Jesus! My shepherd, brother, friend,
My prophet, priest and king,
My Lord, my life, my way, my end,
Accept the praise I bring.
That verse from a hymn written by Olney’s famous John Newton is one which came to mind when I was reflecting on this period of time between Christmas Day and Epiphany. In many churches, Epiphany is celebrated today, as the nearest Sunday to the Feast Day, but with our church closed, we will be celebrating on the 6th January, the actual day dedicated in our Lectionary to the arrival of the wise men to the infant Jesus, with their strange, prophetic gifts.
The shepherds have been and gone; they saw a newborn baby, lying in a manger, and worshipped him. Humble and poor, they were not overawed by the holy family, camping out in a stable, in similar conditions to those in which the shepherds might find themselves. They could relate to the situation in which Mary and Joseph found themselves, and though they knelt and worshipped the baby, those words of the hymn, shepherd, brother, friend, are how they might well have seen the babe when grown.
The wise men, the magi, came later, much later, when the baby became an infant. They carried with them, in addition to their mysterious, significant gifts, the knowledge that this child was born to be king. The star they had seen led them to a definite conclusion – a royal birth, in Judea, so they headed to the capital city, Jerusalem. That is why they first visited Herod’s palace, with tragic results. For them, John Newton’s words, prophet, priest and king would accurately reflect how they saw the child.
Humble and uneducated, rich and wise, the two sets of visitors to the infant Jesus represent a cross section of society, which Newton summarises so brilliantly in two lines of his hymn. All are welcome into God’s kingdom, whatever their condition, position in society or ability.
The same is true of the church to which we belong. All have their part to play, all are welcome, all bring their gifts to their Lord and King, most of all, in the words of Christina Rosetti, another hymn writer, they:
Give my heart.