The arrival of the wise men lets us remember that Christmas isn’t any safer than any other day or season of the Christian life. We cannot just sit and rest in comfort with the animals and gaze upon the beautiful infant Jesus with Mary and Joseph. Things do not remain “tender and mild” for very long… as the wise men enter the scene there is fear and evil in the air. Herod hears about the birth of the Messiah, the King who is going to save the people of Jerusalem; any “King” is going to be a threat to Herod’s power and also a threat to the Emperor in Rome; no other King must rise up, and so, Herod tries to trick the wisemen into telling him where this child is; as we read further in Matthew, we know that Herod decides to kill children under the age of 2 so that his throne and his position of power will not be threatened.
It seems so awful to think that infants could be threatening to such a powerful person. It brings the question of what power actually is, doesn’t it? Perhaps that is part of the point of our Christmas celebration… to show us that what we believe is powerful really is just fear overblown to unbelievable proportions.
Another reason that the Christmas and Epiphany story is important, is that when these three wise men, who aren’t Jews, recognize that the infant Jesus is a King to whom they owe homage, they become a symbol that Jesus has come not just for the Jews, but for everyone. The Kingdom of God has begun on earth in the birth of Jesus, and it those outside of the covenants made with Abraham and with Moses, are now brought into the kingdom. That beloved means you and me, people of non Jewish background. We have been adopted by God, added to the ranks of the chosen people…a gift given to us by God who loves all that has been created…
These implications of the Christmas/Epiphany story are as important for us today as they were then. This story of God entering into human history should compel each of us to live our lives differently than the world might dictate. We are children and bearers of the Kingdom; we are not to be manipulated by the Empire; Herod allowed himself to be a herald of a false kingdom and it led him to perform unspeakable acts of violence against innocent children because he believed he was the rightful king. He feared he would lose his wealth and his position, so he did everything he could to resist losing his throne. Fear is a powerful motivator, and Herod used his own fear to manipulate, frighten and control those he was in power over.
It doesn’t work like that in the kingdom of God.
In God’s kingdom, there is no fear or manipulation, because we know that Jesus is the one true King. Our loyalties are not given to the empire, but to God; and so, we live as if we believe that the Kingdom of God, that the will of God, is ‘here on earth as it is in heaven’. Kingdom people aren’t jealous or fearful of each other, because our biggest currency is love; and, we know that God has more than enough love to go around. God will never love us less than another, because it’s love that isn’t earned, but is freely given in abundance. Status, wealth, earthly power, cannot motivate us because we have what we need; when we have more than enough, we give it to others who are in need, because we recognize the gift that God has given us, and so we give what we can to others. The wise men gave lavish gifts to the infant Jesus to show just a fraction of what his birth meant to them, to the Jews, and to the world; gifts fit for a true King.
I said earlier, that the visit of the Magi, also represents the gift of Jesus to those outside the Old Testament covenants between God and Abraham, and God and Moses. So all of us have been brought into those covenants to become children of God… it’s important for us to remember that our status in God’s eyes isn’t above others, or especially favored over others. Just recently during the feast days of Hanukkah, violence was committed against our Jewish brothers and sisters in different communities; as children of God, who are loved by God, it’s our duty to speak against such attacks; every person who has lived and continues to live on this fragile planet, are loved by God, and are loved equally… we as Kingdom people, are to love as our God loves, without jealousy and without fear; God’s kingdom has no room for violence against another. Our world seems to be running counter to the kingdom. Humans seem to be more motivated by fear and a false sense of power, than they are by love; and perhaps that is our nature as people. Christmas, the great feast of the Incarnation, of God becoming human in Jesus, demands that we live counter to that nature. Self preservation isn’t our guiding principle; loving others, no matter who they are or how different they are, is our guiding principle; living as people of the Kingdom of God, rather than as citizens of the empire is another guiding principle. War, prejudice, racism… nothing that devalues the life of another is part of the Kingdom of God, and nothing that devalues another has any place in our speech, our actions or our lives.
And so St. Michael’s, today we will celebrate the Great Thanksgiving at the Lord’s table, and we will go from here to our annual meeting. While the annual meeting is something that is required of us by the greater church, it is also an opportunity for us to celebrate who we are as a congregation, as well as to dream about our future. A wise former bishop of mine used to say that a budget is a statement of mission; that we put our money in those places that are important to us as a church. And so I ask you to dream… it is a time for us of a new beginning together. It is time for us to dream about how we as St. Michael’s Longview, will proclaim by word and deed, the Kingdom of God. It is time for us to show the love of God, freely given, to those whom God has given us. The fear and anxiety and yes, even the hatred in the world is palpable now; lots and lots of people are being Reactive rather than active… it’s our time to shine… it’s our time to show those around us a better way… it’s our time to show the world what it’s like to live in the Kingdom of God, rather than the Empire… it’s time to show the Herod’s of the world what a true King looks like. May everything we do today be pleasing to God and may the things we do this day give us knowledge of God’s love, and the strength to do God’s will in the world.
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.