Epiphany A, B and C
January 6 or first Sunday in January
With the decorations all packed away, it seems long time since we sang the Christmas favourites – ‘We Three Kings’, or ‘O Little Town of Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth’ … whosit-by-where?
No, I’d never heard of it either. It’s the home of Sir Isaac Newton and site of that famous apple tree, but you’d never guess from the name that something as important as gravity would be invented there.
How about 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton? Not ring a bell? Doesn’t sound that impressive a place, does it? Just an ordinary terraced council house. Pretty much the same as everyone else’s. It’s nothing special – but the music that came out of it was. When that lad from down the road, John, came round to number 20 to play with their Paul, the McCartney family has no idea where it would lead, and it’s the same with our reading today. Just because something looks ordinary … you never can tell, can you?
In the days of The Great and Mighty Roman Empire there were the good jobs – emperor, obviously, if you could keep the knives out of your back – and then there were the not-so-good jobs. Such as governor of Judea. Really, it was a bit of a dump. This was the job you got lumbered with when you had upset someone important. Judea was a cultural backwater, a nowhere, full of nobodies. Even the local religion was pathetic – they only had one god, for goodness sake!
So when the three scientists (that’s what we’d call them today, though we’d draw different conclusions from their astronomical observations) ended up in Judea, of all places, they were probably a bit surprised. They headed straight for the biggest, poshest house they could see, which was Herod’s palace, but the new king was not there. So where next? Bet-lem-where? Never heard of it. Certainly not a ‘point of interest’ on their camel sat-nav.
Although Bethlehem is famous now as ‘The City of David’, back when David was a lad we’d be talking insignificant eddy in a muddy pool at the edge of the cultural backwater. And David was the youngest son of an unimportant family of the smallest tribe from a tiny town in a forgotten part of a minor country. Not exactly superstar material.
And you could say the same of Jesus. The, let us say, unexpected son of a peasant girl from Nazareth – and even the local saying was that ‘nothing good ever comes from Nazareth’. He was not famous, not rich, not powerful, not … anything special. Not exactly superstar material.
And what about you? What about me? Not many of us have the paparazzi on our doorsteps snapping pictures of our fabulous lives. Most of us just sort of muddle along as a regular Joe or Josie. Not exactly superstar material.
But that’s fine. Because God doesn’t use superstar material anyway. He uses the ordinary cloth of regular Joes and Josies. Folks like Mary. No-one special. Just the girl next door, who happened to love God and said yes. And Joseph. Just the guy down the road, who happened to love God and said yes.
And they weren’t in a special place, either. That’s why the three scientists had trouble finding them. It was just an ordinary house that I guess they’d rented after all the fuss of the census died down. Jesus was a toddler by this time and looked just the same as the other toddlers, and his house looked the same as the other houses. But God was at work anyway. With the ordinary cloth.
We may look at ourselves, our talents and abilities, our circumstances and opportunities and think “If only I were better at …” “If only I had more …”, “If only …” But the truth is that God knows what you are good at and not, and what you can do and can’t, and what you do have and don’t, and he’ll use you anyway. Ordinary cloth is fine. Even cloth with faults and slubs. All that is needed is to say yes.
So even if you live in insignificant eddy in a muddy pool at the edge of the cultural backwater, God will use your ordinary cloth. Even if you think of yourself as a youngest son of an unimportant family of the smallest tribe from a tiny town in a forgotten part of a minor country, God will use you anyway. Just as you are. Just where you are. All that is needed is to say yes.
You will need a sheet of paper and a pen, plus a selection of highlighters.
Draw a large square on the middle of your paper, leaving a couple of inches, 5cm, all around for writing. Using all different highlighters, draw three or four horizontal lines across the square from side to side.
You are going to weave your own ‘ordinary cloth’, and these lines are the first few threads. Consider first your talents and abilities. Perhaps you are a good singer – use the pen to write that at the ends of the first line. Or are you good at sports, or cooking or reading or listening? Whatever your abilities, each one is a thread in your cloth. Add more highlighter threads to your cloth square and more labels outside until you have filled your square with horizontal threads. It does not matter if you cannot see how your abilities could possibly be used by God. That’s his business, not yours.
Now turn your paper sideways and draw some highlighter lines to form the threads going the other way. These lines represent your circumstances and opportunities. As the colours blend you will see your unique pattern emerge. Think of your home life – full of people or empty? Whichever it is, God can use that, so use the pen to label your first line. How you spend your days, how you spend your leisure time, people you meet – all of these need a line.
You may consider some of your circumstances to be hindrances more than opportunities, but remember how back in Genesis God used even Joseph’s unjust imprisonment for his purposes. So really, anything and everything contributes to the cloth. Even the bad bits. God knows about them anyway. It’s OK. Add more highlighter threads and more labels until your square is filled.
When you have finished, take a moment to look at the unique cloth that is you, and offer it to God for his use.
I am made from ordinary cloth. I have faults and snags and stains and you know that.
Thank you so much that you know how I am made and you still want me.
When I look at the ordinary cloth of my life I see good bits and I see bad bits. I see strong parts where you have gifted me, and I see weak parts where I need grace. Thank you that you can use all of that for your kingdom and I offer all to you now.
Matthew 2:1-12 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.