Feast of the Epiphany (trans) Jan 10 2016 Audio
Every good fairy tale begins with once upon a time. As the tale progresses we hear of princesses, princes, witches, fairy god-mothers, good and evil, and happily ever afters. But sometimes people mistake God's story for a fairy tale. For them God is a magician who will swoop down and rescue them from bad decisions. Or God is someone with whom a bargain can be made. God, if you get me out of this mess, then I will go to church every Sunday. This would be the transactional God. And there's the God of certainty, just like in the fairy tale, good and evil are very clear, you can tell them apart by the color they wear. And, as long as the rules are followed, as long as the other remains the other, as long as good and evil are kept separate, we will live happily ever after and all our wishes will come true.
There was a movie not long ago, Into the Woods, a fairy tale mash-up that leads the viewer on a journey through the deep, dark woods. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and the Bakers, discover that the journey is not necessarily one of happily ever after, but of joy and pain and suffering. It is a fairy tale that is as much unlike a fairy tale as is our story of incarnation, love, and resurrection. The journey into the woods is fraught with tragedy and deception, broken promises and wishes come true, good that looks like evil and evil that looks like good. Family trees that are organic and families that arise from death and new birth.
Now, I love a good fairy tale, a fantasy story even better, Fairy tales and anti-fairy tales may teach us truths, and show us the precariousness of life, but the Jesus story is not a fairy tale, it is the truth. It is the Divine Love Story, in which the God of all creation shows up in human history, Emmanuel, God is with us. We are in the midst of incarnation, the baby born in a barn, born to change the world, born to bring new life, new light, new hope. The world is about to turn. And today we are invited into the woods with the magi, we are invited to this journey with Jesus, with all it's twists and turns, with all it's chaos and messiness, in danger and in light.
These magi, who show up for this birth, are there so that we may see the significance of this baby, this birth. These magi show us that there will be some time when political tyrants will be overthrown. These magi show us that brutal power exercised to control the weak and the vulnerable will be toppled. And these magi show us that those in power need be afraid, because the one who is to overthrow them is here.
The story we have before us today, this story of the wise ones from the east who follow the Light to the child born in a barn, helps us to see the cosmic importance of this birth. This birth happened in a particular place at a particular time in the context of a particular tribe, but the arrival of these wise ones from the east shows us that it wasn't just for a particular people at a particular time in a particular tribe. Matthew's intent in telling this story is to show us that this birth changes the world, the wise ones from the east know that, and they know the importance of keeping the birth from Herod, so they go home by another way.
God seems to do whatever it takes to reach out to and embrace all people. God announces the birth of the Messiah to shepherds through angels on Christmas, to Magi via a star on Epiphany, and to the political and religious authorities of God’s own people in through visitors from the East. From a manger, where a child lies wrapped in bands of cloth, God’s reach, God’s embrace in Jesus, gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Jesus eats with outcasts and sinners. Jesus touches people who are sick and people who live with pain and suffering. Jesus even calls the dead back to life. Ultimately, Jesus draws all people to himself as he is lifted up on the cross. In Jesus, no one is beyond God’s embrace.
And, maybe these magi are like Cinderella, or Jack, or Little Red Riding Hood, or the Bakers. Maybe all of them show us that incarnation, God showing up in our lives, calls us to respond to life's circumstances, the sadness and tragedy that we encounter, with the same kind of love that God has for us, God's beloved. Incarnation, God showing up, calls us to show up for others, not because we have something they do not, like power and prestige, or all the right answers, but because we are just like them, broken and flawed, hungry and tired. God, born in a barn, vulnerable and cold, calls us to show up for others because we are all alike, in need of the assurance of the absolute and abundant love that is only God's. With the magi, we carry that love into the world, not because of who we are or what we possess, but because we are loved.
Perhaps our journey is not so different from that of the magi, with their turns sometimes into safety, sometimes into precarious territory. Perhaps our journey is not so different from those who go into the woods. Sometimes we may be needing to ask for directions, sometimes divine guidance may be so obvious that we could not miss our destination. Sometimes we may be looking for those with whom to travel, those who are like us, broken and lost, needing family and friends to help us find the way.
If ever in our lives our long journeys do lead us precisely to the place we have been seeking, to the place where we see Jesus, may we like them also rejoice, becoming overwhelmed with our joy. But always on the way, may we show forth the love that wins, may we give freely in response to that love. May we follow Jesus and show up to feed one another.
Sometimes we go into the woods and are overwhelmed by the fear, and the dark. Sometimes we read our newspapers and become overwhelmed by the brutality of our neighbors, the fear of our nations. Sometimes we get overwhelmed and exasperated by the huge need of so many in in our community, our city, our nation, our world. And in those dark places we wish it were different. But wishing only works in fairy tales. Our call is to respond to the God who shows up in our lives and in our community of faith. As we respond, as we with the magi go home by the way of love, and compassion, and mercy, we with God are capable of changing the world. That's what incarnation is. Showing up, walking the way, going into the woods, and bringing with us all that we are, all that we have, not because we have more or better, but because we are loved. Love changes us, together, we change the world.
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