Jesus Is in the House

Jesus Is in the House

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 27, 2019

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Luke 4:14-21

 

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke gives us a bird’s eye view of a synagogue service. Actually, this account is the oldest and most detailed description we have. Although other gospel writers place this event later in the ministry of Jesus, Luke puts it near the beginning in order to announce Jesus’ mission, right up front. Luke wants everyone to know, without question, who Jesus is, what his ministry is about, and what the likely response will be to both Jesus and, later, to the church. [i]

 

 

Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returns to Galilee. By this time, people from far and wide have heard of him. When he arrives in Nazareth, he is among family and friends. This is where Jesus grew up, where he played, and where he worshiped. On the Sabbath, Jesus does what he always does, he goes to the synagogue. Fred Craddock notes that it was during the exile that the synagogue came into being as a sort of temple surrogate, minus the altar or priest. “Led by laity, the Pharisees being the most prominent among them, the synagogue became the institutional center of a religion of the Book, not the altar…the synagogue was not only an assembly for worship but also a school, a community center, and a place for administering justice.” [ii]

 

 

So, Jesus returns to Nazareth and enters the synagogue. But notice that he does not simply show up. He participates. An attendant hands him the scroll of Isaiah and he stands to read it. Unrolling the scroll, he finds the place from which he wishes to read:

 

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 

 

Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant and sits down to interpret what he has just read—something like a homily, if you will. With the eyes of everyone upon him, Jesus says, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

 

While our reading today ends on a calm note, when we take up the story next Sunday, we will see that the temperature in the synagogue changes quickly. In a flash, the people will move from “every eye is upon Jesus” to “Let’s throw him off the nearest cliff.” But for now, let’s keep our attention on what has transpired up to this point. Jesus has come home to Nazareth to proclaim his mission statement to his family and friends. It will amaze, encourage, challenge, and comfort—but, before all is said and done—it will get him killed.

 

 

What is a mission statement anyway? A mission statement is a statement of purpose for a person, committee, organization, or church. In the case of a person, it guides her actions, spells out her overall goals, and provides a path to help guide decision making. With all eyes upon him, in essence, Jesus proclaims, “What I have read today—it’s who I am—it’s what my ministry will be about, for today, the year of the Lord’s favor begins. Today!”

 

 

The year of the Lord’s favor is a reference to the year of Jubilee, something God laid out for Israel in the book of Leviticus:

 

 

You shall count off…forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud…on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.[iii]

 

 

The people of Israel know about captivity. They know about slavery and the harshness of life. They look forward to a day when all will be made right. Over the centuries, they begin to hope for the day when the Messiah will come, and jubilee will reign forever. And there in their midst sits Jesus, “Today,” he says, “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

 

In other words, Craddock points out:

 

 

The age of God’s reign is here; the eschatological time when God’s promises are fulfilled and God’s purpose comes to fruition has arrived; there will be changes in the conditions of those who have waited and hoped. Those changes for the poor and the wronged and the oppressed will occur today. This is the beginning of jubilee.[iv]

 

 

Jesus, a Jew, is steeped in his own tradition. He knows the teachings of the prophets. He sings psalms. Yet, throughout his earthly ministry, he refuses to be cemented to the past. His mission is about today—not yesterday—not even someday—but today!

 

 

As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I have long recognized that there was a time in the life of the church when we felt pressured to become more contemporary. But things, well, they are a-changing. Now, “contemporary” is old hat and what seems to be drawing more people into the church is not something new and flashy, but that which is ancient and tried and true! Millennial blogger, Amy Peterson, puts it this way, “I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘relevant.’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s market. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.”[v] It turns out, young and old alike, who are searching for ways to deepen their faith, are being drawn to churches that offer classes on spiritual practices. Contemplative style worship services are becoming more common. People want to experience God in new, old ways—centering prayer, walking a labyrinth, lighting candles, silent and other spiritual retreats. We are living in a time when people are starving to death to connect to the holy. As a church, how are we helping? What is our mission—our mission statement? The mission of First Presbyterian Church is to celebrate God’s grace and to share Christ’s love through worship, study, and service. If we focus on our mission and remain open to the movement of the Spirit to guide us forward—then, surely, we will continue to be a beacon of light that draws people to the holy.

 

 

When Jesus enters the synagogue, we might say, “He goes to church.” There he demonstrates his faithfulness to his own tradition, but he also helps people see things fresh and new. Here at First Presbyterian Church, we have our traditions, too. Some are specifically reformed Presbyterian traditions, some are our very own. Repeatedly, though, over the past 2 ½ years, I have found joy in the way you are willing to embrace the new: singing old hymns and new ones; accompanied by organ, piano, guitar, handbells, flute, or recorded music; implementing the First Friday Contemplative Service that includes a variety of prayer practices; being willing to try a multi-generational Sunday school class; and taking the huge leap to support social media and live-streaming as ways to reach more people for the sake of Christ. Indeed, it is clear Jesus is in our church. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is among us, teaching us to hold on to the old traditions while exploring new ways of telling the story TODAY! For still today, there are people in dire need of good news. Still today, there are those who are held captive by the chains of addictions, unforgiving spirits, feelings of rejection, hatred. Still today, there are people oppressed by systems over which they have no control, oppressed by lies that would have them believe there is no hope. Still today, there are those who are blind to the way of Jesus and they need someone—anyone—to point them to the light.

 

 

Presbyterian missionary, Dick Gibson, tells a story about his days in Cairo, Egypt in the early 1970’s. On a street in a desperately poor neighborhood, with few modern conveniences, a church had requested a film on the life of Christ. The missionaries drove there, set up a screen in the sanctuary, and turned on the projector. As the church neighbors in this poor Muslim neighborhood walked by and saw the image of Jesus moving and speaking on the screen, there was pandemonium. It was the first movie most of them had ever seen. One of the women, who had entered the church out of curiosity, came bursting out the door and down the steps, shouting to anyone who had ears to hear, “Come and see! Come and see! They have Jesus in the church!” [vi] Oh, to hear our neighbors say that about us! “Come and see! Come and see! They have Jesus in First Presbyterian Church!”

 

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

[i] Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, 60-63

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Leviticus 25:8-10

[iv] Craddock, 62.

[v] Rachel Held Evans, “”Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.21d662739d7e

[vi] Adapted from Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Series VIII Cycle C, Carlos Wilton, 70-71.

 

*Cover Art “Scroll of Isaiah from Qumran,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54196 [retrieved January 9, 2019]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/korephotos/2472547083/.

 

The Next Step is Yours (Preached as a Dramatic Monologue)

The Next Step is Yours (Preached as a Dramatic Monologue)

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 20, 2019

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Elder Ordination & Installation

1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

 

Disgrace! It is an emotion I know well. Even though, in my head, I understood why people talked, my heart was broken many times. You see, in my day, getting into what might be referred to as “my predicament,” brought with it not only shame—but the potential for execution. So of course, people talked and, occasionally, I felt shamed because of it. But the man whom I had chosen to wed was a good man—such a good man—and he refused to end his covenant with me. No doubt, the Angel of the Lord had something to do with that. I mean, really, wouldn’t you obey Gabriel if he came knocking on your door?

 

 

The child was Yahweh’s. Joseph knew it. I knew it. But few others believed us. As people have a way of doing, they thought the worst. Some whispered that I had been unfaithful. Others said that it was Joseph’s child and we should just own up to our behavior. Regardless of what others thought or said, Joseph and I remained resolute. We knew that God had spoken, and we relied on God and one another.

 

 

Still, being disgraced left its mark on my heart. Maybe that’s why I behaved as I did when things went awry in Cana. The wedding was beautiful, and it was special to have Jesus there, along with his disciples. Overall, everything went well—until it didn’t. In those days, a newly married couple did not have a honeymoon. Instead, the bride and groom celebrated the marriage with a seven-day wedding feast at the groom’s home.[i] It was a grand affair of tremendous social importance. Everything had to be just right. So, when it came to my attention that those lovely people were about to run out of wine, I realized if there was anything I could do, anything at all, well, I had to do it! And I knew just where to turn. Jesus could keep our friends from being disgraced. So, I did what mothers have done since the beginning of time—I offered my child a little encouragement, a little nudge if you will, realizing that the next step would, or course, be his to make. It was possible that he would deny my request, but somehow, in my heart, I knew he wouldn’t. Somehow, I knew that this was the day of new beginnings.

 

 

Although he was hesitant at first, Jesus came through with flying colors. “Fill those jars with water,” he told the servants. The huge pots were generally used for religious purification purposes, and collectively, they held 120-180 gallons of water. Make no mistake, to fill them was hard, back-breaking work. It took time and effort, but fill them, the servants did, all the way to the brim. Then Jesus said, “Now take some to the host,” and it was done.

 

 

Two simple instructions—Fill those jars with water—Take some to the host—and the result was astounding. It was a moment of extravagance—not a little wine—or enough wine—but wine filled to the brim! Not average wine—or good wine—but the best we had ever tasted! (Isn’t that so like the divine generous nature of our God?) Of course, the servants were amazed because they had witnessed this sign first hand. The host was amazed by the wine’s quality. But the disciples—they were more than amazed. They caught the first glimpse of Jesus’ glory and they believed.

 

 

Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Later, I wondered why his first sign of glory would occur in such a setting and here is what I finally grasped: Turning water into wine was the perfect first miracle because it showed all people of all time—it is God who puts joy into life and God thinks it’s worth a little divine intervention to help us keep a party going to celebrate it.[ii]

 

 

From his first breath until his last, I watched over my son. I prayed for him—oh, how I prayed! I was there when people were moved by his love and care and provision. I was there when people believed because of his many miracles of healing. And I was there when things began to take a turn and his life was in danger. Surely you know that I was there at the cross, a witness to the cruelest of deaths—an innocent man hanging on a tree—more than a man—my son—more than my son—the Son of God.

 

 

Remarkably, it was on the 3rd day that we gathered for the wedding feast—the 3rd day in a long line of 3rd days for our people: For on the 3rd day, God revealed to Abraham the place where he was to sacrifice his son, Isaac. On the 3rd day, God came down upon Mt. Sinai and Moses led the people forth. On the 3rd day, Jesus revealed his glory for the first time, turning water into wine. And at the end of his ministry, Jesus was mocked and beaten and crucified, but on the 3rd day, he rose from the dead and brought salvation to all who believed—including me, his mother.[iii]

 

 

Then the day came when Jesus ascended into heaven after promising us that we would receive power once the Holy Spirit came. He told us we would be witnesses in Jerusalem and even to the ends of the earth. We did not understand but we waited, and we prayed. And then, in the rush of a mighty wind, the Spirit came, and we were filled to the brim with God’s wonder-working power. Yes, the Holy Spirit came and gave to us gifts for the common good. Over time, some of us contributed to God’s kingdom work through the gift of wisdom, some through the gift of knowledge, some through faith. There were those who had gifts of healing, working miracles, while others were given the gift of prophecy or discernment.

 

 

As the mother of Jesus, I had a part to play in God’s salvation story. How could I, a young and lowly girl, have found such favor? Why had the Mighty One done great things for me? Great is the mystery of our faith for his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He scatters the proud; lifts up the lowly; and fills the hungry with good things. Such is the generous nature of our God.[iv]

 

 

As the mother of Jesus, I had a part to play in God’s redemptive story. But the truth is, we all have a part to play. At the wedding, I saw my friends in need, so I went to the one person I believed could make a difference. Isn’t it the same today? Isn’t the world still in need? Aren’t there people, for example, who have “no clean drinking water—let alone fine wine?”[v] When you watch the news on your modern day televisions or electronic devices, and you see a world in which desperate mothers have to say to their children, “We have no food,” don’t you want to join me? Don’t you want to tug on Jesus’ sleeve and say, “Do something!” I hope you do. I hope you have not come here for your benefit alone—although that’s part of the reason communities of believers gather in Jesus’ name. But haven’t you also come because you love my Son and you want to play your part in making a difference? Aren’t you here to tug on his sleeve and cry out for those in need?

 

 

Maybe, just maybe, God is waiting for you to accept your responsibility in God’s kingdom work. Maybe your job is to recognize the human need that is right beside you and pray. Maybe your work is to encourage others, much like I encouraged Jesus. Maybe your role is to feed the hungry or seek justice for the oppressed. As a baptized believer, each one of you has a calling. Through the grapevine, I have heard there are those here today who have accepted their vocation as leaders of this church—Ruling Elders. You have been called to help lead this church forward. You have been called to help others find their vocation, too. May God bless you on your journey. May your next step and every step, thereafter, bring you closer to God’s will for your life and for the life of this church. May you be filled to the brim with God’s wonder-working power. Amen.

 

 

[i] Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1. 260.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Adapted from Worship Workbook for the Gospels: Cycle C, Robert D. Ingram, 56.

[iv] Adapted from Luke 1:46-55.

[v] Feasting on the Word, 262.

*Cover Art “Water into Wine” © Jan Richard, used by subscription

 

You are Beloved

You are Beloved

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 13, 2019

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Isaiah 43:1-7

 

Like most everyone in the world, preachers love to be loved. But wanting to be loved can get a preacher into trouble. There is danger in being less prophetic than God asks us to be. What if we make someone angry? What if someone doesn’t like us anymore? Fearful, we may let sin slide, and be tempted to preach the cotton candy gospel, or resist speaking the truth—even when it is in love.

 

 

Feeling a need to be loved is not a problem for John the Baptist (which may be one of the many reasons I love him so). John just tells it like it is—no tiptoeing around this or that. “That’s a sin against God—so STOP it!” Does he offend King Herod? Of course! How about the Romans? Absolutely! John levels his wrath against anyone he deems unjust or immoral or just plain lazy. You might say that John the Baptist is an equal opportunity offender. With wild hair, with his bizarre diet, and with living out in the wilderness, it is unlikely that John has retained the social graces required to live with “normal folk.” But none of this matters to John, who seems to walk a thin line between being prophetic and being utterly mad.

 

 

While John’s behavior is great theater, it is much more than that! Thousands come to hear his rants—many follow up with baptism. Whenever I think of all those people wending their way down to the Jordan River, I can’t help but recall a similar scene in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou.” People line up…one after the other…and there they go into the river to be drenched with the cleansing waters of baptism—hoping against hope for a new start. Such great expectations! That’s what the people carry in their hearts in the movie. And it is what the people carry in their hearts as they approach John. In fact, Luke tells us they are wondering in their hearts if John might actually be the Messiah. Could he be the one? As if stopping the very thought in its tracks, John sets the record straight. “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

 

 

“O John, say it isn’t so! You can’t mean you are going to step down. You can’t mean you are going to give it all up. You’re just getting started.” But step down is exactly what he will do when the time draws nigh, which should come as no surprise since John has always known his place in the world—even before his birth. Luke tells us, you will recall, how John leapt in his mother’s womb when she approached her cousin Mary, who was carrying the Christ Child. Even then, John was filled with joy at the nearness of Jesus. And now, once again, John leaps for joy at the thought of finishing the work he’s been called to do and turning it over to the true Messiah.

 

 

We get another glimpse of John’s character from the Gospel of John when some of his disciples approach him to inquire about this Jesus to whom people are flocking. John responds with such humility,” You yourselves are witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him’…He must increase but I must decrease.”[i] For John, success is not about drawing a crowd or gathering a following. It is not about filling the pews or overflowing the coffers. For John, success is serving the One who is coming after him, the Messiah, the Lord. It is about being faithful to the end.

 

 

These days, though, success is defined differently—mostly in financial terms. And the worship of success causes countless people to spend their lives trying to achieve the unachievable. Although we live in the land of the “pursuit of happiness,” for too many Americans, it’s just that—a pursuit. There is no end—really—to the chase of the almighty dollar. Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, “Mr. Rockefeller, how much money is enough?” and he replied, “Just a little more.”

 

 

In the eyes of the world, even in 1st century Palestine, John the Baptist was not successful, especially once he lost his head—literally. But then, neither was Jesus, for Jesus had a different viewpoint altogether. We can tell that by the words he spoke at the Last Supper. With his friends gathered around and a bountiful table spread before him, with bread and wine, “This is my body,” he said, “broken for you…this is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins…” Doesn’t sound like much of a success, does it? And then, from the cross, “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani,” he cries. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

 

The good news known as the gospel turns the world’s notion of success upside down. John the Baptist gives up his place for the Righteous One coming after him. Jesus gives up his life for rabble-rousers like those disciples who abandon, deny, and betray him.

 

 

I invite you to hear once more these words from Luke, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

 

As I pondered this text a few things caught my attention. First, the phrase, “when all were baptized.” Jesus, who of all people does not need to have his sins washed away, enters the water WITH the people. He identifies with everyone who is broken and frightened and sinful to the core. One scholar notes, “I like to consider this [act], his first miracle; the miracle of his humility. The first thing that Jesus does for us is go down with us. His whole life will be like this. It is well known that Jesus ended his career on a cross between two thieves; it deserves to be as well known that he began his ministry in a river among penitent sinners.”[ii]

 

 

Another thing strikes me about Jesus’ baptism. Imagine that you are on the bank of the River Jordan with this strange looking John the Baptist and people all around. You expect things to go along as they have—people enter the water, John rants at them about their sinful ways, maybe he offers a prayer, and then he baptizes them. They return to the bank dripping wet to consider their life from henceforth. Simple enough! But when this fellow in front of you enters the water, something extraordinary happens—from the heavens a voice booms, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” So here is my quirky thought: If you are next in line, what in the world do you do? Do you run? Do you stick around? I wonder.

 

 

The voice from heaven—now that must have been something to hear! Oh, to hear it again! On this topic, Henri Nouwen wrote,

 

 

Many voices ask for our attention. There is the voice that says, “Prove that you are a good person.” Another voice says, “You [ought to] be ashamed of yourself.” There also is a voice that says, “Nobody really cares about you,” and one that says, “Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.” But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still small voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you.’ That’s the voice we need most of all to hear.[iii]

 

 

That still small voice that says, “You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you,” is the voice I yearn for us to hear as we approach the font this morning, touch the water, and embrace the new life that is ours. Hallelujah! Amen!

 

 

[i] John 3:28-30

[ii] Dale Brunner, Lectionary Preacher Workbook, ed. Carlos Wilton, 61.

[iii] Henri J. M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

*Cover Art by Ira Thomas, used by permission

Home by Another Way

Home by Another Way
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 6, 2019
Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

For years, you and your buddies have gathered once a week at a local eatery for breakfast. It’s such a good time to catch up and enjoy one another’s company. Over time, strong friendships have developed—good friends are hard to find. But on this particular morning, with holiday obligations and all, only you and Tim, a relative newcomer to the group, show up. It’s just as well, you think, for you have a honey-do list a mile long: take the Christmas decorations to the garage, break down boxes for recycling, take Janice’s gift by since she was sick and didn’t make it by the house… You and Tim get your coffee and breakfast and amble over to sit at your “reserved table” and you begin swapping stories, like the one about the Christmas fruit cake that, sure enough, showed up again!

 

 

It doesn’t take long, however, for the conversation to come to a lull, because it doesn’t take long to realize something is troubling Tim. Finally, not one to mince words, you ask straight out, “So, Tim, how are things, really?” He hesitates for a moment and then says, “Things are tough. Sally and I’ve been married for 10 years—some good—some not so good. Lately, it’s been more of the “not so good” years. To tell you the truth, Sally wants a divorce. Last year she wanted us to go for counseling, but I refused. No way was I going to share private matters with a stranger. But now, I don’t know. I’m beginning to wonder if I should have done things differently. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s too late for us. I just can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and I don’t know where to turn.”

 

 

You listen carefully. You don’t know Tim too well, but he strikes you as a good guy, and you hate to see anyone going through hard times—especially around the holidays. You take a sip of your coffee—and then another—buying time to ponder what to say, how honest to be. You remember that time in your own life when things got tough. And you remember how your church family prayed for you and encouraged you. For too long the road ahead looked bleak, but somehow a new path opened, a path that took you home by another way.

 

 

Several years ago, James Taylor and Timothy Mayer composed a song entitled “Home by Another Way.” It tells of the wise men of old who traveled from the East to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. It begins, “Those magic men the Magi, some people call them wise, or Oriental, even kings, well anyway, those guys. They visited with Jesus; they sure enjoyed their stay. Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme, they went home by another way.”

 

 

Wise men from the East learn about the birth of baby Jesus and travel a long, long way to fix their eyes upon him. Who are these men anyway, and what do we know about them? Well, in the case of the Magi, it’s easy to preach “almost Bible.” It’s easy to get the story askew, deducing things that may or may not be true. For example, in later Christian tradition, the wise men became known as kings, probably influenced by Psalm 72:10, “May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.” Or perhaps influenced by Isaiah 49:7, “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One… ‘Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord who is faithful…’” Another detail handed down by Christian tradition is that there were three wise men. And how did we deduce such a thing? Well, there were 3 gifts, so of course, there were 3 wise men. Furthermore, did you know that we also have names and descriptions? In a piece written around the year 700, Melchior is described as an old man with white hair and a long beard, Gaspar is young and beardless with a ruddy complexion, and Balthasar is a black-skinned, heavily bearded fellow. Finally, the gifts of the magi have also been interpreted: gold represents an appropriate gift due to a king, frankincense symbolizes “an oblation worthy of divinity,” and myrrh testifies to the Son of Man who is to die.

 

 

While all these deductions are fascinating, they should not overshadow what is truly important about the story. The arrival of the wise men from the East represents the Gentile world, in all its racial diversity, who now come to Christ, who now are welcome at the cradle of the Son of God. The magi foreshadow the Gentile Christians of the early Christian community. The magi foreshadow us.

 

 

The wise men come…they see…and now they must return home. But how? Will they do King Herod’s bidding? Will they return via Jerusalem and give the evil king a full report? Taylor’s song continues: “…they went home by another way… Maybe me and you can be wise guys, too, and go home by another way. We can make it another way. Safe home as they used to say. Keep a weather eye to the chart on high and go home another way.”

 

 

Barbara Brown Taylor notes that it’s time to “rescue the magi from their fixed places in the annual Christmas pageant and restore them to their biblical roles as key witnesses to both the threat and the promise of the Christ child.” No doubt, the Christ child offers promise to the world, the promise of light and hope and love. But this child also poses a real and certain threat. Make no mistake! King Herod is frightened! He investigates and learns that this baby will shepherd the people of Israel. He knows of another shepherd-king—David—loved and blessed by God. Oh no, there will be none of that! Herod knows how to handle messianic movements and revolts. There will be no late-night debates over fiscal cliffs—instead, with lighting speed he orders the slaughter of every baby in town. “That takes care of that!” or so he thinks.

 

 

James Taylor’s song continues: “Steer clear of royal welcomes; Avoid a big to-do. A king who would slaughter the innocents will not cut a deal for you. He really, really wants those presents. He’ll comb your camel’s fur. ‘Til his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts of your frankincense, gold and myrrh.”

 

 

Of course, we know that Herod is after more than frankincense, gold and myrrh. Herod will stop at nothing less than sovereign reign and power. Herod cannot know, cannot see that this baby will change the world. By him and through him all things are changed. No more will the “Herods” of the world rule. No more will darkness overcome the light. At the birth of Jesus, simple shepherds, angels and, later, the wise men, look upon the child with amazement and wonder. Because now, there is hope. Even in the darkest of times, there is hope for a home that can be reached by another way. It is the way of the cross, the way of Jesus who, as a grown man, will sit with his disciples around a table of simple food and declare, “This is my body broken for you…this cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood…” (Sealed in the blood of the Lamb—not in the blood of the Herod’s of the world!) It’s a new day and we can reach home by another way!

 

 

So, there you sit at the table with Tim, coffee cup still in hand. And you know that you need to tell him your story. Because in your heart, you know there are times when every man, woman, and child needs a wise friend to point them toward the star that still burns bright. Slowly you tell Tim about a time in your life when the darkness closed in on you. You admit your faith was weak and meager. You tell him about being depressed and nearing despair until some way, somehow, God’s light broke forth in the night sky. The Word became flesh in your life, so that now, you believe that for God all things are possible. You’re quick to add, “That doesn’t mean everything always works out just the way we want. But no matter what—God’s love is with us. No matter what—God’s love is for us—and now, it is possible to go home by another way!”

 

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.