Saturday, January 18, 2020
Most Merciful God,
You have called us to be your daughters and your sons,
illumined by the light of Heaven: hear our prayer.
Help us to pray through our brother Christ,
to be reconciled to You and to each other,
for that is the greatest prayer of all.
Let all we do today be a prayer and a praise to You,
for You are our true home,
our Lover and our Creator.
Holy One, unite our hearts in hope,
and through your grace bring them as one before your altars, offered to you as our humble gift.
Burnish our souls with your grace and compassion,
and mend them where they have been battered,
O Great Physician.
Gather us up within a cloud of your blessing,
and grant your peace especially to those whom we now name.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Most Merciful God,
we praise You,
and give thank for your blessings and care.
Early in the morning
let our prayers arise
as we seek the wisdom of the Lord of Life,
who calls us to hope and healing.
At noonday, let us pause,
and center ourselves within your grace
that we be led my compassion and mercy,
O Marvelous Counselor.
May the works of our hands
be dedicated to the building of your over kingdom, O God,
through the imitation of Christ.
grant us that peace that surpasses all knowing,
so that we can lie down at rest,
knowing your hand is upon us, O Creator.
In all we do, may we be led by charity and hope,
by the power of love and compassion
sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And now, O Almighty One,
give your angels charge over those whom we pray,
that they be sustained by the knowledge of your steadfast love.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
O Lord our Strength,
gather us within the boundaries of your mercy
as we lift our hearts to You in praise and wonder.
You are our stronghold
when tempests rage
and the earth shifts beneath us.
You are our crag
that lifts us above the fog of fear and denial:
from the vantage of your love, O God,
we see the way of abundance and hope
spread before us like a broad and verdant plain.
You are our haven,
and we gather in safety around your altar
with a song of joyous thanksgiving
inscribed on the lintels of our hearts.
May we cast aside all that separates us
and join together in worshiping you with our whole being
upon this holy Earth your hands are forming,
May we be like sapling trees,
rooted and nourished in your truth,
stretching heavenward to be warmed by your wisdom
blazing bright like the midday sun.
Cast your mantle over us,
O Savior and Redeemer,
that we may extend your compassion and healing
to all whom we encounter.
Bend near, O Spirit of Tenderness and Mercy,
drawing all those for whom we pray
into the circle of your comfort.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
You are our good above all others:
accept our praises and our prayers
in like measure, we pray.
We rise with a song of joy engraved on our hearts,
stirred by the brush of angel wings
as You have protected us in the night.
Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
your love is written in our bones:
may we breathe out your grace,
and be a blessing.
Help us to sing out your wisdom, O God,
and uphold us in your grace
that we may testify to your truth and saving power.
Let us place the Wisdom of God always before us:
borne up by your encompassing Love,
we shall never fall.
Let your loving-kindness enlighten our souls, O Holy One:
your gospel, like honey,
sustains us and strengthens us always.
Resting within your embrace,
bounded within your mantle of grace,
we place our cares before You,
and ask your blessing as we pray.
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Most Merciful God,
we offer You our thanks and praise.
The blessing of the morning light
awakens us to the sure and certain promise
that we have slept under the watchful hand of God.
And now let us rise,
and with full hearts greet the day,
emptying ourselves of all but the desire to serve You,
O God, Our Companion and Our Hope,
by serving each other and embodying your lovingkindness,
sustained by the breath you have given us.
May our restless hearts be alight with your wisdom,
O Ruler of the Ages,
and may we come to rest within the lea of your mercy,
offering You our gratitude
for your grace and presence with us
through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Whatever this day may bring,
may we remember your steadfast love with joyful hearts,
and breathe in your peace and comfort
especially in the cares and challenges we encounter.
Holy One, grant us your blessing,
and pour out your mercy upon all
whose cares are lifted before You.
Monday, January 13, 2020
O God My Glory,
O God of the Everlasting Hills and Light of the Heavens,
I lift my heart to You
in wonder at your unfailing love.
I give You thanks,
O Giver of Life to All,
for your goodness and mercy
stretched over my head like a canopy of stars.
I join my praise to the heavenly throng,
and meditate upon all your wonders and blessings.
One thing do I seek this day:
to walk in humble devotion by your guidance,
O Holy One, O Lord of Life,
seeking to be an instrument in your hand,
a blessing to all I meet.
Make me steadfast in resisting evil
and those in its thrall,
and wise in the ways of the faithful,
that I may praise you, O God of Grace
and show forth your love in all my pathways.
Grant your peace, O Abundant One,
upon all who seek You and your sheltering arms,
and let your blessing rest upon these loved ones for whom we pray,
precious in your sight.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Way back the second week of Advent, we heard the story of the inauguration of John the Baptist’s ministry as depicted in Matthew 3:1-12. We now pick up that thread again with the story of Jesus approaching John in order to be baptized.
And it’s always been a somewhat confusing story to me personally. If John is preaching a baptism of repentance, and Jesus is without sin, as scripture repeatedly insists, why does Jesus go to John to be baptized? It’s a question that has always bothered me, too, especially in the traditions in which I grew up, where baptism was emphasized particularly, just as John did, as a means to wash away our sins as its primary function.
As I was remembering my confusion, I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou involves the three main characters, escaped convicts, stumbling across a mass baptism in a country river in 1930s Mississippi. While the leader remains skeptical, one of their number, named Delmar, seizes the chance to be baptized whole-heartedly, and joyfully declares all his sins to have been washed away. For a little while, at least, Delmar embraces this new beginning, this fresh start in his life.
Now, most people don’t just stumble upon a chance to be baptized, and in our tradition it is far more common to baptize infants based on their parents’ wishes rather than waiting until the children themselves can make a choice. It had to take some kind of resolve, though, to go out into the wilderness around the Jordan river and seek out that crazy visionary and preacher named John. John, whose smelly, hairy clothes was meant to remind everyone of Elijah. John, who ate what we call grasshoppers and honey straight from the comb—food you could forage. Messy food. I picture John with sticky hands and unimaginable stuff stuck between his teeth, smelling like a camel.
His personal approach wasn’t designed to make friends and influence people, either. No, John’s preaching was of the “In Your Face” variety, warning his listeners of wrath approaching like a hot desert wind. And apparently dozens of people were willing to allow this wild man to lead them out into the shallows. Imagine allowing this character to grasp you and urge you backward into the meandering, muddy water—living water, they call it—to push you under and then pop you to the surface like a cork, never to be the same again.
But then suddenly, along comes Jesus, and where John had previously been all full of fire and brimstone, rebuking people and calling them names, now he becomes hesitant. Reluctant. John has to be talked into doing what he has done a thousand times. Why? It’s clear that Jesus’s baptism differs for the stories of the other baptisms that John performed. All discussion about repentance ceases, to be replaced with disagreements about worthiness and obedience. John, faced with Jesus, suddenly is on shaky ground, ground that he no longer commands.
“I shouldn’t be baptizing you,” John insists. "You should be baptizing me.”
Yet Jesus persists. “Let it be so now,” Jesus insists, and John relents. Yet John’s scandalized comments and initial reluctance in our gospel story reinforces that John is no longer in charge but subordinate to Jesus’s wishes. And as the story was told down through the centuries, there was the embarrassment and the ambivalence that some in the early church felt about Jesus being baptized in the first place, especially by John. After all, Jesus undergoing baptism created the appearance that Jesus was John’s disciple, rather than the other way around.
But from this point onward, Jesus will be waxing fuller even as John recedes by the end of this story, and spends a long sojourn offstage. That’s why Matthew inserts the conversation between baptizer and Savior, for reinforcement that Jesus is not John’s disciple. Jesus’s debate and insistence to John there on the banks of the Jordan implies that he is a fully grown man, yet we haven’t heard a peep out of him up until now. And notice how he’s changed! Instead of being a baby, he is now an adult- and here John recognizes him as his superior in every way.
In his insistence with John, Jesus declares that his baptism has been ordained by God’s will—the term for that is translated as a righteousness. Now “righteousness” is a word that too often gets the word “self-“ attached to the front of it, but this righteousness is not about. In this case, “righteousness” refers to being a combination of God’s gift and human action. This righteousness is not an ephemeral ideal, but born out of actions that are faithful to commitments and relationships.
The great Biblical scholar Stanley Hauerwas refers to Jesus’s baptism in grander terms—as his coronation (1). Kings were anointed with oil before the people—and Jesus will be anointed, named, and claimed by the waters of baptism and by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’s baptism makes good the declaration we hear last week of Jesus as being a king—note that it’s the second epiphany or revelation of Jesus’s God-sent role in just two weeks’ time. On the heels of Jesus being paid homage by the Magi as a holy child as well as being the King of the Jews, in this story we hear God’s own voice proclaim this truth, and we see God’s Spirit descend upon Jesus, marking him out as exceptional and as the fulfillment of all the prophecies about God’s Messiah or anointed one, referred to as “Son,” such as the one we heard today in Isaiah 42.
The “Son of God” language also had vital political significance. The Romans referred to the Emperor as being the son of God. Jesus’s claim to be the son of God thereby is a direct challenge to the power and sovereignty of Rome over the holy land, and is therefore fraught with peril. Claiming the name “Son of God” foreshadows the obvious clash not just between Jesus and the religious authorities, who played a dangerous game of collaboration with the occupying power, but with Rome itself, and reminds us that Jesus was executed by Rome using Roman methods for potentially stirring up the people against submission to Rome—obviously a crime against Rome.
Whereas last week we talked about Jesus being a challenge to the power, claims, and privilege of Herod, this reading begins to demonstrate the ways that Jesus’s kingdom would threaten Rome itself. And even today, Jesus kingdom begins among the marginalized, among the helpless—and as his disciples we are called to stand there too .(2)
The baptism of Jesus is a turning point, and it indicates the inauguration of Jesus’s public ministry. Jesus would be a king unlike any other—so much so that even John would later have his doubts. This kind of king, baptized on the margins, would remain with those who are marginalized, even today.
But on a more personal level, the story of Jesus’s baptism reminds us again that Jesus stands alongside us, just as we stand alongside him in those waters, and we too, through baptism, hear God’s powerful, loving voice proclaim us God’s beloved, precious children, in whom God is well pleased. Through the story of the baptism of Jesus we hear today, we hear a story of being named and claimed by God. In fulfilling commands of God’s righteousness, Jesus acts and the same with the king does in Psalm 72, reflecting God’s righteousness by his own actions. This therefore reinforces the idea Jesus as God’s Messiah, the empowered agent to save all of mankind, liberating all of us from tyranny, exile, and oppression.
Just like on Christmas night, at Jesus’s baptism the heavens are torn open, and God reveals God’s unity with Jesus through a declaration and a naming of Jesus very specifically. Then Jesus receives some life-altering names. And they are the kind of names that so many of us long for. The first name declares Jesus as God’s own son, which echoes claims made in Psalm 2, as well as directing our attention back to our reading from Isaiah 42. The second name is “the Beloved.” And through Jesus, we get to claim those names for ourselves as well.
No, Jesus didn’t go down into those waters for repentance. Jesus did go down into those waters so that WE could remember how important it is for us to seek to repent and the renew our commitment to walking with Jesus in the Way of Love. In seeking baptism, Jesus models for us the obedience of discipleship. In going down into the same waters to which we are all drawn in baptism, Jesus leads the way. Not just leading the way, actually, but standing alongside us in solidarity with us.
Now, it’s true that most of us do not remember our own baptism. But it’s important to note that we begin to live into this truth: Baptism formalizes a relationship with God in which God too, declares us God’s children. In which God too names us as beloved and precious. In which God too declares God’s delight with us. Several times a year we repeat the baptismal covenant, and in doing so, we recommit ourselves to that ongoing relationship with God, and I hope and pray that each time we do that together, that we all take seriously the renewal and conversion to which we are called in our baptism.
But I also hope that you remember that those waters anointed you, each of you, as God’s precious child. As Beloved. As someone in whom God takes great delight in. In the waters of baptism, all hurtful names that have been attached to us are also washed away, and instead, we are reminded of our worth and our preciousness in the sight of God. I am convinced this is a message the world is desperate for, a message that offers regeneration and renewal for those who are willing to believe that God loves us that much.
There’s a beautiful saying I have been contemplating this week—I don’t know where it comes from. It goes like this:
Jesus’s baptism allowed Jesus to lead the way for us into being brave enough to embrace the hope of healing and redemption, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world. And as we contemplate our own baptism in the action of Jesus, may we realize that God looks at us with delight, taking joy in the fact that God created us from the very dust that composes the stars themselves, knowing how much the universe needs the love and the gifts that each of us, individually and as a community can offer.
What could we do in the world in the name of God our Creator, if we acted from the sure and certain knowledge that God has claimed us and named us as Beloved, precious children? Let’s try to find out.
Join me, if you will, in prayer.
Lord, our spirits are drawn toward you,
and we are rise with the sun
to rejoice at your precious love and faithfulness.
We are dust,
dust shaped and formed by the Holy One:
may we bless and love the Earth,
our womb and our home.
We have sinned, yet are made for love:
let us repent and embrace healing,
turning toward life and integrity.
Help us to live in holiness and hope,
with justice and joy,
bound to each other in affection.
Let us shine with your glory and truth,
Blessed and Beloved One,
bearing the banner of love and unity.
Holy One, we lay before you our cares and concerns,
and ask your peace for all who seek You.
Preached at the 8:00 and the 10:30 Eucharists on January 12, 2020 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.
Citations and Sources:
(1) Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), pp. 47-48.
Creator and Redeemer of the World,
we worship you with joy,
offering your our thanks and praise.
Lord Jesus, you entered the waters of baptism
to stand alongside us
and show us the way of discipleship:
may we ever remember your kinship with us,
and strengthen our resolve to fellowship and peace.
Through You, we know we are beloved,
that God's abiding care envelops us
on our best days as well as our worst.
Your grace sustains us, O Savior,
and calls to turn and embrace the Way of Life and Hope.
By the power of the Holy Spirit
anoint us to your service, O God.
Bless and keep us as we embody your healing hands in the world,
and protect those who work, or watch, or weep this day.
Saturday, January 11, 2020
Blessed Savior, Prince of Peace,
you are the Way, the Truth, and the Light:
may we offer you our hearts and minds today.
May we see God in each other,
and turn away from anger and division.
May we rebuke those who wish for the pain of others
so that they may prosper,
and pull down the thrones of oppression
that we support without thinking,
in the name of the One who created all things
and endows us with each breath.
Let us rather use our breath for song and praise,
use our hands for healing and repair,
use our hearts for the blessing of our neighbors,
and embody generosity and faithfulness
in the name of the God we worship.
May we place ourselves before your altars,
O Creator and Sustainer,
inviting the Holy Spirit to loose her power within us,
that we be willing to follow in the Way of Love.
Holy God, we rest within your shelter
so that we may be strengthened to persevere in faith:
pour out your peace and compassion upon those for whom we pray.
Friday, January 10, 2020
Light of Lights,
rise within our hearts
and fill us with your light,
that we may be people of hope.
Help us to lift up those
who are in anxiety, grief, or trouble,
by loving each other
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Grant us strength for today's labors,
compassion for today's encounters,
and rest within You, O God, at day's end.
Ground us in your mercy, Lord Christ,
and root us in your love,
that we may grow deep in faith and justice.
Gathered in your name, O Savior,
we ask you grant your peace and comfort
to those we remember before You
Thursday, January 9, 2020
Let me sit in silence
and abide with You, my Savior.
O God, I lift my eyes to You,
for You are my heart and my help.
I lay upon my bed at night
knowing You watch over me and keep me safe,
and I am at peace.
You hear my cries,
and know my fears:
your hand rests upon my head
to bless and protect me.
Evil cannot enfold me,
for I rest in the embrace of the Almighty,
whose love never sleeps or turns away.
The Maker of Heaven and Earth loves me
and tenderly cares for me:
who can do me harm?
God watches over me in all my journeys:
God sets my feet firmly upon the way of love and compassion.
The God of Peace calls me to the path of righteousness,
whose foundation is justice and equality.
The heat of anger and fear may beat down upon me,
but my God shades me and shields me,
and I am at peace.
Let me raise up the needs of your children,
my kindred souls, who put their trust in You
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Our help is in the Lord God
who is making the heavens and the earth,
and calling us to turn from darkness
with steadfast love and compassion
for our waywardness.
the ground shifts beneath our feet,
and we wonder, will we fall or will we fly?
Yet your love bears us up,
and leads us in hope and light.
Give us the courage, O Savior,
to stand for right,
for the protection of the vulnerable,
and against the tyranny of fear
that is used to justify violence.
Give us the wisdom, O Spirit of Truth,
to hear Jesus's teaching
that fear begets fear
and the enemy of love is selfishness,
but the way of God is generosity, compassion, and integrity.
O Merciful One,
pour the blessing of your peace upon our turbulent hearts
that we may be reconciled and enlightened
to live as your children in word and deed.
Extend the shelter and balm of your grace, O Lord,
and relieve us in our trials and cares;
plant your peace in our hearts,
and comfort and heal those for whom we pray.
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
We gather our thoughts
and center our hearts on You, O Lord of Life,
seeking your guidance
as we give thanks for your unfailing love.
May we witness to your glory, O God of All,
telling out your faithfulness and care
as you call us to renewed hope and courage.
May we ever sing out our thanks
for your abundant grace and mercy,
for your saving help both past and yet to come.
May we be tender stewards and caretakers of creation,
remembering our dependence upon this good Earth
and all that dwells within and upon it.
May we confess our failures with honesty and humility,
and do whatever we can
to repair the damage we have done
through carelessness, avarice, or contempt
to ourselves and each other.
May ewe remember
that we are bearers of your name, Lord Christ,
called to discipleship and love.
Help us stand against the evils among us,
and reject inaction in the face of wrongdoing.
Lord, we ask for your blessing and your grace,
and ask your peace and light to rest upon those
whose needs we lift before You.
Monday, January 6, 2020
Blessed Savior, we come to you in wonder,
and lay our hearts before You:
fill them with wisdom and courage
that we may love You boldly
and show forth your glory in our lives.
May we persevere in reflecting your light, Lord Jesus,
in all we do and say,
by embodying compassion and integrity,
resisting the forces of evil and injustice,
and serving each other and You in humility and hope.
May both our words and our silences
be ever aligned with building true justice and peace, O Holy One.
May we ever be mindful
as the Body of Christ in the world,
bearing your name
as a sign of our devotion to your gospel, Blessed Jesus,
that we stand with the lost and forgotten as You did,
and never acquiesce to fear, exploitation, or hatred.
May we remember
that we are the children of your Light, O God,
and called to holiness and love.
May we be forces for healing and reconciliation,
and embrace each other in charity and empathy
in the name of Our Shepherd and King.
Lord, we ask for your blessing and your grace,
and ask your peace and light to rest upon those
whose needs we lift before You.
Sunday, January 5, 2020
Today we observe the Feast of the Epiphany, which actually occurs tomorrow in the Church calendar. We listen again to the story of the Magi, and are called to reflect with gratitude the recognition that Jesus was sent to be savior to all, a light to all nations. It’s a beautiful story.
Yet this year, particularly, I am drawn to the opening words of our gospel passage, because it makes clear the risks involved in this story.
What does it mean to live in the time of King Herod? The opening words of our gospel reading today make it clear how far removed from thrones and principalities and power the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, was. Matthew’s story of Jesus begins by reminding us about the dislocation of power that Jesus came to confront. As we follow the path of those Magi in our gospel today, Matthew’s opening words remind us that Jesus’s birth itself, off in a dusty corner of Judea, in a nondescript place, to a nondescript family that hadn’t even really become a family yet, was nonetheless accompanied by signs and portents that even foreigners could see.
Yet the signs weren’t obvious to those who would be most affected by the birth of this tiny baby. Those who are only concerned with themselves often miss noticing the signs of miracles that swirl around us every day, much less big signs written in the light of the heavens. And so, these astronomers come. The songs tell us they come “from the east”—possibly from Arabia, or from Persia, modern Iran.
But the word used in the original manuscripts to describe the origin of these “wise men,” anatole, literally means “from the rising of the light,” from the direction of the rising sun. Wherever they come from, they come from where the light rises, and they follow the light of a star to see this newborn baby, described by the prophets as the light from God sent to the world. This entire story is bathed in light—the light of stars, the light of knowledge and wisdom, the light of curiosity and the willingness to follow it, the light of the sunrise of a new era, and even the implication of the falling light of a dying regime.
That light stands in contrast to the darkness of life in Herod's time. Jesus was born into a world that, frankly, ran on terror, scarcity, and the demand for order which is always really a demand for unquestioning submission from fear. In Matthew’s gospel, we don't get Mary loudly singing a song of revolution with her voice full of agency. Rather, Joseph is the only one who speaks, and who has to be urged along into decisions he would rather not take, and then only in dreams—hardly a reliable basis for decision-making, even then.
Already in Matthew’s gospel, we see Joseph as a character bound by rules of honor and obligation to follow the Law. The Law stated that any woman who was caught out to have committed adultery was to be stoned. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which was a binding contract, but he knew the child she carried was not his. However, rather than demand her public execution, he at first resolves to “put her away quietly.” Yet it would only have been a temporary solution, for once her pregnancy became visible both she and he would possibly have been at terrible risk. This harsh religious law code is also a part of what it meant to live in this time. This, too, was part of life in the “time of King Herod.”
What did it mean 2000 years ago to live in the time of Herod? Herod claimed to be the king of the Jews, and yet he himself was actually an Arab by birth from Edom—his father had converted to Judaism, and his mother was a princess of Petra, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. His father had been a great friend of Marc Antony—yes, THAT Marc Antony, lover of Cleopatra and general under Julius Caesar. Herod, through his father, was also a Roman citizen. Thus by blood his claim to be king of the Jews was on the shakiest of ground, and his loyalty to and concern for the people of Judea even more suspect. It was only through the patronage of the Romans—and through his willingness to bend to their will—that Herod occupied what was called the throne of Judea. He was instead a puppet of the enemies of Israel. He was a wolf rather than a shepherd.
Herod was familiar with Galilee, where Joseph and Mary came from—in fact his father had appointed him the governor of that region. But later, when civil war broke out, Herod was forced to flee to Rome. He then became king by allying himself with the Romans against the will and wishes of the majority of the people he would later claim to rule. In fact, the Romans provided him with the army to conquer Judea in 37 BCE. He even managed to survive Marc Antony’s downfall—and the Emperor Augustus not only overlooked Herod’s support for his rival, he granted him profits from valuable copper mines on the island of Cyprus so that Herod could rule in style and completely rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem as a monument to himself and to Rome rather than to God.(1)
Herod was willing to do anything to remain in power, and was ruthless as well as mentally and emotionally unstable. He divorced his first wife and banished her and their son so that he could make a political marriage among the former ruling family of Judea, who were related to the Maccabees. Even though he also loved this wife, he eventually had his mind turned against her and murdered her. Eventually, he has six other wives, and 14 children among them. He eventually even murdered his first-born son as he was manipulated by his half-sister.
Biblical scholar Amy Lindeman Allen makes this observation: “In the time of King Herod”: only six little words (five in Greek)-- and yet they say so much. Jesus was not born into a time of comfort or peace. Jesus was not born into a family of standing or wealth. Jesus was born into a world that pretended “peace” on the backs of the lives of ordinary people like Mary and Joseph. To prosperity that depended upon the kind of “Order” and “Righteousness” that would have stoned Mary and, very possibly, Joseph for being unwilling to complete the task himself. In the time of King Herod, to a silent mother and a scared father, Jesus came. God Immanuel, God-With-Us.”(2)
Herod was not the first political leader to care more for himself than about the common good—and he certainly wasn’t the last. And this is not just some ancient history.
Why? Because we, too, live in the time of Herod. We live in a time in which calculations of profit overcome and trump the notions of civic virtue and integrity that are the bedrock of decent society. We live in the time of the wolf, even as we long for the time of the shepherd.
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We live in a time when deliberately manufactured scarcity is used to divide and conquer as those who promote it have more wealth than they could spend in twenty lifetimes.
We live in a time of endless war.
We live under systems that that pervert justice and seek to overturn the quest for the common good in the name of the worship of the individual. We live under systems maintain power by convincing us we are powerless, that subvert the common good by dividing us so that we cannot see our own common humanity. We live under systems that instead seek to use alleged differences in race, religion, and gender to fragment the bonds of decency, community, generosity, compassion, and faithfulness that are the true foundation of any great people and nation.
But should this lead us to despair? No. There is hope yet, and it too is embedded right in our readings we hear today. We hear that hope in Isaiah’s prophetic, joyous shout to an exiled people, imploring them to both arise from their oppression and more importantly to shine as reflections of the light of God that has come into the world. We see the power of that hope in the way that Herod and his flunkies in Jerusalem tremble with fear at the news that the true kingdom of God has drawn near in the birth of a tiny baby into a tiny family who will soon flee for their lives as refugees, dependent upon the kindness of strangers. This baby will be the kind of king who is a shepherd, not a wolf, as the prophet Micah predicted.
Matthew proclaims that the news of the birth of this tiny baby shook Herod and his cronies down to their bones. And sic semper tyrannis—thus it is always with tyrants everywhere. They know they cannot prevail where love and a commitment to each other as kindred stands united against them. And as the Herod’s own advisors explained the prophecy from Micah, this newborn King would be a leader who power came from his care and solidarity with his sheep, who placed their trust and hope in him as their shepherd.
This is the good news: Jesus was born for those of us who live in the time of Herod.
I am convinced that the story of Jesus’s birth 2000 years ago can remind us of how Jesus’s birth and coming into the world can still have the power to tear down the thrones of the Herods of this world, to upend their reigns of violence, warfare, corruption and wholescale suffering for the benefit of the despoilers and the grifters who support them. The Herods of this world, who rule by fear and division, know and themselves tremble at the power of love and unity to which Jesus as the Son of God continues to call us.
The Magi looked into the eyes of that tiny baby and, and their minds and hearts were transformed. Transformed from seeking to finding, transformed by the light and hope that had led them to the Prince of Peace in a time of war and division. And we are called, first, to share that journey with them. In the midst of fear, they instead respond with wonder and reverence. And in that response, they remind us that this newborn king is not just a national leader, but one who calls all the world to himself, who calls us to come to our senses by grounding ourselves in peace and unity.
|Sophie Scholl, Lutheran anti-Nazi martyr|
The Herods of the world seek to keep us in exile from hope—but the transformative power of Jesus awakens us to the true love that underpins creation and binds the universe together. But the Magi are symbols of hope for all of us. Their journey reminds us that we can outmaneuver the Herods of the world, that we can refuse to declare our helplessness before them, and instead choose to return home by another way.
The celebration of the feast of the Epiphany is the celebration of the universal love of God for all of humanity and all of creation. What could be more important as we live in fear especially after the events of this last week, on the knife’s edge of unpredictable terror and war?
Many of us too often find ourselves groping about in the dark, lost, lonely, afraid—and we are meant to stay that way to make us feel powerless against evil. Yet, our gospel reminds us that Christ was born for a time such as this. Jesus bids us again to understand the power of rejecting fear in the name of love.
When we take seriously the way of love that Jesus our shepherd laid down for us to follow, we can stand together against the wolves that prowl and the Herods that scheme. In the name of love, we can open instead ourselves to the inbreaking of God into our lives, and hear that call to follow our own star of hope that seeks to lead us home by another way—the way of justice for the oppressed and solidarity with the marginalized that leads us to true amity and kinship with each other.
The Magi show us a lot about how to start. They used both their reason and their intuition to find the Christ-child. The not only used their eyes, but their imaginations. They knew, as we have forgotten, that dreams are not foolishness, but sometimes the only things that allow us to make great leaps of faith. They were brave enough to be pilgrims in their search for the truth, and in that search, they helped reveal the universal love of God manifested in Jesus entering time as one of us. And now we are called to extend their search for the light of Christ, to locate its home within our hearts, souls, and minds, and to carry the power of love out into the world to turn the Herods from their thrones.
May we too, be willing to be led by light even when it seems darkness presses in from all around. May we be willing to search for the truth that will always overturn those who sit on a throne of lies. May we too be able to find hope and resilience against all the Herods of the world, and instead proclaim and reflect the transformative light of Christ by bearing it within us, allowing it to lead us home to our truest natures.
Preached at the 505 on January 4, and the 8:00 and 10:30 Eucharists on January 5, 2020, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.
(1) Stewart Henry Perowne, "Herod King of Judea," at Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-king-of-Judaea .
(2) Amy Lindeman Allen, “In the Time of King Herod” from the Political Theology Network, January 1, 2018, at https://politicaltheology.com/in-the-time-of-king-herod-isaiah-601-6-matthew-21-12-amy-allen/