Epiphany 2: What are you looking for?

3rd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

In this Epiphany season, we are being encouraged to look, see and find afresh. The wise men saw a star, followed it and found Jesus, King Herod saw a threat and tried to eliminate it. In John’s Gospel this morning, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him – two days in a row! John called those around to ‘look and see’ the Lamb of God. The Christian life is a continual cycle of looking, seeing and finding; it is part of what we are called to do.

It is rather fitting then that the first recorded question Jesus asks his disciples is ‘what are you looking for?’ I think it is still a relevant question for us today too. In terms of your faith, what are you looking for? In those deep places within, what are the desires and drives of your faith?

As we move into a new year what are you hoping for, expecting, asking for, looking for in your Christian life? Anything? Nothing? Something? Do you know? It is worth giving some time this week to ponder the question as though Jesus was sitting in front of you and asking ‘what are you looking for out of your faith?’

It is not an easy question. Fear not if it has thrown you already! The disciples gave a rather lame answer to Jesus. The best they could come up with was ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ As though Jesus was asking them if they had lost their keys or a jumper! No, his question is much deeper than that. The disciples had just heard John the Baptist’s exclamation of ‘here is the Lamb of God!’ and had started to follow Jesus; at least physically follow Jesus if not yet spiritually.

‘Who are you really?’ is more likely the question they were trying to ask. The disciples, as good followers of Judaism, would have been waiting for the Messiah. The reading from Isaiah this morning is among the oldest and best known parts of the Old Testament. There are 4 passages in Isaiah known as the Servant Songs. These Songs introduce and share the profound idea of salvation through suffering. This was not how people thought about suffering or salvation at that time. If you suffered you had done something wrong; think the Book of Job.

The identity of the servant is revealed gradually from song to song but it is still concealed. In Isaiah 49, the servant speaks for the first time in his own voice and in a very individual way. He has been chosen by God to carry on the mission of Israel where Israel had failed. The mission was to restore the people of God (the Jews). God is going to give the servant as a light to the nations, that salvation may reach to the end of the earth. This means to everyone – not only the Jews.

If the disciples recalled any of these passages, it would have been an overwhelming experience and would most certainly require something of them. Jesus’ answer also required something of the disciples as it was an invitation to ‘come and see’. So they went and saw where Jesus was staying and spent the whole day with him. What a day that would have been! The disciples obviously saw something that day that changed them forever. If the answer to ‘what are you looking for?’ ends up being ‘come and see’, will you be willing to go and see?

What about this year?

As a church you will be looking for a new Rector. I need to tell you that it is unlikely to be me. What will you be looking for in that person? Avoid disappointment by looking for perfection or a clone of a past Priest you happened to like the most. What will you be looking for in that person?

How about you as a person? Are you looking for more life? Time? Money? Health? Belonging? Certainty? Affirmation? Consolation?

Jesus’ invitation to come and see is an invitation to leave our comfortable places, an invitation to challenge what we think we know and change our perspectives. Come and see is an approach to life that is expansive, dynamic and exposes us to new experiences and ideas. When Jesus offers this invitation it is to be fully seen and fully loved by the one who created us.

Like all invitations that come to us, we have the option to turn it down. To stay where we are and not see anything new. We have a choice of what we look for, what we prioritise. When Jesus looks at us, He sees our deepest desires, hungers, curiosities, needs and wants. He saw it in those first disciples and called out to them. Jesus is still calling us now. As followers of Jesus we are to take the braver path, the follow where He is leading us.

Epiphany: What are we following this year?

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

This Sunday always sits a little bit funny. It feels as though we are back into the Christmas story when we have moved well past it on the calendars. Last Sunday’s gospel was the passage after the one for today. We seem to be doubling back around on ourselves! The Christmas story may seem to be neatly compacted, like a nativity scene, brought out, set up, admired and then taken down and put away again. Epiphany is the day that the Christmas decorations should be packed away and the last of the baking eaten up. Right?!

However, it is unclear as to when the wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem. We do know it was in the time of King Herod and after Jesus was born. They followed the star, and came to where it stopped and offered the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then they leave and go home by another way so crazy Herod doesn’t catch them. The end. Christmas is over!

Yet, the significance of the wise men, the magi pushes out the Christmas story. It is not only about the outward, Christmas card picture, small kids in bathrobes and foil crowns, etc. It is the inward story that carries on.

This feast of Epiphany celebrates the visit of the magi to Jesus and so the the inclusion of the Gentiles in the gospel story; and as Malcolm Guite explains, ‘not simply the Gentiles in a generic way, but all the distinct races, cultures and religions of ‘the nations’; this is one reason why the tradition of depicting the three wise men as representing three different races is so helpful.’

Not only in the Gospel, but in the Isaiah reading speaks of a multitude of camels (so more than three) from distinctly different lands who will bring gold and frankincense and they shall proclaim the praise of God. This is to be a time of rejoicing. The Wise Men were to be bearers of Good News.

I recently asked the Church Wardens at the start of a meeting before Christmas to share their favourite character(s) in the nativity story. For a variety of reasons, the shepherds were the overwhelming favourite. Some liked the thought that they were older; they were outsiders who lived on the edge of society. There was something about their humility. The urgency they went with to Bethlehem after the angels left them.

My favourite has always been the Wise Men. I loved the thought of them travelling on camels (no mention in the Gospel though!) from far away places. Exotic in their robes and jewels, well educated and wealthy. They had to travel much further than the shepherds and had to contend with King Herod. Sue Morton gave a very interesting expose on his hardness of heart and cruelty last week. The Wise Men received a secret call from Herod; doubtful that a rag-tag group of shepherds would have been extended an invitation. As the Wise Men were already looking for this child born to be the king of the Jews they did not really need Herod’s approval; their journey preceded any fears and paranoia that he held.

Looking at the arrival and departure of the Wise Men, there are three threads to pull on today. It is quite common at the start of a new year to look backwards at the year just past and forwards at the year to come. We may look back with mixed feelings at the things that went well and the things that went less than well. I hope that we can leave behind the things or feelings of falling short, guilt and shame. Learn from them and move on. Equally I hope we can carry forward the successes, the positive experiences; these need to be learned from too.

In light of this and the Wise Men: what are we going to follow this year? They followed the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. Maybe it is a diet or exercise plan. Maybe reading different books or listening to different podcasts. Maybe reinvesting in relationships or faith or prayer or Bible.

How do we know if we are following the right thing? It is often said that if you are not the lead elephant, the view is all the same. Not everyone is made or meant for leadership. Even leaders follow something or someone. Maybe the view needs to change. Sometimes we can follow something for so long that it loses its impact or meaning and becomes irrelevant to where we are in life and our thinking.

Second thread: Finding Joy. Verse 10 was something of a revelation to me; ‘When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.’ The Wise Men had not met the king they had travelled so long to find; yet they were overwhelmed with joy. So often our joy comes after the big reveal. We can make joy similar to happiness and reduce it down to a reaction to our circumstances.

The Wise Men had joy before they crossed the threshold of that house. How can we become joyful people before circumstance and chance threaten to take it from us?

The Wise Men were not expecting to find a baby at the end of their journey. They brought gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense and myrrh. They continued to believe that they had found the right thing though. How are we going to react if things are not as we expect them this year? Throw our hands up? Quit? Give up? Give in? Will we be willing to work it through and see what happens?

Final thread: the Wise Men had to go a different way home. They had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod and had to leave for their own country by another road. Whatever happened in that house was a transformative experience for the Wise Men; all the education and wealth could never have prepared them for meeting the king in the form of a baby.

Things changed drastically for the Wise Men and they left differently to when they arrived. In the face of any changes that come this year – will we be able to go a different way? Will we let ourselves become more open to the possibility of change and transformation – even if we can fathom the outcome?

Go well into this new year. Follow the right star, when the unexpected happens be ready to meet it and go a different way if you need to. I will end with a poem by one of my favourite theologians Walter Brueggemann.


On Epiphany day,
we are still the people walking.
We are still people in the dark,
and the darkness looms large around us,
beset as we are by fear,
loss —
a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.
We are — we could be — people of your light.
So we pray for the light of your glorious presence
as we wait for your appearing;
we pray for the light of your wondrous grace
as we exhaust our coping capacity;
we pray for your gift of newness that
will override our weariness;
we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust
in your good rule.
That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact
your rule through the demands of this day.
We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope.