Think about this question. What is the most important part of a journey? The beginning, middle or end? Why we travel, where we travel or how we travel?
At Epiphany we focus on the journey made by the Magi in order to be able to kneel and worship the baby king Jesus. In the ancient world, Jupiter was the ‘king star’, and at the time of the birth of Jesus, Jupiter appeared in the night sky very close to Saturn, which represented Israel. If you were reading the sky you’d see ‘new king in Israel’.
That was the starting point for their journey but it didn’t give them exact directions. They didn’t know exactly where they were going on their journey. They knew they were going to find the new king in Israel but they had to trust as they travelled that they would be guided and led to find him. They clearly travelled a great distance and, obviously, didn’t have cars, trains or planes, so they would have probably travelled on camels. But the distance and effort didn’t stop them because meeting the child was so important.
When they arrived, they gave extravagantly to welcome Jesus with gifts, time, effort, the risk of danger, and humility. But their gifts pale next to Jesus coming to earth to show God’s love for us; Jesus came from heaven, eternity and majesty to earth, time and humanity. He went on an even more incredible journey to show us God’s love. After they had found Jesus the journey of the Magi began again as they were guided by God to return home by another route and, as T. S. Eliot makes clear at the end of his great poem about their journey, their lives were forever changed by the experience.
So, their starting point was important but it didn’t tell them how to find their way and when they did finally arrive, their arrival actually meant the beginning of a new journey. All of which means that how we travel may be as important as why or where we travel. That at least is what our Text for 2013 at St John's Seven Kings, taken from Matthew 6. 34, seems to say:“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Simon Small writes in ‘From the Bottom of the Pond’ that: “Our minds find paying full attention to now very difficult. This is because our minds live in time. Our thoughts are preoccupied with past and future, and the present moment is missed.”
But, he says, “Contemplative prayer is the art of paying attention to what is”: “To pay profound attention to reality is prayer, because to enter the depths of this moment is to encounter God. There is always only now. It is the only place that God can be found.”
This is very much what Jesus seems to be saying to us in Matthew 6. 34 and in his teaching on worry and anxiety found in Matthew 6. 24 – 34.
When we are preoccupied with what might happen in the future, we are not living fully in the present and may well misunderstand or misinterpret what is actually going on. Jesus encourages us to live fully in the present because, as Simon Small says, that is where we encounter God.
When we genuinely encounter God in the here and now we know that his love and forgiveness surround us and that his Spirit fills us. As Jesus prayed in John 17, he is in us and we are in him. When we know this in our hearts in the here and now, we can relax because whatever happens to us we are accepted, forgiven, loved and gifted by the God who created all things and who will bring all things to their rightful end. We are held in the palm of his hands and, as Julian of Norwich put it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”.
Even in the difficult times, we can still know that this is true because, as our Text for 2013 puts it, God will help us deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
Jesus is saying that the more we live in the present and the more we encounter God’s love in the here and now, the less we will be anxious or worried. Prayer is able to help us do both things and therefore helps us to reduce our sense of anxiety or worry. Not because we have listed all our worries to God and believe that he will solve them all for us, but instead because, through prayer, we have encountered more of God’s love and, as a result, trust that he will be with us whatever comes our way.
This is important because so much of our sense of dissatisfaction with our lives and the complaining we do about other people stems from our own worries and anxieties rather than what may or may not have happened or what others may or may not have done. Instead of focusing on other people and what we think they should or should not do or have done, we need to begin with ourselves and our relationship with God by giving our entire attention to what God is doing right now, and not getting worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Then God is able to help us deal with whatever comes up, whether hard things or blessings, when the time comes.
We don’t know what 2013 will bring. Some predict an upturn in the economy, others a worsening. We can’t be sure and, of course, the future will be different for each of us. But, as Brian Davison reminds us in the current edition of the ‘Ilford Recorder’, “if the prospect of what lies ahead seems dark or threatening, remember the words with which King George VI reflected on the closing year in his 1939 Christmas broadcast. “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” (Minnie Louise Haskins).
Julie Miller - By Way Of Sorrow.