In the name of the Living God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen
I went to a very traditional all girls secondary school in Cheam in Surrey, called Nonsuch High School for girls. It is in the park that used to be part of Henry VIII Nonsuch Palace Estate. From my very first year there one of my most vivid memories was of the traditional nine lessons and carol services we had on the last day of the Autumn term. As part of this – we sang a beautiful carol that the 11 year old me had not encountered before – Three Kings from Persian lands afar. Half the school sang the tune and half sang another part with completely different words (which I know now to be called a ‘chorale’). It is a piece written by Peter Cornelius and is more traditionally sung by a solo tenor with a supporting choir singing the other part – rather than a school full of girls.
If you are watching me online – then there is a link on the email from the office or in the post for Epiphany on the Wincanton parish church web site. Or click here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thu3vgz5y28Three Kings from Persian lands afar by Peter Cornelius and it is sung by the choir of Kings College Cambridge.
Anyway the first verse begins to tell the Epiphany story
Three Kings from Persian lands afar To Jordan follow the pointing star: And this the quest of the travellers three, Where the new-born King of the Jews may be. Full royal gifts they bear for the King; Gold, incense, myrrh are their offering.
As we think on those words we have to remember what an incredible venture the journey for the kings was. The kings set out to follow a star without knowing where they were going and without knowing what they would find. The courage of their journey is impressive and one we should learn from.
I have always liked the idea of the pointing star too. Stars are very special and one of the wonders of our beautiful world. Think first of the Kings following a particular star and travelling a long way to follow it. Following a star when we think about it cannot have been easy. First it would have meant travelling at night (which is much more hazardous) or fixing the direction of your travel by the star light and sticking to it. There was also the jeopardy of kings getting lost. If we have ever tried following a straight line irrespective of everything around us, we know how many difficulties we might encounter on the way. All right if the straight line follows a path or a convenient roman road but there are lots of other hazards we could find if it didn’t.
The main theme in the carol continues
The star shines out with a steadfast ray; The kings to Bethlehem make their way, And there in worship they bend the knee, As Mary’s child in her lap they see; Their royal gifts they show to the King; Gold, incense, myrrh are their offering.
Firstly, in that verse there is the word steadfast. The need to keep going – in this case the star to keep shining and encouraging the kings to be strong and determined and to keep travelling even though they didn’t know where they were going. Then the verse went on to think about the gifts the kings brought. If we were bringing a gift for a child what kind of things would we bring? All rather different I suspect from the gifts the Kings brought.
These significant gifts point to the deeper things going on here. There being much more to this situation than meets the eye. The gold to depict Jesus as king and as a place where real power lies. The frankincense with its roots in worship of God – and Jesus unique and special role in that. The myrrh which points to the way of suffering and death Jesus was to die for us
We need to think about the things we have been given our special gifts and talents, our circumstances and our lives and look for the deeper things of God in them. Particularly where there is more to our situations than meets the eye. In our hearts in love with God, see in all that we are and all that we have the way that we should be following Jesus and pointing in all our lives to the love Jesus has for us.
The final verse of the carol has a slightly different tune and begins
Thou child of man, lo, to Bethlehem The Kings are travelling, travel with them!
Again this takes us on the journey, and though these days we often think of life as a journey as we like to reflect as time goes on growth and progress – we need to remember that we need to understand our lives from God’s perspective. Travelling in faith with God just as much as the Kings did. Travelling in faith as the kings did IS not always comfortable or cosy. As primarily it meant journeying into the unknown as it so does at the moment! Trusting God to bring us to new places and new understandings without knowing what those are going to be in advance! And not knowing what we may need to pack for the journey. In this new year – we are still in the unknown and unprecedented – let’s continue to concentrate on each next step with God guiding our hearts.
Then the final verse continues to remind us of two critical aspects of this journey
The star of mercy, the star of grace, shall lead thy heart to its resting place.
Mercy – God’s amazing and overwhelming love and forgiveness for us. Grace – God stooping to meet us, as the psalmist says – what are mortals that you are mindful of us. But God is entirely mindful, loving and concerned way beyond what we could ever earn or deserve.
Then the verse ends reminding us about what we bring to the God that loves us so much – where it says
Gold, incense, myrrh thou canst not bring; Offer thy heart to the infant King. Offer thy heart.
What our loving heavenly father God wants most from us is our love. He placed that love in our hearts to begin with and wants us to love him and share his love with others. How we live our lives in love with God starts and finishes with love. Love in our hearts and love shared with others. The message of the kings, their presents and their journey comes back to our understanding of how much we love God, and God loves us. Whether we are a King from Persian lands afar or a resident of Wincanton or Pen Selwood – we need to respond and first and foremost offer our hearts to the infant king. Offer our hearts. Amen
A prayer for our journey
As the wise men journeyed in faith we pray now for our faith. Grow our faith in us, good God. Fill us with a spirit of understanding, a willingness to spend time travelling closer to you.
As the wise men journeyed in faith, we pray now for courage to travel wherever you may take us; and to make you the focus of our journey. We pray for our churches and the journey of faith we have together.
As the wise men journeyed in faith bringing gifts to you, we give thanks for our gifts and ask that they are a source of blessing for the world. Give us strength to live sacrificial lives, sharing our time and our resources to bring about your kingdom.
As the wise men journeyed in faith – we pray for those currently on difficult journeys, the sick, the dying those who have recently died and those who are bereaved.
As the wise men journeyed in faith their journey became a sign, their meeting with God incarnate a prophecy of change: give us grace to embrace the justice and peace of your kingdom. We pray for our world
As the wise men journeyed in faith, we thank you for their example of steadfastness and perseverance, and pray for your spirit to follow their example. Amen
CCLI – Song reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton, Prayer adapted from rootsontheweb.com, The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995