Today is a day for finding kings and seeing what they are all getting up to.
So there are, let’s say, three of them to be found riding camels to Bethlehem.
There is one more, a fourth, and he is pacing up and down in his palace nearby.
Oh and don’t forget the one about whom all this fuss is being made The tiny king asleep in the manger of Bethlehem’s stable.
So that makes five kings to find… but there is one more, a sixth! The one you know better than anybody. The one sitting listening to this sermon and wondering what it could possibly be about!
Let’s see what happens when the paths of these six kings happen to cross.
Let’s start with the easy story, the three traditional kings following the star to Bethlehem.
They are nearly arrived by the time we catch up with them.
But just for a moment, it seems, they take their eyes of the star that had been their glorious guide.
They turn away from ramshackled Bethlehem, and are seduced by the glittering lights of the royal city nearby.
Here they meet Herod in a state of blind panic.
He has heard about the infant king already and his advisers tell him that the holy scripture states that the birthplace has always been earmarked as Bethlehem.
Even before the wise men are secretly summoned, these fans of the palace, seem in no doubt that the rumours are true and the threats to them considerable.
They already understand that His kingdom is about a world view very different from theirs.
It is about pouring the generous love of God into the hearts and lives of everyone who will have him, irrespective of background, intelligence, upbringing or even adherence to the law.
In the Gospel story, the wise men affirm that they are on the way to see this king and they promise to return to Herod when they find out where the birthplace is…
In my minds eye though I see the following happen…
“Your majesty” says one of the three wise men to Herod, “why not come with us right now, come to Bethlehem bring a gift and join us as we worship him”.
At this the king blusters and mutters and his counsellors whisper in his royal ears “No no , your majesty, you must not go… it would not be seemly… it would not be right…” and they are dancing round in their ever decreasing religious circles.
But Herod agrees to go and I next see him puffing and panting as he clambers aboard one of the camels, for he is a big man… with lots of things.
See him now clinging on for dear life as his camel bounces him up and down along those lanes. His robes in a tangle. His hat blown off. His stomach, queasy.
And then in the huge pockets of his robe Herod carries two contrasting gifts for this king. Which he may or may not present. He carries his own royal crown and a knife with a very very sharp knife.
So these four kings are trekking on to Bethlehem intent upon visiting the fifth.
Three of them with rising excitement in their hearts, the fourth gasping and anxious, hatching a plan as he goes.
Imagine them entering the stable. This unlikely company. Our three kings are overwhelmed with joy and immediately they fall down and worship Jesus and they get ready with their treasure chests.
The stable is as wonderful as you have ever imagined. That place of worship filled with the majesty of the living God in one tiny child.
Herod stands in the shadows. He cannot, he will not worship. Instead he is fingering the contents of his pockets.
A crown to place on the Christ Child’s head… or the knife to run him through the heart?
He sees the Christ Child, this murderous man! He feels the grace of God for the first time in his life. The stable wraps its magic around his portly frame. The crown or the knife…which one? which one?
The sixth king, sitting in church in Redhill is listening to all this, and wonders.
For the preacher is telling him that worship is the most important thing the church does.
Week by week we come to this place like kings to a stable. Masters of our own destiny and we can choose whether we fall down and worship with the others or stand in the shadows with Herod.
Here is where we let God be God says the preacher.
Here is where we bring all the senses of sight and sound of smell and touch to work together in harmony to bring out the best in us here, and although we don’t think we add up to very much on our own, as part of this church and its worldwide fellowship, we can be something new, and we can become strangely changed!
For the generosity of God’s love is presented relentlessly through our singing and our speaking, our listening and our reflecting, our eating and our drinking and our kneeling and standing and sitting.
What shall our response be to 10am Parish Communion… a crown or a knife?… light or darkness?… saving or losing…?
O sixth king of the Epiphany listen up… what do you think Herod would do next… how would worship in the stable touch him? Crown or knife? Life or death? The answer you give shows the Gospel you hear.
Move on from that for a minute or two… we will come back to it I promise…
Because there is a pivotal moment coming up next. It’s subtle and you may have missed it!
Our gospel story tells us that the wise men open up their treasure chests and offer to Jesus gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Do you think they offered everything?
Do you think they emptied out its sparkly contents all over the laps of Mary and Joseph chests.
Or did they offer just a little.
Just a spoonful of that precious incense.
Just a drop of that perfumed myrrh.
Just a sliver, just a sliver of one precious bar of gold.
Not too much you understand… a token of appreciation… nothing more.
The sixth king is forced to wonder upon this decision and he or she knows what’s coming next for they have heard this preacher before.
Worship in church isn’t any good unless it leads to a response from the worshippers.
We each have chests of treasure, he goes on and this story asks us to decide.. what does the worship of God compel us offer and what do we keep back for…how shall I put this… continued private and personal consumption.
There are two reasons why we might choose to withhold our treasure.
It could be because we have decided to measure out quite specifically how much of ourselves we are prepared to give God and how much we will keep back for ourselves.
Or… and this is more likely, we look into our treasure chests and see such a rag tag and bobtail collection of bric a brac… that we are ashamed to offer it. It looks so feeble.
But the wonder is that this infant king can take whatever we give and can change whoever we are and make it part of his own generous outpouring of love.
In fact, he relies on it to bring about his kingdom. He needs Herod to draw near. He needs our gifts precious or pathetic. Without them he can do nothing.
And our gifts take as many shapes as there are sixth kings listening to all this… for each is unique.
Offer the equivalent of the crown you have. Your ego. Your self-centredness. Your self importance, for that is our kingship isn’t it? Hand over that crown lay it before his feet, for in the light of this worship, you don’t need it any more.
Or will you give the knife… by deriding others, seeing the faults in others, seeing the wounding instead of healing, digging the knife in further.
Six kings of the Epiphany…
What did those three wise men do when they left the stable, with what they had left?
Herod? Did he commit the murderous act we expected of him, or did the grace of God stifle his wickedness for ever.
The infant king, was his life going to change the world, would enough people hand over their crowns and becoming followers, tossing away their knives at the same time… or would they keep their blades hidden and look for their moment… to… well… crucify him even.
And you O sixth king… you have witnessed all this… and sat through the jumble of this sermon. What will you do?
MATTHEW 2: 1-12
Today is a day for finding kings and seeing what they are all getting up to.