Shifting sands…some thoughts for an Epiphany Eucharist, St Mary’s Whitkirk

Camels for epiphany

“When Christmas is over

and New Year is past

we three slow visitors arrive at last.


Too late for the angels

we wonder and long

for the piercing white beauty of feathery songs.


We wandered the wastes

Where the wind and the sand

whispered and shifted and remade the land.


And now by the maker

of all things we stand

Mysterious gifts in our trembling hands.


The gold and the incense

are all fine and good

and the myrrh has its meaning too – all understood.


But here at our mercy

lies God – and we shiver

Just what is the gift here? And who is the giver?”


(Jan Dean – from ‘Wallpapering the cat’ – poems for children)


From a book of children’s poems, I think it captures perfectly the nature of the easily overlooked season of Epiphany. Epiphany, which means revelation or realisation.

The poem is filled with a sense of unease, of bewilderment, as the three men find themselves kneeling before the Christ child. Wise men or kings, they have come, presumably, from comfortable homes and lifestyles…from places of control and power…from positions where other people did the travelling, where the world came to them.

“We wandered the wastes

Where the wind and the sand

whispered and shifted and remade the land.”

They’ve been called from what they know to a place that changes not only their lives – but how they see what’s around them. When the most important thing is searching for a baby at the edge of their known world who is somehow infinitely greater than themselves – they look around them – and what once seemed so important perhaps now seems irrelevant. Their land has indeed shifted and been remade.

And so it should be for us. It is easy to forget, because the world has taken the Christmas story and exploited it to prop up the status quo – where money and celebrity are what count, and where even charity can be used to show how well that world is working.

The wise men are a timely reminder that even though he comes to where we are – our journey to Jesus should take us to places where the sands shift and the world looks different.

“But here at our mercy

lies God – and we shiver

Just what is the gift here? And who is the giver?”

The world looks different when we realise with those travellers that what ever we offer to God is only a tiny part of what he has first given us. His gift is everything we have and everything we are. And the gift is not just for us, or those like us – it’s for everyone.

Once we really understand that, the sands shift and our world looks different. A bit like a party where some of us have grabbed far more than our share of the presents. And charity is revealed as giving back what was never really ours in the first place – as a kind of apology to those who haven’t had their share of God’s gifts.

In this way we might see beyond the success of Christmas appeals to the failures that make them necessary. We might see beyond our throw away lifestyles to the damage we do to the world others also depend on.

But in the strange, bewildering landscape of Epiphany – we hold on to the joy of Christmas, and remember that God’s gift is infinitely better than anything this world can offer. And that if we share it – there is always more than enough to go round.



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