Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany 2013

When I lived in New York my friend and co-religionist Bill Talen was developing a one-man show, Reverend Billy. A cracked-pot street preacher, Reverend Billy would occasionally gather a congregation (audience) together and in the middle of his sermon ask us if we could testify to any god-sightings we’d been blessed with in the past week. It was wise to make one up – if you dared to volunteer: he’d turn and discount your story with explosive sarcasm.

The wise men from the East in our gospel reading today have had a god-sighting:
one they could have predicted, but didn’t;
one so extraordinary that they had to verify it – which involved considerable travel;
one that called for celebration – which involved significant gifts;
one that to us seems so absurd – astrologers from Babylon predicting the birth of the Messiah! – that we might tend to respond with sarcasm, but not Herod’s cold plotting.

Nevertheless they followed that star, and … that god-sighting changed things.

“They returned home by another road”

only to find that they had changed. They could no longer be satisfied with the old ways. Indeed that is why they left in the first place. They saw the portents of inevitable change, and went forward to embrace it.

It was good news they heard. The praise they proclaimed was sincere. Those gifts they offered were honest, generous, and fitting.

“Where is the one born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising…”

We perceived in our wisdom that something new and great was coming into being, that this ordinary-looking child, breathing softly there sleeping in his mother’s arms, that this child’s birth changes the world – and changes us; we too will never be the same, and that is joyous and disorienting news.

For we are – or were – kings in the Orient, wise men from the East. We had our places. 

But we saw the signs. And now we know – we have seen that which makes all our philosophy, all our observations and calculations, seem so much packing material.

Like the straw strewn under the manger, it has its purpose – not so exalted now.

And we began to absorb our losses – to feel our grief for what is gone. No longer will we look to the stars to give life meaning.

We must look on earth. For heaven has come down to meet us.

And meeting us has changed us – changed everything.

Redemption begins with a child. Revelation begins with a baby. It ends in a scene of triumphant glory. But first, in between, in between…

In our minds’ eye we will be walking in the dust beside a young man: far away we will be his companions, as he goes about spreading the news that fell from the sky.

Now earthbound and easy to the touch, the great good news has come to earth, to human form. This boy, this man, this Son of God, has brought the message down to earth.

And he asks us to do earthbound things, things that are ready to the touch.

Love God? Love your neighbor.
Love your neighbor? Love yourself.

Be kind. Be patient, slow to take offense. Be a good neighbor. Give honest weight.

Ordinary things – so hard to do.

And build on them – in them – build the kingdom right there out of earthbound ordinary things.

Find the praise, find the proclamation, find the pardon.

Find the procession of offerings.

Follow it to the altar: as Isaiah the prophet envisioned, a gathering of all nations, to pay homage to one God.

We were just the first to arrive. You come too.

It is a great procession of all people. All are welcome. Where do you find your place?

Are you trying to go back – to retrace your former journey to a time and place when you were comfortable and everything made sense - or are you going forward, entering into joy?

It’s a different road, a hard road. 

So here’s what we do – we the wise of the East:

Hear the good news. Sing his praise. Seek him out. Worship him. And go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of God.

"Journey of the Magi", T. S. Eliot

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