January 4, 2015

Second Sunday after Christmas Year B

The Christ-child, Jesus, has been born in Bethlehem of Judea, God in the flesh. He will show us what divine love looks like in human life.

He will love other people with so much attention and honesty that he will bring a new light that heals and brings new life. For those of us who have barely been able to put one foot in front of the other, this new light will give us strength to walk boldly into the future. For those of us who have been foundering around in the dark, not knowing who we are or what we should be doing, this new light will give us hope and vision, direction and purpose. For those of us who have lost so much that we feel loveless and unlovable, this new light will give such acceptance and nurture, such unqualified loving care, that we will rise and embrace the wonder of God’s love. The lame will walk, the blind will see, the dead will be raised.

A new light has been born. A new Spirit. The Spirit of divine love taking human form. This new Spirit will break down walls that separate and injure us. The walls of "in" and "out"; us and them; blessed and cursed. Paul calls it a mystery, a mystery now revealed. The Gentiles are "in." You don’t have to be a Jew to be accepted by God. Jew and Gentile share in the loving graciousness of God come to us in this child Jesus. The walls are down. No one is outside the embrace of God’s grace in Christ.

And within the life of that society, and every culture, the new Spirit that was born in that baby will be working to break down other walls that separate. This new light will leap over the cultural walls between male and female. This new light will break down the distinctions between clean and unclean, righteous and sinner; bringing acceptance and forgiveness, grace and peace to those who have failed or been labeled "failure."

There is a new life coming into being from the manger and it is also seeking residence within you. The same Spirit that is in Jesus is offered to all of us, and to every human being that has ever lived. Within you is a place reserved for this divine Spirit, that desires to come to fullness in you. It is that movement within you that wants to give you such love that you can walk boldly into the future with hope and vision, direction and purpose embracing the wonder of God who became flesh in Jesus. It is that healing Spirit that draws you toward a new way of being, without walls and barriers. It is that inner voice inviting you to freedom. Freedom to respond with willing and attentive love to each moment of life. That Spirit is in you.

But there is a struggle involved in bringing this new life to full strength. And the struggle to bring to maturity this new way of being is symbolized in this wonderful story Matthew gives us today, the story of the visit of the wise men from the East.

We see Mary, the mother of the Christ-child, nurturing his fragile life into being. She is a person of obedience, a person of willingness. She is open and willing to value and love this new life that has been entrusted to her. 

We see Joseph the father, protecting and guiding this fragile life into being. He is a person of intuition and action. Able to access the divine wisdom of God as he listens to the message of the angel who speaks to him from his dreams, he looks at the dangers of the landscape and leads his family to safety and protection. 

We see Herod the king, driven to power, control and prestige. We all have a Herod within us – that cold intellect that feels threatened by anything or anyone that might compromise our power and control, our honor and pride. It is Herod that believes that everyone is out to get him, where even a child might steal his throne. Armed and defensive, he looks to secure his place through his own might and cunning. His energy is fear. And he will attempt to extinguish the divine spark. 

We see the wise men from the East, the spirit of exploration and pilgrimage, the warm intellect that is open to wisdom. They look toward the heavens for a divine reflection of the truth. And like so many others who have observed creation with awe, their study takes them in a path toward the divine. These ancient scientists move slowly with deliberation toward the place of epiphany. Their only danger is that they can be used, manipulated by the colder intellect motivated by power and pride. It was a dangerous exchange of pleasantries in Jerusalem, one that proved deadly to many innocents. In weeks to come, Herod will kill all of the first born sons in and around Bethlehem in his search for this new child of the light. But the wise men follow their star and it leads them to the divine light. 

It is interesting whom we don’t see in Matthew’s tableau in Bethlehem. The shepherds are off stage, they’ve already come and gone. Simple, responsive, they don’t need a lot of study or reasoning to find the child. With bounding joy they rushed instantly to the source of their hope. They seem to have an instinct for the divine. They are like those whom William James called "the once born." Untroubled by doubts and ponderous theologies, they simply know the divine present.

It is not so easy for the rest of us. Those of us burdened with thoughts and theories. Yet, there is a simple epiphany waiting to born within each of us. The Spirit of God enfleshed yearns to come to full life in you, that Spirit of love, acceptance, healing and grace. 

Nurture that life like Mary; guard it like Joseph. You may run to it with boundless joy like the shepherds or you may journey to it with careful search like the wise men. But know this, the child within is your true self, your true life longing to mature. Offer to God your gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – your talents and actions, your worship and devotion, your repentance and your death. There is plenty of room at the manger. And you, like the shepherds and the wise men, can also be overwhelmed with joy.