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'The Undulating Star'
(An Epiphany Reflection)

Cuthbert cross

The Undulating Star 

(Sermon preached on Epiphany Sunday 2015)

It was so cold the skyline seemed to splinter
as the ice in the puddles cracked beneath the camels.
The great statute that we know as winter,
unsoftened yet by any spring amendment,
was full enforced - a sumptuary law,
forbidding earth undue indulgence
in leaf and flower, in hip and haw.

The caravan swayed like a ship under canvas
when its top-sails belly in the wind,
and the Magi looked over the rolling dunes
as a sailor to shore in his mind.
Their light in the dusk was like a lantern at a masthead,
seen dipping, the bluer for the salt air, afar off;
and their thought was deep and slow and undulating
like the rising and falling of a galley in the sea's trough -
all very leisurely as demand great distances -
and the star, as slow as reason, undulated too
(from 'Contrast' by Eileen Duggan)

That undulating star, sometimes seen, sometimes absent from the sky, brought the wise men at last to Bethlehem, where they  

bowed low in homage before the baby;
and opened their treasure chests
and presented gifts to him:
gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The men who brought these gifts were astrologers, men who, in their own country, were almost idolised because of their magical powers which were thought to be able to control the destinies of individuals and even of countries. Tradition says they were also kings, well-practised in statecraft and skilled in the management of worldly affairs. And now we see them kneeling at the feet of Christ.  

That picture of these powerful, wise men kneeling at the crib is an engaging one, especially at the beginning of a new year, a year in which almost anything might happen. In the world at large, there are big challenges to be faced: plummeting oil prices threaten to make the world economy unstable; the Islamic State, like a pack of ravening wolves, continues to ravage through the Middle East; the face-off between East and West seems to be hardening; terrorism, whether by the Taleban or by others, is as dangerous as ever it was; Ebola stalks the world; and the spectres of poverty, hunger, and non-existent clean drinking water haunt vast tracts of the globe. But dark though these clouds be, the light of a star breaks through the shadows, and leads wise men to the place where a young child lay. And so the wise men of our story, powerful in their own world, kneel at the crib and offer homage to Christ. 

Wise men are at their wisest when they acknowledge they don't know everything; powerful men are at their most powerful when they are humble and suppliant; leaders are at their best when they seek from God wisdom and insight and understanding. Our prayer for 2015 must surely be that the national leaders of every country will seek that wisdom and insight and understanding. 

And we must seek it too. The best way to greet this new year God has given us, is to greet it in the company of the wise men as they kneel at the feet of Jesus. In our own strength and wisdom, we are not able to accomplish much, but with God's help we will be able to fill this year with higher endeavour, nobler purpose, and purer desire - all of which will mean that our relationships will be sweeter and kinder, and our life holier and happier than ever before.  

I rather admire the sentiment of one of Ezra Pound's characters with the odd name of Tching. 

Tching prayed on the mountain and
on his bath tub.
Day by day make it new . . .
keep it growing.
(from 'Cantos' no.53 by Ezra Pound)

The combination of prayer and the bath tub is captivating, as is the insistence on treating each day as if it were what it truly is, something fresh from the hand of God to be made new by our truest instincts and our best endeavours. The year will be new, if we remember to make its days new, each day in succession a new day from the God who makes all things new. 

Behind us today, stands Bethlehem, lit by its star which is itself but the reflection of the Light of the World, the Child in the manger. Ahead of us, the new year stretches. We stride out bravely on the road. But  

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another walking beside you. 3
(from 'The Waste Land' by T S Eliot pt. 5)

Well? What else did you expect? Why else was the Word made flesh and laid in a manger, why else, but that he might be Emmanuel, God with us, God with us now and always! And that means he will be with us every step of the way in 2015. There will be no darkness this year without his light falling upon it; no sorrow this year without his love folding it in his arms; no death this year without his life finding us and holding us for ever. 

And so, I wish you 'A Good New Year', or - for it is the same word - 'A God New Year.' 

Rev Charles Robertson, January 2015


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