We have to pass through Herod to get to Jesus, I’m afraid. We have to look straight into the fear that grips our hearts.I was really struck by that line that opens the excerpt. Because when I was debriefing morning church with my housemate and her guest on Sunday, I commented that I don't really understand why the magi stop at Jerusalem and ask Herod for directions if they have a star that they're following, so I was really struck by "We have to pass through Herod to get to Jesus, I’m afraid. We have to look straight into the fear that grips our hearts."
But if I am wise—if you are wise—if any of us are wise—we know exactly where this Star of fear and doubt is heading, and we don’t want any part of it. Not in this new year. Not in this new decade.
The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth urged Christians to approach the world with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. And I agree. The wisdom of our time sheds light on the biblical tradition, and the wisdom of the biblical tradition sheds light on our time.
But here’s the thing. The wise ones don’t stop with Herod or the Arizona Daily Star or the intimidation or the name-calling, not even in the name of the prophetic tradition that is so important to us at St. Mark’s.
The wise ones don’t stop with fear. They keep going. Because they are following the star of Christ, and they won’t stop until the star does. And this star rises on a baby who is not afraid to be born in a manger to an unwed mother far away from home. And this star rises on a baby who is not afraid to tell the truth in the temple as a teenager while his parents search for him frantically. And this star rises on a baby who is not afraid to denounce the devil in the desert as a disciple . . . or touch the most tragically ill as a teacher . . . or cry out in the agony of crucifixion as a Christ . . . or rise up through resurrection as a Redeemer.
Because this star that we follow is about light and hope, not darkness and despair, and this wisdom we cling to transcends violence and destruction and fear and intolerance . . . and we may not have any idea where the star will lead us in the end . . . but we must follow it at all costs if we have any hope for salvation.
The wise men brought what they had. They followed a star. And they never, ever followed Herod’s star again.
So we bring our treasure to this place of hope, as the wise men do, whatever treasure we have, even if we can’t imagine how God will use it. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. What can a baby do with these things, we might ask?
But God can take anything we have to offer and use it in ways we never imagined. There’s that first century college education fund to start that we didn’t know existed. Maybe Jesus can go to rabbinical school now. There’s that flight into Egypt that has to get paid for somehow. There’s an adult Jesus ministry that needs to get seed money from somewhere. Who knows? Maybe that gold, frankincense and myrrh really were good baby gifts. Maybe they have gone on giving, even up to today.
So bring your gifts to God on this Epiphany Sunday—and every Sunday—following that star of hope and light and wisdom and grace. Keep praying toward the light on this Epiphany Sunday—and every Sunday—keep looking all around . . . at the wise women and men from every part of the world, right here in this sanctuary, right here on this journey to Bethlehem together, bringing every treasure we possess . . . to share with a baby, who will share it with the world.
And God will use our gifts in ways we never imagined possible. In this new year. And every year. Amen.
I was telling Ari last night about Tiffany's Epiphany Sunday sermon and about how Tiffany really grooves on being a prophet of woe -- by which we mean talking at length about how the world sucks -- and how despite my constant critique (and even cynicism) I am always asking, "But what is the Good News, Tiffany?"
I was reminded of how the first episode I saw of House (1.07 "Fidelity") I said it was too cynical for me ("Everybody lies") and I couldn't watch it.
Ari and I talked about how there's a difference between dwelling in how much the world is a broken mess versus critiquing individuals/institutions.
I said critiquing is what I do -- or, at least, pointing people to critiques other people have made (e.g., James Cameron's Avatar).
Ari said, "You're a vessel for critique."
I laughed and thought of Mary (bearer of the Christ Child) except of course this is more like being the bearer of John the Baptist and oh yeah.
I think that part of it is that critique is an active, creative, enterprise. I say that I'm much better at critique than I am at constructive suggestions for how to improve things, but even targeted critique gives you a place to start. Bemoaning the state of the world leaves you without any agency -- the Powers are corrupt, the world's a mess, it's all so overwhelming and beyond our control. But if you tell me that language I use is hurtful or that media I'm enjoying perpetuate harmful ideas or that I'm marginalizing people in what I claim is an inclusive community ... I can do something about that. Not only is it a learning process (and I think learning is inherently exciting) but it's something I can actively be a part of -- even if that just means pointing out to someone the flaws in a movie they're talking about.