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5th January 2014 - Epiphany - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs
Sermon for Epiphany Sunday Evening
Isa 60. 1-9
John 2. 1-11

So that is nearly it for another year.

Mince pies all eaten? Turkey reduced to soups and curry? Maybe a crumb or two of Christmas cake still lurking?

I trust that Christmas was as good for you as it could possibly be. Mine was most enjoyable - marked this year by attending the wedding of the daughter of some good friends ... and of course by the extraordinary weather - of which it seems there is no let up.
Because of that wedding and wanting to spend some time with my friend who happens now to live in N. Wales, I did a fair amount of travelling during the Christmas break. And travelling is what we think about tonight as our thoughts remain with the Wise Men on their journey to find the new-born king.

It has been remarked that not for nothing is January named for the two-headed, Roman god, Janus. The god of doorways. One head facing back into the past. One looking to the future. Fitting perhaps as we contemplate the New Year - 2014, stretching out before us.

And the Wise Men - or the Kings if you prefer - have something of that same quality. They come from an ancient past and bring with them all the accumulated wisdom of their star charts and their studies. Yet they too look to a future - one that is uncertain and mysterious. One that is partly hidden from view as they try to draw closer to it - so that they have to seek answers from some dubious sources before they can reach their goal.

We cannot simply forget the past that each of us brings to the present - it will inevitably shape what happens to us and with us in the future. The Wise Men came seeking a king. They thought they would find someone with real power and authority and the gifts they brought were calculated to impress. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh are definitely the sort of presents one would bring to royalty - to the person who has everything .... and perhaps who knows the value of nothing?

But what and who they found was very different. Instead of the royal palace they were expecting, they found only a stable or cave. Instead of the uniformed servants, the cup-bearers and bodyguards, they found only a humble carpenter and his young wife. Instead of the powerful king who had everything, they found only a child - a baby with nothing to call his own. And we can only guess that the future for them as they journeyed back to their distant homes was a very different one than that they had anticipated?

They had glimpsed the Salvation of the World; had known themselves to be on hallowed ground, and had been moved to change their route from here on in. Going back by another path.

And what of us this Epiphany-tide? Where do we come seeking God and what do we expect to find there? Almost certainly we too will have to rethink our ideas. Ideas that come from the baggage of our experience in the past. The only thing we can know for certain is that God will find ways to surprise us, to take us unawares. And where we expect something special and royal and powerful and impressive, God will say to us "Hey, look over here - look I am in the most ordinary parts of your lives! Don't look to find me among those who wield power or think they are important.... I am to be found in the simple things, the ordinary and the mundane.
So when Jesus attends a wedding, he goes as an ordinary guest - but one who can transform a potential social disaster into a wonderful and generous blessing.

Fortunately I was not called upon to perform any such feats of wonder at the wedding I attended last week! But I was there as an ordinary guest and that gave me a quite different perspective on the events of the ceremony and celebrations. I saw a young woman - one I have known since here infancy - commit her life and happiness to a young man with whom she is obviously deeply in love - as he is with her. They have all their future ahead of them - triumphs and tragedies no doubt - and like their parents I can look on from a distance; I can help and advise if asked - but am in reality powerless to influence what they make of their life together ... only they and God can do that.

We cannot repeat the past, whether we'd like to or not, nor can we walk away from it. We cannot create a new future which is completely unrelated to what we have been. But we can decide how we will use our past and our future to enable us to live the lives we know we are really capable of. The past need not be just nostalgia, or regret - the future need not be unrealistic optimism or fearful anticipation.

The years roll on and on. January 2014 is really not that likely to be hugely different from December 2013. The real difference comes with the breaking in - if we will let it - of the life of God into our own lives. That's not an exercise in nostalgia, but a gift which transforms our whole lives, past, present and future, by fulfilling them with the life of God. God's Christmas present to us is the gift of ourselves - ourselves as we wish, in our best moments, we could be. It's the gift of reconciliation with our past, and hope for the future.