One of the things I like to do as Head is to lead full school assembly at the start and end of each term. Consequently, I often get the first assembly in the New Year which either precedes or proceeds Epiphany. This was the case again this year. To ensure that I did not replicate too closely what I said last year I read last year’s assembly before composing this years.
Below is a slightly edited and abridged version of that assembly from January 2016. It seemed relevant to me at this moment in time. I hope it is relevant to you also.
On Sunday, we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany which celebrates a wonderful moment of enlightenment. The moment when it is revealed to all that a tiny baby, in a stable, surrounded by animals is also the King of Kings.
This is made real to us by three visitors from the east. Variously known as Magi, kings or wise men. They come to the baby Jesus guided only by a star and their faith. The journey they had undertaken was a difficult one. To cross continents in the 1st Century was no easy task. The road would have been long, hostile and dangerous. They would have stood out from the local population, perhaps even treated with contempt.
In his fantastic poem, The Journey of the Magi, T S Eliot pictures the three kings travelling in the cold of the dead of winter through hostile cities and unfriendly towns finally being forced to travel at night and sleeping in snatches. Eliot imagines them regretting starting out on the journey but persevering none the less. The poem begins like this:
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And he goes on to say:
“A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.”
But they did persevere and when they found the baby Jesus they describe his surroundings as no more than satisfactory. Nothing like their lofty palaces with feasting, dancing, exotic jewels and clothes.
The experience changes them – irrevocably.
There are two messages in the story of the Magi which I find compelling and inspiring.
Firstly, the simple fact that they were strangers, from a foreign land, from a different race and culture to Joseph and Mary and the Shepherds. They were not part of the Jewish faith. This tells me and you that God wants to make it clear right from the very beginning that he is the God of all – no matter what your background; he came for everyone as long as they are prepared to come and meet him he will be there waiting for you.
One of the many Christmas Day traditions in the Maher household is to listen to the Queen’s Christmas address to the Commonwealth. Last year she said:
“It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.'”
This made me think of the wise men following a light to the Messiah; leaving the darkness and stepping into the light. I wonder if similar emissaries of peace and love would be made welcome in our world today?
The second inspiring message from the Magi is their perseverance in the face of real hardship. They carry on no matter what. As we heard in Elliot’s poem.
How many of us have given up when the path has seemingly become too tough; the obstacles too many; the abuse and ridicule too much to endure; the call of the easy path too difficult to resist.
I know I have at times.
I don’t know much but one thing I do know is that we will all be tested during our lives and we will have to choose between the easy path and the right path. At the beginning of this New Year and new term, we all have an opportunity to reflect and determine to choose the right path and, even if it is a challenge, I promise you that the rewards will be worth it in the end.
I also know that throughout our lives, God will present us with challenges that sometimes we can’t understand and we can’t make sense of. At times like this, our faith, following the star, the light, even though we are not always sure where it is taking us, is so important.
The Queen also said that ‘There’s an old saying that “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”.
Perhaps our resolution this year should be that we, like the wise men, light candles of hope rather than spread untruths, malicious gossip or wallow in the darkness.