So the decorations are dispatched to the loft for another 11 months and we journey into a new year wondering what joys and trials lie ahead. According to my horoscope 2018 will be….
It is easy to dismiss any such forecast as a piece of magical mumbo-jumbo – but given the knowledge that the tides of our seas are determined by the movement of the moon we perhaps should not too easily dismiss the idea that heavenly bodies ‘out there’ can affect us. What I will not accept is that the stars determine my future and that my destiny is fixed and unalterable.
The feast of Epiphany reminds us that the wise travellers or astrologers of Matthew chapter 2 saw a new star. It convinced them that something new could happen after all. It caused a revolution in their thinking as they let the evidence jettison their worldview. It was the end of their determinism. Outer space does not determine inner space. Rather, it points to an authority who fills all space. The world is open to newness and surprise. There is space for human responsibility. The astrologers saw a new star that heralded a universal king. The astrologers put their knowledge to good use and put themselves on the right side of history. At great cost they set out to follow the star, searching for the infant king of an alien dynasty. And when they arrived they presented their wealth and their potions, frankincense and myrrh, at his feet.
In place of a fatalistic determinism Matthew’s eastern sages also challenge the assumption made by religious people that we can have secure, predictable expectations as to how God does and will act. They disturb and wrong-foot the settled assumptions of the religious insider. They show that the search for the universal Saviour may be long and tortuous, full of surprises and hazards. They bring to light the surprise and freedom of God to shock and unsettle our predictable ways of thinking. There is the surprise that pagan practitioners of dubious mystical arts are shown to have found the king of a people whose own obdurate leaders reject him. There is the surprise that the representatives of the best wisdom of the Gentile world affirm that the new born king of Judea is king of the whole world whereas his own people prefer an illegitimate and tyrannical king. There is the surprise that the messiah does not appear in Jerusalem, the centre of Judaism, but is born in the small obscure village of Bethlehem and makes his home in the tiny hamlet of Nazareth.
Some may think it fanciful to trust a story that seems so bizarre and incredible. But the story is an imaginative vehicle by which we can all embark upon our own magical mystery tour during 2018, a personal journey that is rumoured to lead to the surprise and fulfilment of God. That journey marks for today’s visitors, as for those ancient oriental travellers, a death to predictability and inevitability. We become too easily reconciled to reports of the massacre of children and other atrocities as if these are in some sense expected and inevitable. But Jesus heralds the end of all fatalism that undermines our confidence in bringing about change. He extends the horizon of the kingdom and enlarges our capacity for personal choice and responsibility. He calls us, as he did, to live the love of God.
Nicola, Cameron and Ross join me in thanking you for all your good and kind wishes at Christmas and join me in sending you greetings for 2018.
With love and prayers