Which of us is not in some way captivated by the mysterious Magi whose camel-borne figures so gracefully traversed the desert sands of the ancient world in pursuit of the newborn King?
Which of us is not in some way fascinated by the silvery night-journey of these nobles emerging from the east through the leading of a strange star in the heavens?
And which of us is not in some way entranced by the dangers they faced, the rare and distinctive gifts they bore, the complex pathway they traveled, and the dauntless mode of their approach?
Even their names, according to sixth century tradition – Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – pique our curiosity and arouse our interest, adding to the mystique that shrouds this remarkable narrative, making Epiphany such a delightful and captivating – and satisfying -- season of the Church year!
Certainly one of the great lessons delivered to us by the Magi, of old, has to do with the necessity of a worthy “work ethic.”
By all accounts, these gallant voyagers “had it made,” as they say, in their home countries! They had as much as they needed. They were secure in the prestige enjoyed amongst peers, in all probability comfortable among the “necessities” of life! Yet when their “call” came, they were ready to drop everything for this once in a lifetime – yea, once in the history of the world – journey.
Just imagine the decision-making required to take enough with them, but not too much! To travel light – but not too light! To prepare to manage the risks posed by contingencies – but not too much in an attempt to eliminate all risks. How much food for themselves... for their animals? Water! How to defend against possible aggression? What supplies to include for first aid, if required. How many funds for the purchase of necessities along the way? To whom would they speak? When would they remain silent?
And behind all of these considerations an incredibly refined work ethic that lifted them out of the comfort of their libraries and routines out into the rigors of the trail, the blaze of the sun, the sting of desert sands, the chill of night.
As the old saying goes: “Great men cease to be great when they cease to do great things!” “Great women cease to be great when they cease to do great things!” “Great children and young people cease to be great when they cease to do great things!”
And so they carefully and joyfully embarked on the great work God had so graciouslygiven them to do...
Was it any different than the great work given to Noah who spent decades preparing the ark? Instead of traveling across a desert, he and his family floated across a flood!
Was it any different than the great work of Nehemiah – rebuilding the broken-down walls of Jerusalem? Not just the physical labor required... but the mental toughness... and firm resolve of deep character to overcome all of the opposition, including that of the arch-villain, Tobiah and his ilk?
The Isaiah passage before us this morning speaks of rebuilding the former desolations. Yet more work! When the captives returned from Babylon, Isaiah said, they would have a lot of work to do! Rebuilding everything that had been destroyed and laid in waste... that had become the haunt of jackals!
But this passage also (at one and the same time) looked forward to the days of our Lord. It spoke of Him as bringing good tidings, of helping the brokenhearted, of proclaiming liberty to those in bondage. In fact, Jesus read this morning’s text from the Prophecy of Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth where He had been brought up. And He then famously stated, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
Certainly He and the Twelve a great work to do – and they did it! They started a redemptive work of such gargantuan proportions – and with such a breathtaking outcome... we can really only stare with bated breath in silence at the scope of accomplishment... and the worldwide outcome!
John Milton, called by some the most gifted of all the English writers, who was blind when he dictated his magnum opus, the poem Paradise Lost, 1658-1664 – and then its sequel Paradise Regained, could still see by faith the enormity of the undertaking involved! His famous quote regarding the rebuilding of the “ancient ruins” is taken from this morning’s Isaiah passage. He saw the undertaking in Jesus Christ as reaching all the way back to the Garden of Eden and our first parents’ terrible choices.
We have all been given lots of work to do in our lifetimes! And He has equipped us for our tasks. We have Jesus as our perfect example... and behind Him, our Heavenly Father, whom Jesus said is always working!
We also have the Magi of old, whose great work of faith we remember and strive to emulate each Epiphany season.
As John Milton wrote (and I quote): “The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him to be like Him...”
May the Almighty continue to grant us His wisdom and His blessing in our repair of the ancient ruins as well! The last verse of this morning’s Isaiah passage tells us the outcome will be glorious, indeed!
For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.
Let us repair the ancient ruins... world without end. Amen.