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Epiphany – Who is Wise?

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Epiphany 6/1/19

Good morning! Where were we…

Hope you all enjoyed your New Year celebrations. And have a feast of New year’s resolutions? Did you know today women are scattered hither and thither across Ireland celebrating “Nollaig na mBan”? They will be passing off house work to the men and saying goodbye to the Christmas decorations.

Nollaig na mBan. What is it?

Originally celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, the 6th of the traditional Irish celebration focuses more on the role of the woman in the household, reliving her of the household chores and leaving the work up to the men for the day. It is a day when, according to Irish actress and writer Sheila Flitton, women will head to the pub and “inhabit this man’s domain without shame” . Women will chat, relax in each other’s company and enjoy a day without housework.

Things we do not know about the “Wise Men.” 1. How many there were (The number three comes from the three gifts: Gold, frankincense, and myrrh). But for such a trip they would have had a caravan with servants to assist them. 2. Where they came from (All we know is that they came from the east). 3. How far they traveled (You can find estimates from 500 to 1500 miles, or more). 5. If they were wise (In the original manuscripts they are called the “magi” from an ancient Iranian word which was used to describe people who acted in very strange ways, were captivated by astrology, spells and incantation and dressed in a very bizarre manner). 6. If they were kings (In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship him). 7. When they arrived (While we think of these men as part of the Christmas story, they were not present on that first Christmas. They didn’t arrive on the scene till well over a year or perhaps almost two years later. Another clue to the time of their arrival is the fact that Herod put to death all the male children ages two and under, “according to the time he had determined from the wise men.”).

So what part do the wise men play? Wisdom, the life of the intellect is important to the church. The contemporary church is not just called to be prosaic, mundane and practical. Our congregational life is not meant to focus solely on projects to bring about ‘social justice’. Yes, the Christmas message was first given to the shepherds, the artisan class, the lowest class of people in Israel. But then it was given to the wise men from the East, who were not even Jewish, but were Gentiles. This shows that God sent his Son to all people and that all could be saved by Him. Remember the message from the angel to the shepherds, “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people…”

Wisdom is not just the acquisition of knowledge, but neither it is not the worship of a lack of knowledge. The idea that philosophy or theology is a luxury is the opposite to the message of epiphany. Life is hard and to get the most from it requires us to use our minds.

Have you noticed this is no longer popular? Think of all the different sectors of work, medicine, education, politics, church, whatever your field. What has changed? How often are you faced with an increase in paperwork, bureaucracy but the aim or subject of your work is no longer important. And no one has the authority to change direction. Just in education and church sector I and others have suggested over the years that maybe what we are doing in terms of data driven workload isn’t in the best interest of children or church officers. First you raise it with a school advisor, who says ‘I know its terrible but its beyond my control’. So, you go higher and ask the OFSTED inspector and you get the same response, then you go higher: HMI inspector. Same. The finally the secretary of state and you get the same. Do you recognize this in your own world?

Clive James wrote a book Cultural Amnesia, in it he describes how cultural life in the west has come under attack. That the life of the mind has been devalued and it is no longer seen as beneficial to strive for an education only if the pursuit is of economic value is it promoted. James introduces us to a cast of writers and intellectuals who he argues we are being too quick to forget. Which is a risk to our future development as a society.

James introduces us to Egon Friedell, writer of one magnum opus exploring the life of the intellect in the early twentieth century and the owner of a vast private library. On the occasion of the Anschluss of Austria, anti-Semitism was rampant: Jewish men and women were being beaten in the streets and their businesses and synagogues ransacked or destroyed. Friedell, knowing that he could be arrested by the Gestapo, began to contemplate ending his own life. Friedell told his close friend, Ödön von Horváth, in a letter written on 11 March: “I am always ready to leave, in every sense.”

On 16 March 1938, at about 22:00, two SS men arrived at Friedell’s house to arrest him. While they were still arguing with his housekeeper, Friedell committed suicide by jumping out of the window. Before leaping, he warned pedestrians walking on the sideway where he hit by shouting “Watch out! Get out of the way!”

This is the first of two sermons. Remember the series on Realistic Christianity. Its claim is that if we are to take our faith seriously and to once again be part of the struggle for ideas, we must engage in the world of ideas realistically and with wisdom.

Words to congregation

Thank you for the support other the past six months, indeed over a longer period of time. It has become one of the happiest periods of my life. The question is I am happier not doing the things I have been doing. Further details…

Archbishop Justin Welby when on the Andrew Marr show recently replied to the question ‘In a world stricken by poverty and violence what can we do?’ by stating ‘we have the second coming of Jesus to look forward too.’ Is there anything wrong with this statement and does it contain any wisdom?

 

Revd. Vincent Gardner