Based on Matthew 2:1-23 Sunday, January 5th 2014
Are you ready for a spiritual pilgrimage? Do you realize by showing up here this morning, we are opening ourselves to that very thing? There are other, less risky places to be on a Sunday morning. But we are here, and so I invite you to travel with the Magi this morning, to be the Magi this morning, the ones seeking wisdom, divine guidance, the unknown and the unexpected; the ones who risk being changed by the journey.
We have heard the gospel this morning, but I want to go through the story again with curiosity and with openness to finding connections. I will offer some questions for pondering, and I encourage you to look at/hear the message/sermon again, in print form or on the website so you can let the answers come to you when they are ready.
About all we really know of Jesus’ earliest days, is he was said to be born during the reign of Herod the Great. The stories that have grown up around that information are there for us to wrestle a blessing from, and discern what is God asking of us now.
Have you ever thought you were going somewhere to do something, only to find out things didn’t turn out as you planned? Sometimes that can be disappointing and painful, and yet, there is always a gift hidden within the unknown, something even more significant for our spiritual growth.
We want to be the Magi, and yet, as they had to seek their hearts to understand why they were leaving the comfort of home to set off into the unknown, we are invited to search our hearts – and ask, when do we feel more like other characters in the story? King Herod Perhaps? I think it’s safe to say, none of us here today are in danger of slaying innocent children in a fit of fear and rage. However when might we feel intimidated by the prospect of someone else getting the `glory’ – the promotion, the praise, the raise, the attention, the loyalty, etc.? And from that, what might we choose to do, or not do? From the Seasons of the Spirit, comes a prayer “Forgive us, when we, like Herod, feel insecure, and try to sabotage, avoid or destroy anything or anyone who might get in our way.”
Who else is hidden in this story? What of the scribes and Pharisees whom Herod calls upon for their expertise? They found the information, at least they found the scripture that backed Bethlehem as an unexpected place of significance. Hadn’t they spent their life search and hoping for this Messiah – this anointed ruler? Now what? Will they join the Magi in their search, or dismiss them as misguided strangers?
When in your life have you had a desire to do something, go somewhere, witness something; be a part of something bigger? Have you taken the opportunity or has something blocked you? When have you stepped into the new and unknown, and when have you closed the book in the subject so to speak? What motivated or deterred you?
In verses 10-11 the Magi go to Bethlehem and find what they’ve been seeking. They find the child with his mother Mary… and present their gifts. Years ago I got a Christmas card showing Mary opening a casserole, receiving blankets and diapers. She’s delighted – “Wow- gifts I can really use,” she exclaims. The gifts we hear the Magi brought, are symbolic and written in long after the life of Jesus. They reflect the complexity of what he offered – gold -symbolizing royalty, though he was a very different kind of leader, frankincense – symbolizing his priestly role of prayer and healing, and myrrh, a burial spice symbolizing his suffering and death, and ultimate triumph over death.
What gifts can we offer in response to God’s gift of a vulnerable baby – cloaked in scandal, and arriving in a dangerous time? I asked this on Christmas Eve, and we did add a few suggestions including a turkey, and love! From Christina Rossetti’s beautiful hymn, In the Bleak Mid-winter” we hear ”What can I give him, poor as I am, If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise one, I would do my part, what I can I give him – give my heart.”
And… we give our heart by living in our very real and complex world, and by responding with our gifts – clumsily or graciously perhaps, but there is no shortage of opportunity to give – be it checking on your neighbour with a phone call, a ride to a doctor’s appointment, volunteering at the thrift shop, being a place of safety and affirmation for your grandchildren, writing a cheque, writing a letter.
I did bring a gift with me today, which I invite you to join me in giving. It is a letter to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court asking her to investigate crimes against Palestine under United Nations rules. If you don’t have a background as a lawyer, it can sound rather daunting. But it comes directly out of a presentation at the conference I attended in Jerusalem in November on International law and the Palestine-Israel Conflict. There was a young lawyer from Ireland, named Una, at the Conference. She and the professor who gave the presentation got together at our collective request and drafted this letter. One letter may only be a drop in the bucket, but we also know that drop by drop, it only takes one more for the bucket to overflow. Jim and I have mailed our letters and I have copies of the letter here, the address to send them, envelopes and international stamps if that would help sway you to sign it and send it. The price of the stamps is going up significantly in March so, please use them now!
Verse 12 says the Magi did not go back to Herod, once they had found the child, Jesus. They were warned in dream and they listened to that message. We know that part of the story and the reading in church usually stops there, but that’s not the end of the story. Do we think about what it might have cost them? What they risked in doing that? What if Herod had them stopped at the border? Theirs was an act of civil obedience against the local king.
Herod the Great was known for being ruthlessness. He died within a year or two of Jesus’ birth. In those final years, his paranoia about rivals was infamous. Thus we have the story of the massacre of innocents – the male babies of Bethlehem.
And the story is timeless. Tyrants, terrorists and bullies are afraid of sharing power, or of empowering others – be it on an international scale, at the work place or in the school yard. We can’t stop every wrong, but with stars and signs, and dreams, and the nudging of the Holy Spirit, we can put our tiny bit if weight behind what we know to be right. When we can’t do everything, we can do something.
When and how have you realized that you need to change the path down which you are travelling? What difference has it made in your life? How has it affected the people around you? What new journey might God be calling you to take? As we reflect on these prayerful questions during this season of Epiphany, may we be open to wonder and surprise on our spiritual pilgrimage. Amen.