John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This is one of my favorite paintings of the birth of Jesus. There is just something about the expressions on Mary and Josephs faces as they look at the new small being in their life that draws me in. I once saw the original in the Boston Museum of Art and this tiny painting on black slate captivated me as no others have.
However, I must admit that despite loving this painting, I don’t see the nativity as an actual historical event. It has been a long time since I believed in the virgin birth. I am a scientist by training and I know that while ‘virgin’ births do happen in nature, it’s called parthenogenesis, they only occur in certain species of worms and small crustaceans called daphnids. So this event was a no go for me not long after my first serious biology class. But the importance of the birth story is not in history, it is in the symbolism of new life breaking into the world in the form of God within the person of Jesus of Nazareth. New life, not of a baby’s, rather a new life lived in a world where all achieve their God given potential. Living in the world as Jesus did, with limitless love and compassion, offering justice and mercy to those who are in need, and offering a peace that fills the soul. Well then again maybe it is like the birth of a baby, for we all experience new insights as new birth within us.
So why I may not believe Jesus was born in an actual stable I do believe he was been born in the stables, and dark corners of our minds, societies, and cultures. Jesus is the one who birthed new life in those dark recesses of our hearts and minds. Who lit up the alley ways where suffering, pain, and violence reside bringing the light of love to those who were the unlovable. In prayer and action we, you and I, continue to carry that light. We take it to prisons, hospitals, hospice rooms, to the homeless, to the hungry, to anyone in need of the light provided by “The Way.” At least we are supposed to.
Today I ask you to use the above painting for your Prayerful Tuesday Meditation using Visio Divina.
Look at the painting slowly, taking a first glance and noting the colors, people, places and things. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges? What moves you in this painting? Does it draw you in or call to you in any particular way?
Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.
May you be blessed with the birthing of new life within you. Merry Christmas everyone.
Matthew 3:3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Unfortunately I never had children. However, I have been blessed to be Grammy to my husband John’s two youngest grandchildren. I remember how excited I was to hear our Daughter-in-Law, Laura, tell us she was pregnant and I could hardly wait to see this new addition to our family. Liam was born on John’s birthday in 2007 and he is now 7 year old, actually soon to be 8 and is becoming a wonderful young man.
I have been thinking about what it took to prepare for Liam’s arrival. So many things go into preparing for newborn; baby clothes, blankets, crib, diapers, binkies, blankets, toys, rattles, bottles, booties, the list is endless. And you can be sure you will forget something in all the hustle bustle of getting ready.
We are in the first week of Advent and I was thinking about what Mary would have done to get ready. The first thing she would have to do was tell her intended husband she was pregnant and I can only imagine how the conversation went.
“Ah Joseph, I have to tell you something.”
“Yes Mary what is it.”
“Now I want you sit down and listen to what I say, I know it will be hard to understand, I don’t understand myself, but this is the truth.”
“Just tell me Mary, it will be ok.”
“ Weeell, 3 months ago I was visited by an angel of the Lord and he told me that I had been chosen above all other women, to bear the child of the Most High. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon me and, ah, it happened, I’m pregnant.”
“ Ah, Mary , you are telling me your pregnant, and it is YHYW’s child. That’s a little hard to believe.”
“I know but, before you do anything, like report me to the temple authorities, just think about it.”
“Ok, I’ll think about it, but this I will tell you the wedding is off but I won’t have you taken before the authorities, I still love you and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“You will know what’s best to do Joseph.”
Mary was a teenager, maybe as young as 13 years, and being an unwed mother in the first century was not an acceptable practice. Stoning of the woman was the rule and Mary had every right to be afraid. She didn’t know what Joseph would do. She didn’t know that He would be visited by the same angel who would tell him he has nothing to fear. Mary, like any young woman who finds herself pregnant, was fearful of what could happen to her. Just preparing to tell those she hoped loved her would be a fearful experience. Her pregnancy would bring shame and humiliation upon her family and Joseph so simply getting the courage to tell of her predicament would take time. Maybe that is why she went to visit her Cousin Elizabeth to gather the courage to tell her wonderful, terrifying secret.
In the next 4 weeks we too will be preparing. No we aren’t in Mary’s sandals, but, we have those things that terrify us as we get ready for the celebration the Christ Child’s birth. We have our own secrets that we keep buried within us. In the last couple of years the racial bias, gender bias, bias against women, poor, and elderly have come out into the open. All of us, me included, carry some level of all those biases. It is learning to admit that I, we all, carry fear toward someone different that raises those fears and biases from subconscious to conscious where they light of day can heal them.
Advent is about preparation, it is about hope, it is about faith, it is about love, it is about peace entering where angels fear to tread. This advent I am taking my fears out of the shadows and finding the way to heal the wounds they cause. Letting the light of hope, faith, and love change them from fear to acceptance. In prayer, in meditation, and with Advent prayer books I am working, trying hard, to change how I see the world.
What fears, what biases cause you to afraid of someone from a different faith, with a different color skin, is poor, or elderly keeping you from experiencing the amazing peace, hope, faith and love that the presence of the Christ child offers to you? I invite you to ponder the above scripture this week, to pray about how to prepare your heart for the celebration of the Christ’s birth.
Sermon – Epiphany Sunday
January 5, 2014
Queen Anne Christian Church Seattle, WA
Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible [CEB])
Coming of the magi
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Greek derivation of Magi, (Strongs Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek Dictionary)
3097.magos mag’-os (of foreign origin (7248); a Magian, i.e. Oriental scientist; by implication, a magician:–sorcerer, wise man, [interpreter of dreams, prophet]. (plural, could refer to a male or female wise person)
The story of the Magi is such a familiar story. We have heard this story so many times before and I am sure all of us are able to repeat it without difficulty, at least the surface story. I was confronted with this simple story, which is anything but simple, when I chose to meditate on it for Epiphany Sunday’s Sermon. Sitting in silence, letting the words of Matthew settle into my subconscious I realized there is so much more to this tale than I first believed. There are also way too many questions to address in a single sermon. If you ever wanted to experience an abundance of graces just read this story carefully. I could go into the fact that the gender and number of the Magi is never mentioned in the scripture and that the Magi were gentiles; or the Magi don’t visit the stable, they come to the home of Joseph and Mary; and because the story of the killing of the Bethlehem’s children that follows the Magi’s visit lead scholars to believe Jesus could have been as old as 2. And, that’s just few of the questions I found in these 12 verses of Matthew Chapter 2. What did intrigue me, and what I will discuss, was never addressed by all of the learned theologians I perused. What I wanted to know was the reason these learned gentiles come in search of a child, a child born to a carpenter and his wife. And, what unknown gifts still hides in this story for me, and all of us, beyond the pretty tale of rich strangers visiting a destitute baby?
First of my questions was what did the Magi expect to find when they arrived in Jerusalem. Since they came to the city of the kings of Judea they must have expected to find the child born there, and to parents with more than a lineage to David. My guess is they had expected to find a somewhat wealthy family, or at least fairly well off. After all they were looking for a King and you normally don’t find one living in the home of working class people. They must also have been confused and terribly disappointed that no one knew what they were talking about. I mean, the birth of a King is big news isn’t. Doesn’t everyone celebrate the birth of a King? It isn’t until King Herod calls them for an audience do they learn that the prophets foretell the birth of “the anointed one,” “the Christ,” was to happen in Bethlehem. I have no doubt they left somewhat confused. But, eventually they find the baby living in the home with his mother and father. They even bring gifts, and while Mary might have preferred diapers, the gifts they gave were costly and fit for a King. (By the way Bethlehem and the gifts are never mentioned again, why? Another question to confound me.)
They were seeking a child, an infant King, someone who would turn the Roman world upside down and I can only imagine their surprise at finding the child in such humble circumstances. They brought gifts Herod would have drooled over, gold, frankincense, myrrh. Wonderful gifts but not really practical for the family they found, well the gold was probably most welcome. But frankincense and myrrh those aren’t baby gifts. Frankincense and myrrh were used to perfume oils and ointments for the purification of worship spaces and the anointing of the dead.
Now I know what Matthew was implying by the gifts: Gold was the symbol of Jesus’ kingship, frankincense the symbol for the priestly role Jesus would be called to live, and myrrh a foretaste of what he would endure at the end of his life. But I think these gentile scholars brought something else and it has been bequeathed to us today and our children. The Magi brought the gift of “seeking God’s face.”
God has always welcomed us and longed for our inquisitive search for the face of the Divine, and She encourages us to reach for her Holy arms. One of David’s Psalms says it well:
30 I will praise God’s name with song;
I will magnify him with thanks 31 because that is more pleasing to the Lord than an ox,
more pleasing than a young bull with full horns and hooves. 32 Let the afflicted see it and be glad!
You who seek God—
let your hearts beat strong again
— Psalm 69:30-32 (CEB)
And in the Book of Acts Paul tells the Athenians “27 God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us.” (Acts 17:27) No God is never far away, we are. And, seeking the face of God is one of the joys of creation we should do more often.
The Magi were the first to seek God’s face in its incarnated form, the face of a child. For Matthew the Magi represent the mission Jesus gives his disciples to reach out to all peoples but especially gentiles, and those born within the great humble mass of humanity, in all its lovely diversity; poor and rich, young and old, all genders, all races, and all people.
For me the Magi represent the longing to see God in the face of my beloved, my grandchildren, best friend, and all creation. I too want to see the incarnated God, I too long to see the ever present being in the first light of dawn, and I do see it in the face of my beloved when he first opens eyes in the morning. The Magi have passed this longing down to us and I am grateful for the gift and grateful to pass it on to the next generation.
The Magi’s gift of presence to a child in a humble home was passed on to us through Jesus’ presence in his life, death and resurrection. Now it is our mission to be present to the incarnated child born to humble parents. To recognize and honor the incarnation born in each of us, through our gifts to the world whatever they may be; caring for each other, the environment, our nation, and our world. It is up to us to be the Magi of today and visit the child in a humble home, to offer the gold of our love, to purify our mistakes with the frankincense of compassion; and to anoint those who pass on to the next world with the myrrh of God’s blessings and praise. In a Judean desert David writes:
God! My God! It’s you—
I search for you!
My whole beingthirsts for you!
My body desires you
in a dry and tired land,
no water anywhere. 2 Yes, I’ve seen you in the sanctuary;
I’ve seen your power and glory. 3 My lips praise you
because your faithful love
is better than life itself! 4 So I will bless you as long as I’m alive;
I will lift up my hands in your name.
— Psalm 63:1-4 (CEB)
So too are we called to offer our praises to God, honor the child that lives today, in each one of us, and in all of creation. Seek the face of God in all you meet, child, adult, male or female, and all of God’s marvelous creation. Look in the eyes of your loved ones, your companion animals, see the face of God looking back. Amen