john davies
notes from a small curate


    Blue Coat School 07/01/2004

    Matthew 2.1-12

    The Christmas story ends as those visitors from the far east disappear furtively, leaving Mary and her family with a choice of either escaping themselves, becoming refugees, or facing the death of their new-born son.

    They get called kings, those visitors. But they weren't kings. They get called wise men. But they may have just have easily been women. And usually they appear as a threesome. But there's no evidence of that. Could have been two of them. Could have been ten.

    What we do know about them is that they were Magi - astrologers, dedicated to looking for signs in the skies. They would have seemed strange to Mary and Joseph, visitors of a different colour, wearing unusual clothes, coming to them with a wild story about a star and following an odd agenda. They may have been worried about their obsessiveness, or put off by their spiritual fanaticism. But they may also have been encouraged by their faith in the child Jesus, and their determination to find him. They may have seen the Magi as I do today - because today Iąd like to celebrate them as explorers.

    I'd put them in the same category as Colin Pillinger, the leader of the space probe project, Beagle 2. He's a classic explorer. Some see him as a figure of fun - the archetypical mad scientist. Some are discomforted by his obsession - they could think of other, better, uses for the sixty-million-dollars he has spent on a failed spacecraft. Others, rivals in the space race, are perhaps secretly pleased at Beagle 2's premature silence. And others again have been inspired by his work: like musician Alex James whose rock band Blur composed the Beagle 2 call sign. James described how rewarding he found working on the project, a team of scientists, artists and musicians working together. "We're all after the same thing, really," he said, "life."

    Pillinger's search for life on Mars seems to have failed, this time round. But this single-minded man will carry on regardless. Because he's an explorer.

    The Magi carried on regardless as well. Not even the vicious Herod stopped them following their star. The best thing about the story of the Magi is that it encourages us to keep exploring, to keep searching for God and the truth in our own lives, and in the life of the world around us. Exploring through scientific investigation; exploring through the arts; exploring in our character, our friendships and relationships, exploring through faith and belief.

    We know that explorers can be odd, obsessive sorts of people. Not always the sort of people we feel comfortable with. But whatever they may look like, however they behave, we know that explorers bring grace and wonder, truth and insight into the world. We should rejoice to be among them. Let us pray.

    We give thanks for those who explore in the cause of understanding; whose search takes them far from what is familiar and comfortable and leads them into danger or terrifying loneliness. Let us try to understand their sometimes strange or difficult ways; their confronting or unusual language; the uncommon life of their emotions, for they have been affected and shaped and changed by their struggle at the frontiers of a wild darkness, just as we may be affected, shaped and changed by the insights they bring back to us. Bless them with strength and peace. Amen. [1]

    [1] From Michael Leunig: The Prayer Tree.
    This is a reduced version of my sermon preached at Holy Trinity on 4 January 2004, which you can read here with full list of links and references.