Our text today paints quite a scene. The wise men travelling so far, having to stop for directions, getting back on their journey after the pit stop and finally arriving where Jesus is. After all that, they worship Jesus, give him gifts and then return home another way.
The amount of narration given for the journey of the magi—the buildup if you will—is extensive. By comparison, there are two sentences, they knelt and gave him homage (worship), and then gifts. It is almost anti-climactic in a way. All the buildup, and then in the blink of an eye (in story telling fashion), it is over. They worship, give their gifts and they go home.
I wonder if we can see something of ourselves in this story. Beginning around the Monday before Thanksgiving, we hear Christmas songs on the radio and see Christmas shopping sales advertisements on TV. The long journey of Advent in preparations. The decorations, the manger scenes, the pageants, the carols.
Now, in about a week after Christmas, decorations are coming down. Trees are being undecorated. Victorian Christmas villages and manger scenes are being packed away, out of sight and out of mind, until next November. We have moved from singing O Come Emmanuel to “should all acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind.”
And not just with our decorations. In the days leading up to Christmas we saw toy drives on TV, the People in Need Christmas clearing house, and the Common Ground “Miracle on William Street,” just to name a few.
The long build up, and then we worship, give our gifts and go home. In less time than we spent on the journey to get here, and having accomplished that which we set out to do—our celebration of the birth of the Christ child, we are ready to move on. Maybe before we move on so quickly we should reflect on the buildup of the journey…
In the midst of Matthew’s leading narrative, we hear the about how the magi stopped and encountered Herod. They shared with him about how they had heard the new King of Kings was to be born and they were following a star to worship him—not King Herod, but this new King.
When King Herod hear this, he was frightened and all of Jerusalem with him. The Greek here is intriguing; it reads more like when King Herod hear this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Herod—and all of Jerusalem—felt troubled, worried and unhappy.
Perhaps we can understand why Herod felt anxious. He was King and Christ, the King of the Jews, had been born. Herod may have felt that his position of power was in jeopardy, thus feeling troubled. But why would Matthew say all of Jerusalem was disturbed? This news, after all, was about the Messiah, the one who would redeem the faithful and about whom they ought to be rejoicing. Yet they felt disturbed. Maybe that is why we like Luke’s Christmas story. Everyone is rejoicing, the heavenly host is singing. Everyone seems joyful. No one is disturbed.
I don’t know about you but I don’t like being disturbed. Especially when it has taken me a while to get everything just the way it should be, and I can finally settle down into the comfort of the conditions I have created. Whether it be the comfort of going to work each day, the regularity of routines and rituals, or even the familiarity of my favorite Christmas traditions; I dislike disturbance.
But Matthew wants us to hear something: the coming of Jesus is (or ought to be) disturbing, especially to those comfortable with the status quo, and also those within the faith community.
This Christmas season I have felt disturbed, which is to say shaken from my complacency of going through the motions of remembering the Christmas story to a moment of Epiphany where God was made visible. “So what makes God visible? Our eyes must be opened; our vision must be corrected so that the blur that we were once unable to comprehend becomes clear. This comes with a community that helps us to see God, a community through which God reveals himself. The teachers of such a community might not be the ones we expect.” – (See more at: http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2010/12/god-made-visible/#sthash.tBngtZCK.dpuf)
It was following one of those Christmas season of giving events, when I had comfortably volunteered my time to serve on the TV station phone bank for the MidOhio Foodbank double your donation drive. As I answered the phone for one of the callers, she began by asking me if the foodbank served those in her community. After I assured her that the service area included her county, she made her donation, knowing it would be doubled, to help those in need. Now, I had taken phone calls before hers, with donors giving 100, 200 and even 500 dollars. So when I asked her how much she wanted to give, she replied five dollars. She had heard that each dollar provides four meals for someone hungry and that her donation would be doubled, and she wanted to be able to help provide 40 meals. She only had a little bit, but wanted to give.
In that moment it was as if that woman opened my eyes and I was able to see a glimpse of God, because it was as if Christ was bringing alive the story of the widow and her two mites. It wasn’t gold, frankincense or myrrh, but she opened her treasure chest and gave what she had to give as a humble servant.
Epiphany is about the seeing the manifestation of God in Christ. And when did we see you Jesus? I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me…as often as you did this for the least of these, you have done it for me. As we gather this morning, there are those in our community, perhaps even some among us who are still in need of food, clothing or shelter, even though Christmas is “over.” If we open our eyes to see the need around us, to see Jesus, it should make us feel uncomfortable, anxious, and worried. Indeed, like all of Jerusalem, we too should feel disturbed.
I wonder: how are we reacting to the reality that born among us is the One who challenges our long developed, comfortable every day and Christmas traditions? This holy child whose birth we have totally over-celebrated, once again, last week. Are we also agitated and troubled by the thought that allowing this child to continue to grow in our “homelands” may cost us too much, and disturb our comfortable kingdoms more than we care for? Have we comfortably put Christmas behind us in the New Year season resolutions, of Bowl Games, NFL Playoffs, etc.? Where now are the toy drives and the food campaigns?
One of my favorite moments in the Old Testament story is when Joshua gathers together the elders of the faith community, challenging them with the words: choose this day whom you will serve—the foreign gods of your ancestors, or the One who has delivered you. We too have a choice. How do we want to hear the Epiphany story this year? Do we want to “see Jesus” or “put Jesus away” this Epiphany?
Choose this day who you will serve. We can simply pack this shepherd king away with the Christmas tree and lights, as we dismantle them on the twelfth day of Christmas—or even earlier—and safely tuck them away in the crawlspace or attic—till next Advent. In other words, we can choose to have the journey to Jesus, with our comfortable Christmas seasons and routine traditions, remain undisturbed.
Or we can choose to allow the story of Jesus birth and the journey of the magi to disturb us like all of Jerusalem, confronting us with our comfort and challenging us to break with our own status quo. Perhaps we can be brave enough to see Jesus, offer our worship and gifts and move in a different direction afterward, like the magi.
Which one will you choose?