Worship Start Time: 10:30am
Preaching: Rev. Lee Spice
Co-Presiding: Rev. Erin Klassen
Theme: Anyone Listening?
The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.
This week recognize Joe's work with the ministry team at Scarboro with a covenanting service.
January 7, 2018
Rev. Lee Spice
Almost universally, the story of the Wise Men is tagged on to the end of the Christmas pageant. Three figures in fancy robes and exotic-looking headgear arrive at the stable, presumably having just dismounted from their camels.
The star gleams overhead. The shepherds are already there, and a proud couple beams demurely at their infant son, no crying he makes.
The fancy three present their gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Cue “Joy to the World,” and the pageant is over.
It’s all fun, and it’s a part of a long-standing tradition, for sure. The church has always loved it when Biblical narratives can be woven together to make sense. But the story of the shepherds in the field who listen to angels and race to the stable to find the holy family is a completely different story from the wise men following the star. It is in a different book of the Bible, altogether, by a different author.
Yesterday was the Day of Epiphany – a word that means a great revealing – celebrated by the church as the great revealing of Christ to the Gentiles through the wise men – the magi. And it comes from this story.
The story of the wise ones who see the star is a story about a journey, and about danger, and about threats to abusive power.
Imagine that you are the gospel writer, Matthew, and you sit down to write about how Jesus can change the world.
Far, far away from the strong arm of the Roman Empire, a group of academics begins a journey. Matthew never really says how many there are. They are astrologers – although astrology is less likely to have a place in science today, Matthew saw them as being honoured and respected by the people who come to them for wisdom. They are consulted by kings and lay-people alike.
They know stuff.
Something important is happening in the world. A special star has risen in the sky. It’s a star that heralds a change upon the whole earth – even they, who are not Jewish, recognize that the birth of this Jewish lad is important. It has global importance.
The wise ones, or, the “magi,” decide to go and see for themselves.
They arrive in Jerusalem, and ask, somewhat naively, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”
The ears of the powerful prick up.
In this neck of the woods, the King of the Jews is King Herod. A powerful and despotic Jewish ruler – a puppet of Rome.
The ears of the powerful hear a threat – a threat to the way things are done. A threat to the class system. A threat to the strong hand that holds people in their places.
Naomi Klein says, “Politics hates a vacuum; if it isn’t filled with hope, someone will fill it with fear.” Herod has filled the vacuum with fear, and he hears the threat of hope.
Slyly, Herod calls the wise ones to a secret meeting.
“Go and find this special boy, and when you do, let me know, so that I, too, can come to honour him.”
He’s a snake – if you keep reading in this story, you’ll see the issues a death warrant to all baby boys under the age of two – the same as Pharaoh in the story of Moses – just like the first readers of this Jesus story, you are meant to remember the story of Moses.
The wise men find their way to the house where Jesus and his parents live. It’s not a stable. And they offer three gifts.
I’m recalling the jokes that circulate at this time of year – If there had been three wise women, they’d have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, brought practical gifts and made a casserole…
But these gifts are gifts of the present and of the future. These wise astrologers are looking into their star charts and seeing that this is a king – so they bring him gold. We don’t know yet, that he’s not going to be the kind of king they are used to.
He has been chosen by God, in the way that King David was chosen by God, and so, like King David, he will be anointed with special oil – Frankincense.
The last gift carries foreboding – it is myrrh, the spice that is used for preparing bodies for burial after death. This new king, being born into humanity, will die, as all humans do. But we have no hint, yet, of how; or how our Christian story does not end with that death.
The wise ones have been warned in a dream not to return to Herod. They have been on a life-changing journey. They have seen God’s love face-to-face. They return to their home, but they go on an entirely different path – one that does not land them in Herod’s clutches.
You can barely hear, now, the crunch, crunch, crunch of the wise men’s steps as they head home.
And here we are.
January 7, and all of our Christmas pageants are over. We sang our songs, put up our trees, gathered with friends or family, enjoyed the pageants, lit candles on Christmas Eve and welcomed the Christ child.
But, as we suspected, that seems to be over, and the world returns to real life as if it had never happened. The stars have been taken down and the stable scenes put away. The angel wings have been sorted and put into the closet. Just Friday, at our house, we packed up the Nativity scene, hauled out the tree (shedding needles all the way) and took the box of decorations to the basement. And [if it has not already happened], it will happen at church, too, when all the stars and candles are put away.
Home – the wise men headed home, but it’s not the way they came.
In this fearful world, where power is wielded as a weapon instead of being used to serve – in this fearful world, where lines are drawn in the ideological sand – into this world, so beloved of God – love has been born. Having seen that, how can anyone go back by the same path?
There is another way home.
The new path is illuminated with the realization that the light of God’s love is in the world. In this world – the one into which Jesus was born.
The new path is a realization that oppressive power – can be outsmarted, outmaneuvered and outloved by listening to God. The new path leads away from the tyrants of political oppression, and away from the tyrants of hatred, racism, sexism and trans- and homophobia.
The new path is one that leads to reality, but a new reality – a reality that has been changed forever with the flutter of angel wings and the birth cries of new life.
This is a new reality of following the one whose birth was proclaimed – the man, Jesus, who grew up and continues to shake us up – who spoke truth to power and said that the last would be first, and the first, last, and that God’s realm is among us.
And so we set out – into a new year, on a different path. I want to share a poem with you – one written by Jan Richardson. This is from a retreat that she wrote for Epiphany, which is, I found out, celebrated as Women’s Christmas Ireland. Jan is a prolific poet and writer, and is living through the grief of her husband’s unexpected death.
The Map Our Dreaming Made: A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
I cannot tell you
how far I have come
to give this blessing
for the distance crossed,
for the terrain behind,
the passage of time
while I traveled a road
I knew not.
For now, let us say
I had to come by
a different star
than the one
I first followed,
had to navigate by
than the one
I loved the most.
But I tell you
that even here,
that each star belongs
to a light
more ancient still,
and each dream
part of the way
that lies beneath
and each day
drawing us closer
to the day
when every path
and we will see the map
our dreaming made,
luminous in every line
that finally led us
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