It all Begins in Joy

A reflection on Matthew 2:1-12

It all begins in joy
and to joy it all returns.
Yet in between, a thousand deaths each day.

That’s how I imagine the Magi
summed it up their journey
as they return
to the place they once called home.

It’s possible I’m just projecting
my life on their journey but
can you imagine?

Two years slouching towards Bethlehem
and two years back into the world.
In between, epiphaneia.
Divine encounter.
Harrowing journey to give,
Harrowing journey to receive
the gift that changes everything.

A journey that began
with a star, a spark:
a journey that begins with intuition
unleashes them
leading all of us down
the road made only by walking
a road that inevitably,
though never directly, bring them (brings us)
to encounter with
all we’ve been looking for.

Arid wilderness, desert, mountain.
Years of travel
beauty and wonder
fear and trembling
determination and doubt
lost in the daylight
at home in the dark
fumbling towards God knows what.

Hoping, praying, journeying,
step after aching step, intuitively knowing
that this journey would
in some way lead them
to a new understanding of home.

It all begins in joy
and to joy it all returns.
Yet in between, a thousand painful, life-giving deaths each day.

This is the journey of life, isn’t it?
Flashes of insight and intuition,
words from God,
divine intimacy,
deep cleansing breaths
on new paths toward life
paths mired in struggle
and daily uncertainty.

And even though the future is uncertain,
even though we don’t know
where the road will lead,
we step out, recklessly, hopefully,
faithfully afraid. Held in the arms
of mystery. Led by smoke and star and fire.
Led onward by God.

I’m awed at the faith of the Magi,
all too often my faith is so weak.

Their inner compass,
the divine spark within and amongst them
telling them this is a journey worth taking.

That’s the impression I get from what we read tonight.

Even so, I wonder. How easily did they make their decision?
What pressures held them back?
What did they fight about?
How many Magi left with them at the beginning?
How many completed the journey?

How did they know? Did they know
what they would meet when they finally got there?

How did they know? Did they know
how or if or that everything would change?

I wonder at their daring.
But I also wonder if they were wise enough
to know from the outset
that they couldn’t possibly
return by the same route.

Rationally, of course, they couldn’t.
But who of us is thinking rationally
when we’re following a vision of the future
as distant and unknowable as a star?

I want to be like the Magi, the ones
we hear about in this story.
Yet all too often, I am one of the
not-so-wise, the ones who see
the light, who experience the joy,
but whose head overtakes the heart,
coming up with a thousand reasons
not to set out, but rather, to stay.

So tonight, spurred on by the Magi,
and in your company too,
knowing that
all begins in joy,
and to joy all shall return.

in the shadow of all that darkens our world

I wonder—star of wonder, star of light—
how we might embrace
the radiance the Magi saw
the radiance the Magi followed
the radiance the Magi experienced
the radiance that sent them home
by a new way

I wonder: how might we embrace
radiance in the midst of our encounters
with darkness, devastation, and death,

How might we seek after life
and in so doing, and against all the odds,
return to joy?

This sermon was inspired, in part, by Adrian Chalifour’s 2019 Album, Joy.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

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