorer for it: from Jesus, Mary and Joseph, through Matthew and all those who heard his gospel, down to this church today. Whatever God is calling us to do, or be, this year, may we do it with courage, patience, grace and love, in his name.