January 2, 2022, With The Spirit's Daring, by Pastor David
Matthew 2: 1-12. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
moment of silence and meditation - welcoming this New Year
January 2, 2022 with the Spirit’s Daring
A man was walking around a crowded park. He stopped in front of a couple on a bench and announced loudly, “I hesitate to say this to such a small audience, but every day is my favorite day.” Then he moved on to a man walking his dog through the park. He said again, I hesitate to say this to such a small audience, but every day is my favorite day.”
I heard this story a few months ago, I can’t remember where or in what context. The image caught me of this person and his announcement of his favorite day to every person he meets. I appreciated it in particular because my wife has learned that I make a similar joke with her. When I see a lily of the valley flower, I will often tell her, “That is my favorite flower.” and when I see a Sweet William at Pentecost, I will always say, “This is my favorite flower.” Geraniums, roses, purple tulips, columbine, chrysanthemums. I hate to say this to such a small audience, but every flower is my favorite flower.
God seems to make similar jokes. In our passage today for Epiphany, Herod asks the priests from the East where God’s Messiah was to be born. They reply, “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Bethlehem, the smallest of the 12 tribes of Judah/Israel, is God’s favorite - along with the other 11 tribes. Like a parent who is asked which child is their favorite - the right answer is to make each one know they are the favorite. Especially the smallest, the one is hurting, the one most in need at the moment.
The three Magi/priests dare to travel to Bethlehem to pay homage to this child. The Spirit is with them as they travel, being led by a star. There’s a popular banner in baby nurseries that quotes Vincent van Gogh, that says, ““I don’t know anything with certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
One of the things that seems to turn people off about the church these days is the feeling that church is all about dogma and, in other words, certainty. We appreciate van Gogh’s lack of certainty or his admitting of it. People like to say they are spiritual but not religious, and part of that distinction has to do with the hierarchy, dogmatism and favoritism people associate with the church as opposed to the spirit that is attracted to the stars that call them to dream. Well, I think religious people, even we church people, can also incorporate mystery and uncertainty into our faith.
We can have more than one favorite. We can worship a God who has more than one favorite, who indeed favors the poor and the left out. We worship a God who involves more mystery than we can take in. This is what churches can only point to.
Today, we travel with the Magi, who followed the star to the favored town of a poor family in the town of the least of the tribes of Israel. Today as we move into a New Year, we travel with the Wise Ones, who listened to their dreams that told them not to return to Herod, to the One who wanted to get rid of the child of promise. Today we come up with the three wise ones and imagine a scene like this one at the manger - where Mary said, “It’s your turn Joseph.”
As travel with the Magi, we recognize in the New Year, that our dreams, our appreciation of mystery, our connection with people of different faiths and walks of life, encourages us to live into a the Spirit’s daring, as the song we sing today says, “to step from the past and leave behind our disappointment, guilt, and grieving, seeking new paths, and sure to find.”
We don’t have to know everything. We don’t have to have only one favorite friend, or one favorite activity. But maybe we hear God’s voice in a card like this one, “You are my favorite human.” We live with the encouragement of the Spirit and follow the Spirit’s guidance so that each day may become our favorite, each task deserves our complete attention. We hear God’s calling for the task right in front of us.
We can live with the uncertainty of this time of virus and imperfection, by caring for each other deeply and walking with each other. We support each other through times of dealing with death and illness and endings, knowing those difficult realities also have something to teach us. We follow the path less traveled as the Wise Ones did, knowing that we will find new favorite things on the way.
Listen for the guidance of the Spirit’s leading and longing in this New Year as we come to God’s table together in our disparate places. As we come to the table, waling with the wise ones, we pray for a year full of wonder, joy and hope. We begin this year with this mystery of a meal, a symbolic meal that claims us, each of us as God’s favorite, as God’s beloved, while also reminding us we are connected to all God’s people in all history and all God’s creatures in all creation.