Sermon for Epiphany 2: 17January, 2021

Christmas has been and gone. The Wise Men have been and gone. They came with strange gifts for an ‘ordinary’ child. These men were rich, well dressed and well educated and yet they knelt down in front of a family which was poor, dressed in common clothes and with only a basic education. There is no record of anything they might have said to each other. We must assume it all happened in total silence; what the Americans would call non-verbal communication. Those famous gifts were handed over. What they received in return was the memory of the boy they met in a stable. That is the gift each of them carried on the long road home. What they took away with them was far more valuable than anything they had handed over to Mary and Joseph. We can well imagine how that trip to Bethlehem made the Wise Men wiser.  

Perhaps they would never again look at poor men and women in quite the same way. Maybe, after all, humble homes and stables have something to teach those who live in fine houses and palaces. The wisdom of Mary and Joseph outweighed the wisdom of those Wise Men because they had said YES to God, in a way that few people do. That is why the stable is a gift to each and every one of us. It teaches us that even the poorest heart can be home for the richest heart that was ever born on earth.  

Today in this Covid world of ours, silence has been forced upon us. There are far fewer opportunities to ‘blather away’ about nothing in particular, just to fill the empty day with the sound of our own voices. Suddenly we all have to think about the how and the why of what we want to say. Is it necessary? Does it matter? Will it make a difference? Is it going to help or just add to the worry and the stress that others are feeling in these difficult times?  

IF we can’t say something helpful and hopeful, then perhaps there are times when it’s best to say nothing at all. There is something to be said for non-verbal communication. We all get the message and the meaning of the Wise Men in the stable. Yet nothing was said. We all get the message and the meaning of the Cross on Calvary Hill. Yet very little was said. Apparently when St Francis of Assisi first met with St Dominic, they just hugged each other for ages and said nothing at all, much to the amazement of those who were there. The two Saints said it with silence: they simply didn’t need words. They were communicating at a much deeper level about something known and understood by all who are looking hard enough and long enough for things which help and give us hope when life is hard.  

Just like the Wise Men, we too have travelled a long way in the course of our lives. We have looked hard for the things which really matter and make a difference. We have not always looked in the right places. Even the Wise Men made the foolish mistake of talking with King Herod. Better if they had given him the miss altogether and pushed on for Bethlehem, where that star was heading. At least they made it, even if they arrived late for Christmas.  

It is so easy to get side-tracked from where we are meant to be going. As individuals; as a parish church; as a nation; as a world battered and bothered by Covid which refuses to leave us in peace. It is then that the peace of heaven comes in silence, to be with us, when we are lost for words. Jesus sits with us when we are not in our right mind. He brings us back to our true selves, that we might be ourselves, for others. As he was himself, for us. The Wise Men became better versions of themselves because they once met a boy in a stable!  

When Covid has moved on, like everyone on this planet we will have many reasons to hug each other in silence. That is when our healing will truly begin. For now, we must be helpful and hopeful, until we arrive together in safer happier times. 

May God go with you.

Fr Kevin Bell (Companion SPB)