From the Archives: Fr. Metzler’s Homilies

Homily: The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant In the Room

                 Deuteronomy 18: 15-20         1 Corinthians 8: 1-13            Mark 1: 21-28

We’re just a week away from Super Bowl 46. We’re certainly disappointed that our Steelers will not be participating this year. But I think that we will all still enjoy the fascinating commercials that have become an integral part of the Super Bowl experience.

Computer technology has worked to make many of those ads fascinating with its ability to create  remarkable special effects, We may go along with the fun when we watch the medicine make the elephant sitting on the man’s chest disappear. But when we read a story like today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, about Jesus expelling an unclean spirit, we’re not sure what to think. We’re uncomfortable with this brief but powerful story.

Jesus, going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, starts off by teaching those gathered in a way that was so impressive that it conveyed authority. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus said. He seems to care more about telling us just how powerfully he taught. He shows us the power Jesus has at his fingertips, and how it changes things for good. It shows how He acted with authority.

The word “authority,” of course, has more than one meaning. There are really two kinds of authority, titular authority that comes from having a title. Even a corrupt judge or police officer has ‘authority’, and then there’s ‘real’ authority. The simplest, poorest person in the world can speak with a different kind of authority if they embody a wisdom and integrity that others find compelling. Each of us holds a different kind of power, one from the outside, and one from within.

The scribes sounded authoritative because they could cite chapter and verse of the scriptures; but that, after all, was their job. When Jesus, this carpenter from Nazareth, walked into the synagogue and spoke in a way that “astounded” the people, more than one person must have sensed trouble brewing. Who is this man, where did he go to school, and who gave him the right to speak this way?  And ‘just then’, things got even more extraordinary, when Jesus’ teaching in words became teaching in action.

A man tortured by and in bondage to an ‘unclean spirit emerged in the crowd, in the midst of the commotion over Jesus’ power-filled teaching. While others were full of questions about Jesus, this evil spirit was the only one who recognized who he actually was: “the Holy One of God.” Jesus commanded the spirit to be quiet and then expelled it from the man, freeing him from a terrible bondag

We don’t hear any more about this man, but the whole region soon heard all about what happened to him. Jesus had backed up his words, and his powerful preaching, with an action that showed what he was about.

Today, we try to find scientific explanations for what happened. We’re tempted to dismiss it because, well, who really believes in possession by spirits anymore? Perhaps, way down deep, we do believe in, and fear, “evil spirits” a little bit, or Hollywood wouldn’t employ those technical advances we admire so much to make so many movies and TV shows about the power and danger of evil spirits.

We modern Westerners have much more power over their lives and circumstances than the ancients believed they had. I suppose that’s part of the reason we tend to rationalize about the power of evil spirits in the world. We also know far less than we think we do, and understand even less than that.

We live in the midst of the battle between good and evil, the struggle of human limitation and failure. We may begin with good intentions, but we are so often sidetracked or derailed along the way. Life plunges us into the throes of human suffering and pain, and there seems to be no escape from it. The demonic seduces us in more ways than we can count, and we are often caught in its web before we recognize what has happened.

The world, including the church-going, faithfully believing world, stands in need of Jesus’ liberating touch, and longs for what can really satisfy the desires of the human heart, And Jesus conveys that power, that authority. We’re probably no more able to recognize that gift when we encounter it than the people in the synagogue were all those years ago. Our failure to comprehend Jesus’ true identity probably stems from mistaken expectations. We may be able to admit that we want and need a savior, but we may not always grasp what we need saved from, and the implications of what it means to really be saved.

The scribes explained what God’s word was saying. Jesus allows God’s power to burst onto the scene.. Jesus blazes, explodes, and erupts. We are called to watch and participate in the experience as Jesus reveals, once again, even today, the opposition of evil to the goodness of God creation and what it looks like for real. Like our ancestors in faith, we find ourselves asking who this Jesus is, who calls us to healing and to better things, better ways of living, and what that means in our lives: and, are we truly willing to accept this Way of Jesus and truly live it?

In Luke, Jesus begins his ministry by going into the synagogue and reading about bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free. In Mark’s Gospel, we don’t hear such beautiful words. But we see actions, powerful, dramatic ones that proclaim just as surely that the promises of God are true, the promises of old that are new in the person of Jesus today. Jesus cares for the poor in spirit and consoles those who mourn.

The authority here in Mark’s gospel is not power. It’s a willingness simply to see justice served, to see our world and our lives through His eyes. This is what Jesus’ ministry is about.

Just as an example: we are in the midst of very serious economic crisis. And we may be deceived into believing that, if our present economy gets more active, if we only sell more cars, we’ll solve our problem. But, it fact, the problem is rooted in an economic system that manufactures things only to replace what we already have, or to destroy as do the military weapons and ordnance that we produce and use so prolificly. But until we are willing to replace our present thinking about what makes things thrive economically and begin to manufacture on a large scale those things that meet real human needs and to stop creating a demand for all that junk that comes from China, and begin to respect the planet God created for us, we will continually confront the demons of recession and waste.

Yes, there was conflict when Jesus spoke and acted, and Jesus challenged even the religious authorities on many occasions as he challenges us today.

We are asked to reveal what opposition to the goodness of creation, what demons, look like, but to do so, so we can take the next step. That second step is as important as the first: opening ourselves and our communities to being transformed, shaped, by God’s hand at work in the world. Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.”

Words can easily stay just words. Words, however, spoken in the name of God, have power. They can, like the words of Jesus, cause things to happen. The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. ‘

That’s why preaching is so important in the life of the church. All good preachers, want the same thing, come Sunday. We don’t desire simply to provide more information about this text. We don’t desire to add to all the other words ever uttered from pulpits, just because that’s what preachers do on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. No, we hope that our words, infused with the power of the One who speaks through us and on whose behalf we speak, will cause something to happen — in our parish, in the whole church in the nation and in the world — healing, peace, liberation.

Then we will all be amazed, not just by illusions, by what we think we see, but by the reality we encounter. The elephants in the room will disappear, and God’s love will be made known, and evil will begin to be expelled, right before our eyes.

                           Weekly Seeds       Kate Huey    United Church of Christ

 

Readings for Jan 22, 2012: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Jonah 3:1-5, 10       1 Corinthians 7:29-31     Mark 1:14-20      The Message

  Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Maybe God Will Change His Mind

God spoke to Jonah: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city

of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any

longer.”  This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.

 

Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.

 

Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty

days Nineveh will be smashed.”

 

The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a

citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone

did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.

 

God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their

evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do

to them he didn’t do.     © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

  1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence.

There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily.

Keep it simple —in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary

things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as

possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see

it is on its way out.     © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

      Mark 1:14-20

After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the

Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and

believe the Message.”

 

Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his

brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said

to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.

I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.”

They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.

 

A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James

and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets.

Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father

Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.

© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Homily: Give Jonah a Break

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10        1 Corinthians 7: 29-31        Mark 1:14-20

I’d like to call today’s reflection, “Give Jonah a break.”

The First and Third readings of today’s liturgy give us a very sharp contrast in how people respond to God’s calling.

Jonah was called by God to be a prophet to the city of Nineveh. Instead of going east to the city, he gets on a boat and goes west, as far away as he can from the call. His resulting adventure is worthy of the Odyssey; it includes being thrown overboard from a ship and swallowed by a whale and finally thrown up at the very point he was ordered by God to go — Nineveh.

We could berate Jonah for his lack of faith or courage, but it is more helpful to identify with him for a moment. He was given a mission impossible. Nineveh was one of the greatest cities of its day. It was a city of conquerors, Jonah was from a strip of wilderness that the rest of the world passed thorough while going somewhere else, kind of like I-95 running through New Jersey. Jonah had no credentials for being an international diplomat He would get even less respect than Ambassador of, say, Palau would get in Washington. (You get extra credit, by the way, if you actually know where Palau is!)

Imagine yourself suddenly being sent to Syria where the government is perpetuating a genocide of Christians in the southern area. God tells you to march through the hot desert and tell their leaders to repent, to stop the genocide, to hold democratic elections and respect everyone’s civil rights, use their wealth for the good of all the nation’s people. Do you think you would get their leadership to dress up in sack cloth and ashes?

Or, for that matter, imagine going to Washington, and demanding that elected officials stop the legalized robbery of our nation’s resources because of payoffs by lobbyists, especially in the oil and gas industry.. Do you think you could bring both houses of Congress to put on sackcloth and ashes? See what I mean? Jonah had a mission impossible. Jonah may be one of our patron saints. The world conspires to make Jonahs out of all of us. The world beats us down and tells us that you can’t change the big picture, so just fall in line and make the best living that you can for yourself and your family.

Our values may tell us we need to head East to Nineveh, but we turn around and walk west and get on the boat with Jonah, because it’s just too hard. We spend some of our precious time in the belly of the whale, out of touch with our calling, our sense of meaning and purpose.

Several years ago Michael Lerner wrote in “The Politics of Meaning” that too often we give up on our deepest held values of compassion, caring and community because they don’t seem practical in the real world.  And so instead, selfishness and materialism prevail by default. Those are the values that we settle for when our deeper values seem out of reach.

 Whether we consider ourselves liberal or conservative or apolitical, individualism and materialism are powerful determinates of our lives. We may not have meaningful work or chances to make a difference, but materialism tells us that we can at least drive a comfortable car. We may not be able to bring about racial reconciliation or even have the kind of relationships we want, but individualism tells us that we can pursue our own happiness and find our own little oasis of peace of mind. Ironically, these attitudes give us less freedom and less power.

 Selfishness and materialism make it less possible to live the life we want. It puts us more out of purpose. Jonah’s way seems easier at first, but in the end we’ll get thrown overboard and end up in the belly of the whale.

Then, in Mark’s Gospel, we read the story of how Peter, Andrew, James and John, are called by Jesus to be disciples. And while it took three chapters for Jonah to get to Nineveh, in four remarkable verses, these fishermen leave their nets, their security, and their families to follow Jesus.

I know that I’d want at least 48 hours to think through my decision, to weigh the consequences, to think about the family fishing business and the implications of the career move. And by the time I’d done all that, Jesus would have moved on to the next town.

Mark tells us nothing about their inner deliberations, whether the fishing was good or bad, if they were religious people or not, if they got along with their father or had a sense of wanderlust. Mark merely says, “And immediately, they followed him.” “and immediately,” —  is the most common phrase in Mark’s Gospel; it occurs 33 times in only 16 chapters. (And, by the way, this phrase never occurs in Jonah!)

There used to be a TV show called “Early Edition.” It was about an average guy with a good heart and modest prospects who received an early edition of the Chicago Sun Times every morning that tells not of yesterday’s news, but what was actually going to happen today, unless he did something to change the future.

He spent his day trying to avert various disasters and when he was successful, the news in the paper actually changed. He had two friends, one who urged him on, and the other, more like Jonah, counseling him to let some things go because there are some things you just can’t change.

In remember one story, where he reads that an airline will explode and kill 150 people at O’Hare Airport on take-off unless he does something to stop it. He heads out, but the traffic is totally snarled so he heads for the trains to the airport. He has only 30 minutes till the plane is to take off.

As he waits for the train he reads the paper and sees a story about a six-year-old girl who was hit by a car and she dies because the hospital thought she had only minor injuries and they failed to examine her properly. Just then he sees the little girl going by on her bicycle. He has to make a split-second decision.

There are 150 people about to die on the airline, but he may not get there, while the little girl is just down the street. So he runs after the little girl, reaches just her moments after she’s struck by the car. He scoops her up and races her on foot to the hospital. At the hospital, nobody believes she is badly hurt. But he finally pressures a doctor into examining her, and the doctor finds the problem and saves the girl’s life.

In the end as the hero slumps in the hospital waiting room and rests, the doctor comes in after the girl’s surgery and apologizes, admitting that he has been jaded,  forgetting the human dimension of his work. And he says, “You saved more than that little girl’s life today. You may have just saved mine as well.”

Then the little girl’s parents come to see her and her father is wearing a pilot’s uniform. Yes, he turns out to be the pilot of the airliner that would have exploded, but was called off the runway because his daughter was struck by a car. It turned out to be a two-for-one rescue!

I miss shows like “Early Edition”, and Joan of Arcadia, wrestling with the dilemmas of what our role is in other peoples’ lives. How would we act differently if we knew the potential difference our lives could make for others? In our cynicism, it’s easy to forget that providence may work through us, that God brings about good by weaving together our daily decisions.

In Mark’s Gospel, the simple message Jesus delivers is, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Believe the good news!” Jesus doesn’t spend a lot of time with in-depth theology, or in analyzing the big picture as they do on the talk shows on CNN or on Sunday morning on the networks. Jesus is more intent on telling us that God is near, His power is at work. Hear this good news and follow me – immediately!

Do you sometimes wonder if all our political analysis of world problems, our therapies and our self-improvement tapes are just ways of avoiding the simple, life-changing power of the call of Christ? “Love your neighbor. Feed the hungry, House the homeless as if you were doing it to me. Abide in my love and I will abide in you. Let your light shine before all that they may see the glory of God. The reign of God is among you, within you. If you have faith, the mountain shall be moved.”

How could the disciples simply jump out and follow him? As Peter says later, “Master, now that we have seen you, where else could we go?”  Now that we know him, where else can we go?

 


Readings for Jan 15, 2012: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19    1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20    John 1:35-42     The Message

   1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19

 

   “Speak, God. I’m Ready to Listen”

One night it happened that Samuel was still in bed in the Temple of God, where the Chest of God rested.

Then God called out, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel answered, “Yes? I’m here.” Then he ran to Eli saying, “I heard you call. Here I am.”

Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” And so he did.

God called again, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel got up and went to Eli, “I heard you call. Here I am.”

Again Eli said, “Son, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” (This all happened before Samuel knew God for himself. It was before the revelation of God had been given to him personally.)

God called again, “Samuel!”—the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.”

That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy. So Eli directed Samuel, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.'” Samuel returned to his bed.

Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.”

Samuel grew up. God was with him, and Samuel’s prophetic record was flawless.

© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

      1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20

 

^  You know the old saying, “First you eat to live, and then you live to eat”? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!

God honored the Master’s body by raising it from the grave. He’ll treat yours with the same resurrection power.

Didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The

physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

      John 1:35-42

 

          Come, See for Yourself

 

The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who

were watching. He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here

he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

The two disciples heard him and went after Jesus. Jesus looked

over his shoulder and said to them, “What are you after?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

He replied, “Come along and see for yourself.”

They came, saw where he was living, and ended up staying with him for

the day. It was late afternoon when this happened.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard

John’s witness and followed Jesus. The first thing he did after finding

where Jesus lived was find his own brother, Simon, telling him, “We’ve

found the Messiah” (that is, “Christ”). He immediately led him to Jesus.

Jesus took one look up and said, “You’re John’s son, Simon? From now

on your name is Cephas” (or Peter, which means “Rock”).

© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Homily: Did You Call

1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20 John 1:35-42 The Message

Nowdays we seem to be dissatisfied if we are considered ordinary. We seek to be the first or the best, or at least to belong to the group that is first or best. Yet most of us are really quite ordinary people living ordinary lives. Despite this, there need be nothing ordinary about being ordinary.

With this Sunday we enter the interlude between seasons. Christmas with its excitement and glitter is behind us, and the sober experience of Lent followed by the glory of Easter is in the future. This is Ordinary Time: we reflect on the very ordinary ways that God enters our lives, thus making them extraordinary.

The young boy Samuel was in the keeping of the old man Eli. This was a rather common situation, yet something extraordinary happened. Jesus’ appearance was so unremarkable that the Baptist had to point him out, and then something extraordinary happened. Perhaps what Paul describes is the most startling. Ordinary human beings are members of Christ;their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

In these three incidents, the extraordinary was not apparent. At first, both Samuel and Eli misunderstood the voice; Paul rebuked Christians who had lost sight of their dignity; initially the disciples of John saw nothing unusual in Jesus. These people were only aware of what was obvious.

We are not unlike these biblical people. We do not always look beneath the surface, so we often miss the extraordinary in what is ordinary. We do not hear the voice of God in the voices of others calling us to great things, to sacrifice ourselves for our children or give of ourselves to aging parents. We do not recognize Christ in the thoughtful people with whom we work, the honest people with whom we do business, the understanding people who help us in simple ways, the ordinary people with whom we live.

It takes only a little effort to atune our ears to hear the voice of God, to adjust our sight to recognize Christ in our midst. As members of Christ, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. This same Spirit urges us to reach out to others. What we accomplish may not be asimpressive as what was accomplished by Samuel, or the first disciples of Jesus, or Paul. Results are up to God. All we have to be concerned about is that we recognize the call of God in the ordinary events of life and that we respond: “Here I am. You called me.”

Dianne Bergant, professor of biblical studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

 

 

Readings for Jan 8, 2012: Epiphany

 Isaiah 60:1-6       Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6        Matthew 2:1-12      The Message

 Isaiah 60:1-6

  People Returning for the Reunion

“Get out of bed, Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.

God’s bright glory has risen for you.

The whole earth is wrapped in darkness,

all people sunk in deep darkness,

But God rises on you,

his sunrise glory breaks over you.

Nations will come to your light,

kings to your sunburst brightness.

Look up! Look around!

Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you:

Your sons coming from great distances,

your daughters carried by their nannies.

When you see them coming you’ll smile—big smiles!

Your heart will swell and, yes, burst!

All those people returning by sea for the reunion,

a rich harvest of exiles gathered in from the nations!

And then streams of camel caravans as far as the eye can see,

young camels of nomads in Midian and Ephah,

Pouring in from the south from Sheba,

loaded with gold and frankincense,

preaching the praises of God.

And yes, a great roundup

of flocks from the nomads in Kedar and Nebaioth,

Welcome gifts for worship at my altar

as I bathe my glorious Temple in splendor.

© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

      Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

 

          The Secret Plan of God

Brothers and sisters,

I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself.

As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is

that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.

© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Matthew 2:1-12

 Scholars from the East

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this

was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from

the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the

newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that

signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

 

When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not

Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He

gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together

and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah

wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,

no longer bringing up the rear.

From you will come the leader

who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

 

Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the

East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him

exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the

prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone

unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once

in your worship.”

 

Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared

again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on

until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain

themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right

time!

 

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his

mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their

luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

 

In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they

worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and

returned to their own country.                       © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Homily: Another Way Home

               Isaiah 60:1-6          Ephesians 3:1-12        Matthew 2:1-12

How well we know the story of Epiphany and the wise men. Yes, we know what’s coming, after the wise men make their way to Bethlehem, find the child, are overwhelmed with joy, offer their gifts fit for a real king and pay him homage, and then, after being warned in a dream, return home by another way.

 We’ve heard the story many times; we know what Herod will do with this knowledge. The story that tells us so graphically just what lives in the heart of evil men, what fear and insecurity, arrogance and a greed for power can do.

When Matthew told the story of the wise men, he placed it in this big picture so that whoever heard the story were able to connect with the ancient story of God’s marvelous work The whole story held together for them, it made sense, and they could see themselves within it.

Don’t we want to find ourselves in the story, too, to hear what happened so long ago, and to connect our own lives with it? We want to feel ourselves, strangers from a distant land and far-off time, kneeling with the wise ones from the East, in awe and joy for the gift of the Divine Child before us.

And we want to know how God is still at work in this world we live in now, how God is still speaking to us, today, as God spoke through the prophets, through dreams and angels and a bright, shining star, so long ago.

It’s deeply moving to hear of three foreigners traveling a long, hard way because they had an inkling — just an inkling — of something very important unfolding in a distant land. Something inside them must have been restless, or upset, or hungry for understanding.

With all their wisdom and learning, there was something they still needed to find or learn on their long trek. And what did they find but a poor family and a helpless child, in modest surroundings, lying in a teenage mother’s arms. To those in any way perceptive, this scene was not a wise man’s formula for future success. Yet, by grace, the magi had the faith to experience unbridled joy.


The rest of the story

These strangers from the East to our evangelist Matthew represent long-standing resistance to Western imperialism, very high ranking political-religious advisors to the rulers of the Median and  Persian empires, which were roughly where the modern countries of Iran and  Iraq are today.

Yes; ironically, today’s biblical story leads us to ponder the meaning of visitors from the very places we fear most right now. Imagine a visit to our local church by religious or political leaders from that same part of the world, from Iran or Afghanistan. But Matthew wants his audience to hear about the Good News of God’s universal and all-encompassing grace, even if they’re offended that such ‘objectionable’ people are included in the story.

What Matthew may be trying to convey, however, is a sneak preview: the Christ child who attracted these odd Magi to his cradle will later have the same magnetic effect on Samaritan adulterers, immoral prostitutes, greasy tax collectors on the take, despised Roman soldiers, and ostracized lepers. Matthew’s is a story, then, of God at work in the world–the good news, the gospel–these foreigners, these Gentiles, represent us, too, in a sense. Twenty-six chapters later, Matthew would tell of Jesus commanding his disciples to “Go, make disciples of all nations.” We are in this big picture, too, this tradition of hope rooted in the prophets and embodied by Jesus Christ himself.

A story of God’s compassion

This beautiful story of seekers from the East so long ago, bearing extravagant gifts for a king and being overwhelmed  with joy, is not just a nice little story that decorates our Nativity sets and Christmas cards. This little story is part of a larger story that holds within it the suffering of the world, whether in sudden and spectacular devastation by earthquake, hurricane, or tidal wave, in the slow motion violence of poverty, in the anguish of those engulfed by war and the quiet agony of those who live and breathe the poisoned air of hatred and neglect caused by humansinfulness, in the pain of illness and injury, and in the private, personal sorrows of the human heart.

Christ, the savior of humankind, is the great light that shines upon all peoples. Why were the very first to be called to worship the holy infant were the wise men from the East? Was it that the East stood in greater need of Christ because of the endless river of tears which is its history? I do not know.

What I do know is that the East, in its recent history, has been hammered on the anvil of extreme adversity, here forged and tempered for over a hundred years, in Syria, in Maynmar/Burma, in East Timor and Nepal. Precisely because of this, should not the East be able to offer up an even more refined gold when it worships Christ? Out of this pain and agony, should not the East be ready to bring forth even more fragrant frankincense and myrrh, the very symbols of suffering and pain?

The Magi follow a star, guided by God, looking to nature for signs and guidance. God would also provide direction through a dream. The world is full of ‘stars in the East’–events in nature, personal experience, and history that point toward the mystery of God.

So, what do we hear in this story? We hear that God has sent a gentle shepherd who will nevertheless upset the powers-that-have-been. We hear that the smallest things, like a newborn baby, can terrify the mighty, and bring them down. We learn that God’s reach of grace goes far beyond every obstacle within or without, and pushes us beyond them, too. We learn that a great light has dawned that draws all people and calls us to live our lives illuminated by its truth. That’s what the Epiphany season is about.

If the light has come, those who have been seated in darkness awaiting its arrival are exhorted to greet that light and the new age that it inaugurates by shining in order to reflect its glory in all the activities and relationships of everyday life…to be the light of the world. In W.H. Auden’s poem, “For the Time Being”, he says: “To discover how to be human now / is the reason we follow this  star.”

And nothing will ever be the same. You don’t take the old road any longer. You unfold a new map, and discover another way home.             Kate Huey,    Weekly Seeds     UCC        

Weekly Prayer

Radiant Morning Star, you are both guidance and mystery. Visit our rest with disturbing dreams, and our journeys with strange companions. Grace us with the hospitality to open our hearts

and homes to visitors filled with unfamiliar wisdom bearing profound and unusual gifts. Amen.

 

 

Readings for Jan 1, 2012: New Years Day

  Numbers 6:22-27   Galatians 4:4-7    Luke 2:16-21     The Message

 Numbers 6:22-27

 The Aaronic Blessing

God spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the People of Israel. Say to them,

God bless you and keep you,

God smile on you and gift you,

God look you full in the face and make you prosper.

In so doing, they will place my name on the People of Israel—I will confirm it by blessing them.”                                                © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

      Galatians 4:4-7

 

But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can\ tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because\ God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa!\ Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.

`           © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

      Luke 2:16-21

 

The sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”

They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing.

They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

  Blessings

When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.

`© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Homily: Continuing To Be Amazed

    Numbers 6: 22-27    Galatians 4: 4-7   Luke 2: 16-21

Well, it’s over. The carols are gone from the air waves. The stores have dismantled their decorations?. I was at the pharmacy yesterday and saw that Christmas has been put away to make room for Valentine’s Day.

It always happens so fast. We waited and waited for Christmas, and then it came and went in a flash. But it did not happen like that for Mary; and we cannot afford to let it happen like that for us. She kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart—and so must we.

All who heard the shepherds were amazed at the story they had to tell. It was Mary who kept turning the events over and over in her mind, trying to plumb the depths of their meaning. From the moment of the angel’s unbelievable declaration, she realized that for the rest of her days she would be living with mystery. And so she kept all these things in her heart.

St. Paul reminds us that because Jesus was born of a woman, we are made children of God. The Spirit of Jesus is given to us so that we can call God by the intimate term “Abba.” Is this any less amazing than the report of the shepherds? Yet, when was the last time any one of us went in haste to announce this wonderful Good News?

The first day of the New Year is traditionally a day to pray for peace. This year, peace is much more than a seasonal theme. It might conjure up the faces of frightened children dressed in foreign garb, or that of a daughter or son or other relative in uniform. Making the prayer of Aaron our own, we beg God to look upon us kindly and give us peace. Here again, Mary may well serve as our model. She considered deeply the events of her life. So must we, if peace is to take root in our day and take flesh in our lives. Happy New Year.

Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., is biblical studies professor at Catholic  Theological Union in Chicago.  

                     Printed in America Magazine