Matthew 2:1-12 and Ephesians 3:1-12
I think it is rather harsh, that for us in this northern climate, New Year’s and its call for resolutions come right at the time when what most of us really want to do is to curl up with a good book in a warm bed and not come out again until the crocus do. Who can think about self-improvement when it is so cold and dark out. If we had any sense we would follow the lead of our friends the bears and find a good cave to curl up in and hibernate until winter is passed.
But we are people, not bears and more than that we are people of faith. And so, here at the start of another year, here on the far side of Christmas, we look out on the year ahead and the walk of discipleship that we are to engage anew and do our best to muster some resolve, some will power and commitment to that plan of self- improvement and spiritual enlightenment.
But before we do, will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you Oh God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
Actually, I don’t think the life of faith has much to do with muster resolve, summoning will power and committing to plans of self – improvement. Instead, I think the life of faith looks a lot like that rather perplexing journey of those wise ones from the east.
You see I do not think that those wise ones woke up on New Year’s and made a resolve that this year would be the year that they would meet the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Instead of making plans for some big spiritual awakening, I bet that what they were doing and had been doing all along was engaging in practices that helped them to see more clearly, and to wonder more deeply, and to be more and more open to mystery and possibility. I bet that what they had been doing was cultivating an openness and receptiveness that perhaps unbeknownst to them was making them ready for what ever would come.
It had been a day like any other day there in the academy. All the wise ones from all around the region had been engaged in practices that were opening their hearts and minds. Last week, I shared with you some teaching from Pastor and theologian Brian McLaren speaks of three types of spiritual practices that can help us cultivate a disposition of attentiveness and openness that is at the heart of faith. These practices are personal practice, like morning devotions, or meditation, or closing each day with the examen when we review with God our day giving thanks for all that was good and asking for God’s guidance in places of hurt or anger. The second are communal practices – what we do in community like what we are doing now, worshiping, or engaging in some of the small groups we have here in the church were we cultivate a capacity to listen deeply without judgment and to share authentically of our selves. And the third practices are social practice where we engage the other with compassion and curiosity, sharing and learning and in doing so bridging the distance that divides.
So perhaps it was these spiritual practices that these wise ones were engaging that that day long ago. But now it had grown late now, approaching the midnight hour. Many had already gone and those that remained were making ready now to do the same. . But one while passing by the window, decided to take one last look at the sky. And that is when she saw it. A star unlike any other star. A star that she could have sworn had not been there before. She called to her colleagues to come and see but most said they had had enough, were tired. But a couple did wander over to take a look.
And the next thing you know she and the other two were out on the road following that star. But it was not so much that they were charting their course by it but rather that it was somehow drawing them to itself. Like the moon pulls on the waters, this star pulled on them. It was a far journey and hard. Camel can be quite petulant. It was cold at night and there were bandits on the road. I am sure more than once they wondered if they had made a mistake. Why in the world were they doing this? But that Star! It was like it had something it had to say to them if only they could get close enough to hear.
Then they do hear it. After having slipped through the snare of Herod, they hear the sound of a child. Quietly they enter the house, and know the reason why they came. Perhaps it was a peace so complete that washed through them. Perhaps it was a thrill of joy like they had never experienced before. Perhaps it was a blessing so deep that awakened their very souls.
And then it came time to go. They needed to return, but as you heard in the text, they do so by a different way. Maybe they go home by another way because they do not want to risk meeting up with Herod again, but I also think they home by another way because having been in the presence of God, they were no longer the same. So Herod or no Herod, who they were was changed so the path they traveled home was different.
And after many days they see once again the familiar roof line of the town in the distance. They smell the familiar smells and hear the old men arguing at the gate in the way they always do. The journey is over, but a new journey begins for now they are to integrate what they have experienced back into their lives. They return to the halls of academica, to the board room; to the class room; to getting the kids up and out to the bus on time, but as they do so the radiance of the star burns within them.
The journey of the wise ones was a long and far one and its impact upon them profound. But small journeys, close by journeys can spark spiritual change just well. Crossing the street in order to put a dollar in the cup on the one sitting in the doorway, only to receive a smile so full of warmth that it lights the embers of gratitude within us Or taking a child who has experienced more than a child ever should have to experience to the park and while pushing her on the swings she breakings into a laughter so joyful that something inside of our own hearts begins to heal.
And all of us, together, have just journeyed. We walked to together through advent. We risked the journey. And it wasn’t all easy for us either. Maybe we did not have to deal with camels or fear bandits but we did encounter the rawness of our grief in having lost those we love, our fear at the state of the world. We knew what it was to be tired. In that long journey through advent we to faced our doubts.
And on Christmas eve we came to the manger and it was beautiful in here. The candles were aglow and so too were your faces as you held those candles before you. You were beautiful. And I don’t know about you but I did feel like bowing down and paying homage, as a way to say thank you for the affirmation of life and beauty and love and hope that was so palpably present here in this gathered body in this sanctuary. That palpable sense of having arrived. Of knowing God’s presence close to us.
But there too came a time to return. A time to head home again. The lights came up. The doors opened. You wrapped your selves up in your raincoats and headed back out again on your way home. But even as we blew out our candle outs and set out into the night, some of that light, and peace and love of what we had experienced shone just a little more brightly through us.
I have come to understand that the spiritual journey is not a linear. Instead I have come to understand that the spiritual journey is this rhythm of going out and return, where with every encounter and integration of that encounter more and more of God’s grace takes up residence with in us. At this turn of the year, here on the far side of Christmas I wonder then if our resolve should not be so much that of setting goals and to achieve them as much as it ought to be about cultivating this disposition of openness and attentiveness that enables us to hear and respond to stars lead, the invitations to journey when they come.
And so as we set out into this New Year. As we follow Jesus through his ministry in the weeks and months to come, let us go with open hearts and open minds. Let us be a community that practices a disposition of openness and attentiveness. Let us point out the star to each other when we see it so that, as the Apostle Paul says in the reading for today “through us, the church, may the wisdom of God in its rich variety might be made known.” Amen.