Worship
Kingdom People PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Saturday, 15 February 2014 17:55

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS.

Kingdom People:  Matthew 5: 21-37

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

February 16, 2014

Deuteronomy 30:15-20  (CEB)

15 Look here!

Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong.

16 If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that I’m commanding you right now by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and so are misled, worshipping other gods and serving them, 18 I’m telling you right now that you will definitely die. You will not prolong your life on the fertile land that you are crossing the Jordan River to enter and possess.

19 I call heaven and earth as my witnesses against you right now: I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you.  Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live— 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive and live long on the fertile land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors: to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 

Let’s start by putting the second lesson in context.  Matthew tells us that Jesus grew up in Nazareth and heard John the Baptist in the wilderness and was baptized by him.  Then he spent time alone in the desert struggling with his call.  When he was clear about his purpose, he called disciples and began to teach them and all who would listen.   He must have been a compelling and interesting teacher, for all accounts agree that crowds of people went out to hear him.

Matthew gives a summary of Jesus’ teachings that shaped the resurrection community.  We call these the Sermon on the Mount and it covers three full chapters, Matthew 5, 6, and 7.  The teachings begin with the beatitudes, the blessings:  Happy are the peacemakers, the meek, the pure in heart.  These we understand and understand easily, but then it turns awkward, blessed are the hungry and those who are insulted and persecuted, and those who grieve.   These we tend to avoid.

Last week we heard that we are salt and light in a dark and dreary world.  Further, within that blessing is the call to be what God created us to be.   We did not dwell on verses 17-20 as Jesus talked about fulfilling rather than abolishing the law and of righteousness what exceeds the scribes and Pharisees.

Today we get examples of that what that righteousness might look like.

Matthew 5:21-37  (CEB)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment.  22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.  If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council.  And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.

23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go.  First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.  25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court.  Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison.  26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery.  28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery.  And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord.  34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.  Anything more than this comes from the evil one.

 

Richard Rohr, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount titled “Jesus Plan for a New World” writes:   “When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about an utterly different way of relating to human society as we know it.”  Our lesson this morning gives a glimpse at just how challenging the ways of Kingdom are.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might live into the blessings of your reign.

When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God it was not bring a new idea. Deep in the heart of the Hebrew scripture is the idea that God’s people are unique.  They are to live differently than the world because they have been blessed and live out of that blessing.  In the words of Deuteronomy, they are choosing life in the Promised Land over death in the world.

By Jesus time this concept of promised had become known as the Kingdom or Reign of God.   Jesus’ first and repeated proclamation was, “the Kingdom of God is drawing near.  The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  He called people to live in that kingdom, to live under the reign of God even while Rome occupied the land.

Today’s lesson gives us a glimpse of that Kingdom life.

Kingdom life is always in contrast to the old order, whether be political, economic or religious.   This is clearly illustrated in the structure of Jesus sermon.  “You have heard it said…”  “But I say to you….”   In this way, Jesus lifts up, not simply the law, but the intention behind the law!

The law says: “Though shall not murder.”   Some prefer to widen the meaning to “Thou shall not kill.”  Jesus exposed it entirely saying: You shouldn’t get angry and call people names or hold a grudge against them.  In fact, resolving the issues between you and the other takes precedent even over worship.  “If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go.  First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back.”   Clearly living under the reign of God is about relationships between neighbors as much as it is about atonement with God.   In fact in John’s letter to the church we read:  Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”   1 John 4:20-21

Love for one another is at the heart of the Kingdom.  This is an old teaching that Jesus and his followers will not let be swept aside to replaced by ritual and liturgy.   Relationships between God’s people are not peripheral, but central to Kingdom living.   That is why being angry or estranged from another is liable for judgment just as if you had been violent toward the other.     Jesus appears to be eliminating the distinction between big and little sins or shortcomings!

This could get awkward!

I would imagine that you’ve heard all sorts of commentary on the next verses: “You have heard that it was said, “Don’t commit adultery.  But I say…”   It has been used to deny divorce and or bless remarriage right here in our little community.  I’m sure the parts about cutting off offending members have been used to exclude all kinds of offending people from the “chosen” people of God.

I don’t think that’s the point!

First, adultery, as a legal term, was directed only at females.  Technically a man could not commit adultery.  Knowing this, Jesus turns it all around from the beginning by saying:  “every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.”   Are you old enough to remember President Jimmy Carter admitting to adultery by this standard!   Carter was and still is a Kingdom person.   Perhaps that is why he was only a one term President!

This lesson is more a lesson on relationships than on the marriage contract.   In the Kingdom of God, how we relate to on another is paramount.  In Jesus time, the husband was supposed to support his wife and family because women had little other viable options.   The children, of course, were his property.  So Jesus mandate is to protect and take care of the vulnerable.

Relationships are important to God and you are supposed to set aside anything – even a body part that is inconsistent with life under God’s reign.  Covenants and promises are to be honored.

Perhaps that is why Jesus concludes this set of teachings with a warning not to swear, or make promises.   Perhaps Jesus was remembering the story in Judges about Jephthah who swore he’d sacrifice the first thing that came out his house if God would help him win the battle.   It was a foolish bargain and I suppose that Jephthah expected a chicken or maybe a dog to rush out in front of any person.  Alas, it was his daughter who came out first, and the story assures us that he did indeed sacrifice her life to save his name.

Living within the reign of God means that people tell the truth, about facts, feelings and relationships.  There is no need to swear.  A handshake is as good as a contract… better!  Others can always trust that a kingdom person is telling the truth.

So, living in the Kingdom of God is living, not just non-violently, but with respect for the other.   It is living in peace and justice.

Living in the Kingdom of God is about relationships that are caring and loving and healthy, about relationships in which we love our neighbor as ourselves.  In the Kingdom, everybody has enough because everybody takes of the other just like they take care of themselves.

The kingdom is about honesty and reliability with no small print in the contract or strings attached.  There are no contingencies or caveats in kingdom relations.

Richard Rohr, in his book on the Sermon of the Mount wrote:

“I am told that there are three kinds of cultures today, each with it’s own “bottom line”:

• Political cultures based on the manipulation of power,

• Economic cultures base on the manipulation of money and

• Religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God.

He continues: “These are directions that human culture takes whenever it is left to it’s own devices.   All three are based on some form of violence, although it is usually denied by most participants and hidden from the superficial observer.  Evil gains its power from disguise, it seems.  It is precisely this darkness and death that God in Jesus has come to destroy.”

This is truly a new world order, and I doubt there are a handful of folks in congress who would support it.  The question is, are there any kingdom folks here?

I hope you’ve met at least one “Kingdom person” in your life.  They are surrendered and trustful people.  You sense that their life is okay at the core.  They have given control to another and are at peace, which paradoxically allows them to calmly be in control.  A Kingdom person lives for what matters, for life in its deepest and lasting sense.  There’s a kind of gentle absolutism about their lifestyle, an inner freedom to do what they have to do—joyfully.  Kingdom people feel like grounded yet spacious people at the same time, the best of the conservative and the best of the progressive types at the same time.  Kingdom people are anchored by their awareness of God’s love deep within them and deep within everyone else, too.

Jesus first and repeated call is to live in the Kingdom of God.   Will we join him?

 

 

 

 

 

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Salt and Light PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Monday, 10 February 2014 21:42

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Salt and Light:  Matthew 5:13-20

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Feb. 9, 2014

 

Isaiah  58:1-12 (CEB)

1 Shout loudly; don’t hold back;  raise your voice like a trumpet!?

Announce to my people their crime; to the house of Jacob their sins.

2 They seek me day after day,?desiring knowledge of my ways?like a nation that acted righteously,? that didn’t abandon their God.?They ask me for righteous judgments,?wanting to be close to God.

3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see;?why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”?

Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,?and oppress all your workers.

4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;? you hit each other violently with your fists.?

You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today?if you want to make your voice heard on high.

5 Is this the kind of fast I choose,? a day of self-affliction,?of bending one’s head like a reed?and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes??    Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,

setting free the mistreated,?and breaking every yoke?

7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house,?

covering the naked when you see them,?and not hiding from your own family?

8  Then your light will break out like the dawn,?and you will be healed quickly.?

Your own righteousness will walk before you,?and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;? you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”?

If you remove the yoke from among you,?the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;

10  if you open your heart to the hungry,?and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,?

your light will shine in the darkness,?and your gloom will be like the noon.

11 The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places.?

He will rescue your bones.?

You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry.

12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account;?the foundations of generations past you will restore.?

You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,?Restorer of Livable Streets.

Matthew 5:13-20 (CEB)

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again?

It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.

14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lamp stand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets.   I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality.  19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

It’s good to be home, if not rested, as least refreshed.  As I shared with the kids, despite the wind and cold we got to spend several days at the beach.  For me, that’s always a spiritual experience.   In addition we missed the snow and ice until we left Texas.

We spent the last 3 days at Austin Seminary listening to lectures that woke up my heart and brain.  I am full of new ideas and perspectives on our life together and left with lots to digest and incorporate in our ministry as we continue to work out our faith “with fear and trembling,” as Paul puts it. Phil 2:12b

This morning however, I think we need to focus on the prophetic words of Isaiah and Jesus as they remind us that not only is God the source of light and Jesus is the light of the world, we too are created to be light and salt in a dark and dreary world.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might see and be your light in a dark world.  Amen

In the lectionary this is second of five weeks of passages from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as recounted by Matthew.  I think Libby spoke with you last week about the beatitudes.

We might be tempted to hear Jesus' words as requirement rather than blessing, but NOT Jesus doesn’t say you have to be humble or meek to be blessed.

Similarly, in this week’s lesson Jesus does NOT say: "If you want to become salt and light, do this...." Or, "before I'll call you salt and light, I'll need to see this from you....” What he says both simply and directly is; "You ARE the salt of the earth.  You ARE the light of the world." His words are sheer blessing, commendation, affirmation, and commissioning.

You might be tempted to respond: Yes, but Jesus does say that salt that has lost its saltiness is useless and that light wasn't made to be put under a bushel.   Doesn’t that imply a threat hiding amid this pronouncement?

But I wonder.  Can salt really lose its saltiness?  Doesn't it just dissolve?  And are candles ever put under bushel baskets?  Wouldn't that snuff the flame or, worse, start a fire?  We have all heard stories of someone trying to ignore their call or purpose only to have it smolder and burst into flame later.

Maybe, Jesus is implying that one can lose one's status as salt and light but, I suspect he's just naming the absurdity of the possibility of losing one's character as salt and light in order to underscore the reliability and resilience of the gift he gives.   (Jesus has a lot better sense of humor and irony than we usually give him credit for!)

You might argue that in second part of the lesson Jesus speaks of the Law and the Prophets.  There is something we need to remember:  The law was given long after Abraham and his progeny through Jacob were given the blessing, the covenant:  I will be your God.  You are mine. I will from you a great people.  The law was given to show the people how to live in the land, live within God’s blessing.  The prophets translate the law into behaviors.  Behavior is in response or to maintain blessing.  The blessing always comes first!

So in this lesson, this metaphor, the blessing is:  “You are the salt of the earth.”   “You are the light of the world.”   Of course this is long before electricity!  Salt’s the primary means of preserving food and light keeps you from stumbling in the dark.  To be salt and light is to enjoy and share a better life!

I don’t think I’ve ever told you, but before I came to Cottonwood Falls I checked you-all out.   I talked with former pastors.  They gave you a good recommendation.  In fact one was particularly encouraging saying: “These folks are the salt of the earth.”

I’ve seen it for myself even though you are reluctant to claim it.  I suspect you think you are being modest.   No matter, folks still notice!  They notice when a neighbor delivers cinnamon rolls on a snowy day, or another neighbor responds to one who is out of propane.  Don’t let false modesty hide your real nature!   Be what you were created to be!

God’s people sharing their salt and light with us certainly blessed us on our trip.  Last summer we had to have axle repair on our little camper.   The guy who went over the camper before we left for this trip mentioned wear on the new tires and suggested we keep an eye on them and in a worse case scenario might need axle work when we got back.

Little did he know!  Last Sunday, we were in northern Texas when we blew a tire.    We pulled off at the closest exit and into a gas station.   They had no mechanic on duty so I parked at the back of the lot near a Subway store.   The tire was completely gone and the wheel was riding was on the rim.  It’s only a 13” wheel, so it was the jack would not slide under the frame.  A man stopped to offer a floor jack from the back of his truck, but even in it’s collapsed position it was too high for our little camper.

After a couple false starts I got the jack in place and was cranked it up only to realize I’d forgotten to loosen the lugs.   I lowered it and was working on the lugs when a woman and her daughter pulled into the parking place beside us.   She offered to help and I explained the problem implying I could hand it

She just stepped right in!  She told me her name was Anita and looking at her clothes and tattoos I thought she must be a trucker.  She loosened and then took off the lugs two at a time, one with each hand!  Marveling at how quickly and easily she worked, I commented that she must have done this a few times before.  Only then did she tell me she’d had professional training in tire repair and service.  I was amazed because she had a great manicure and I was afraid she’d break a nail!  She did not.

She told me that she and her young-adult daughter had just gotten out of church and her daughter had suggested Subway for lunch.  I laughed inside me at the providence of tire specialist coming to Subway after church just when I was struggling with the tire.  Later we laughed together about how God works as I admitted that I was a pastor on vacation.

She was the salt of the earth and when I saw and her good deeds, I gave thanks to God.  It was just like Jesus said: “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”

A postscript:  When we were finished she directed me to the Walmart in Huntsville, thinking they would have a service department and sell tires.  I drove slowly there, but not slow enough.  The second tire blew just a ? mile from the Walmart.  We walked over only to discover they did not have the tire.   A Discount Tire Store was right there too but they were closed.   We unhitched and spent the night in Huntsville, Texas.  On Monday, we discovered the tire place did not have the tire and it would take a couple days for them to get one.   He kindly directed me to another place that worked on farm trailers.  They had nothing that small.  It was on the third or fourth try that a salty dog suggested the Tractor Supply.  (I had to get him to explain that was a chain of stores in the area – a lot like blue stem but more so.)

We bought 2 tires and took them back to the trailer.  While mounting them, a cement salesman stopped to help.  He had tools in his truck that were much better than mine.  And finished the job for us.  He even fastened up a propane outlet that had come loose when the tire was blown.  Again I marveled at how God’s people bless those around them.

The rest of the story is that we had to purchase 2 more new tires to get home from Austin and we left the camper in Wichita for axle repair.  All of this because folks along the way helped us and shared with us their light so that we no longer stranded on the road in the dark and cold.

You are God’s people and you bless this community all the time.   You host and encourage the preschool; you work for better housing and education and job opportunities.   You save community resources and repurpose them to serve the people.  You recycle clothes and haul excess to others, clothing the poor and thrifty.  You feed the hungry through the food pantry and hot dishes to shut ins.   You ARE the salt of the earth and a light to this community.  That's the way it is and that's the way it will stay. Period.

My challenge to you is to CLAIM this truth for yourself.   Notice when someone blesses you by simply being the person God created them to be.  Even more so, notice when you share your light and salt with others.  This is not pride!   It is noticing that God is working through you.

I referenced in the beginning Paul’s instruction to the church in Philippi to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’   His thought continues: for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil 2:12b-13.   The good news is that you are a blessed and beloved child of God and God is already working in and through you, both as individuals and as a congregation.

The more we can name it, the more we can share it; and thus grow into our true identity even more fully.  Individually, none of us is very salty or very bright, but as the church we are a real powerhouse.

Jesus says simply, "You are the salt of the earth!  You are the light of the world!  Believe it, and see what happens!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Keep Joseph in Christmas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 16:42

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Let’s Keep Joseph in Christmas:  Matthew 1:18-25

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Dec. 15, 2013

 

Matthew 1:18-25 (CEB)

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man.  Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son.

And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)

24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

 

Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective.  That’s appropriate because Matthew was writing to faithful Jews in order to persuade them that Jesus was the Messiah; to convince them that Jesus was the one from whom they had been waiting even though he was so different from what they expected.

Matthew writes of Joseph a “righteous” man, a faithful Jew, who like his readers, are faced with an unbelievable story.   So at the suggestion of a new advent study by Richard Wilke, Christmas: The Good the Bad and the Ugly let’s spend some time this morning considering how Joseph lived out his faith in the face of a troubling situation.

Let us pray:  Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we who try to be righteous and faithful might be open to your unexpected work in our midst.  Amen

 

Matthew begins his story with a genealogy.   We have looked closely at this in the past and it is fun to remember that though it is a patriarchal list, it lifts us several extra-ordinary mothers along the way.   Those mothers are extra ordinary because they were outsiders.  Not what one would expect to see in a royal bloodline.

Genealogies are important because they relate to rights of first born.  In Jesus time genealogy was not based on genes.  They didn’t know about DNA testing!  Torah law was what was important.  It was the foundation of their culture.   But there is always risk when you trace genealogy through the male side of the family.  Just ask my genealogist sister-in-law.  My great grandfather’s paternity came into question when she discovered that his mother’s husband died two years before he was born.

Mary’s story is as old as marriage, but the causation is unique!  According to one advent study, the Jews Messianic expectation did not include a miraculous birth, certainly not a virgin birth.   That was a pagan concept, and in their stories God would descend to earth as a man to impregnate the mother in the usual way.  Impregnation by the Holy Spirit is something else entirely different.

Further, the verse in Isaiah that Matthew cites uses the Greek translation.  The original Hebrew simply reads, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son.  Most scholars believe Isaiah was referring to one of the King’s wives.  Virgin birth was simply not part of the messianic expectation.

The only reason I can think of for Matthew and Luke to tell us of Immaculate Conception is that the scandal of Jesus’ birth was well known, and they wanted the parent’s side of the story to be told.  Theologically, the point is that Jesus conception was an independent act of God, not of mortals!  It is a reiteration of the biblical theme: With God all things are possible and echoes Isaiah’s proclamation: The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Is 9:7

All this should remind us that Matthew is not writing history; or to be more accurate, Matthew is writing history the way all first-century historians operated.   He is telling a story in order to educate and persuade.  He is not, however, writing history in the way we understand it today, with the goal of offering an objectively accurate account of what happened according to the rational standards of our post-enlightenment twenty-first century world.

Don't get me wrong.  Matthew definitely tells a story he believes is true, and he wants us to believe it as well.  However it's not the "facts" that Matthew presses upon us but a larger, narrative truth that he can only confess.  If we get distracted trying to prove or disprove the historicity of the passage we miss the treasure that Matthew offers:  A confession of faith that in Jesus, God is creating once again in order to keep God's promises to Israel and, indeed, all the world.

But enough of Matthew, we meant to be thinking about Joseph.  For Joseph, the news that Mary was pregnant was anything but good.  Can you to imagine the shock that a Torah-true Jew like Joseph must have felt.  He knew the child could not be his and he assumed that Mary got pregnant in the usual way!  Joseph, like any man in his position, must have felt hurt, humiliated, disappointed and even angry.  As a devout man he simply didn’t deserve this!  When word got out he would be humiliated in the face of the whole community.  Everything was changed because of Mary.

But Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.  This means Joseph loved God and tried to follow God’s law.  A righteous man will try to follow the commands of God in all things - even life changing disasters!   So when Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant, he turns to God’s law for guidance.  According to the law, he has two options.

His first option is to bring charges against Mary in public.  He could publicly accuse her of the sin of adultery.  The penalty for adultery under the law is death.  But, as much as Mary has hurt and scandalized him, he cares for her.   He can’t go for the death penalty.

His second option is to divorce Mary privately.  He can, in the presence of two witnesses, simply write out a paper of divorce and present it to her.  In this case, there would be no public charges against Mary.  There would be no penalty.  People would eventually find out that Mary was pregnant and unwed, but she would be at least spared the public hearing and stoning.  And he would be justified in the eyes of the community.

Because Joseph was a righteous man, he had to choose one of these options.  As much as he might have loved Mary, he could not disregard the law.  He could not put his own will above the will of God as revealed in the law.  To do so would be to say that his relationship to Mary exists outside of their relationship to God and that would be unthinkable!   He was a righteous man.  But as Joseph surely knew, God’s righteousness is always tempered with mercy.  He decides to dismiss Mary quietly.

Then something extraordinary happens to this ordinary, righteous man.  God intervenes.  Matthew says that while Joseph was thinking about how to save face without having Mary stoned, an angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream.

What first struck me about that verse 20 was the phrase, “as he was thinking about this.”  It seems to me that one indication of Joseph’s nature and righteousness was that he did not act out of the passion of the moment.   This, I think, is worth noting in a world where so many have anger management issues.   Perhaps we need to speak more about how a right relationship with God can temper our passions before they lead us to say and do things that cannot be taken back.

That, however, is not Matthew’s primary point.   Matthew’s point is that God intervenes.   An angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  Let me say again, as I have so many times before, God’s core message is “Don’t be afraid” especially when confronted with the inexplicable!

That’s the good news.  The hard news, for Joseph, is that God’s plans runs counter to his carefully considered decision.  God intends for Joseph to proceed with the marriage to Mary.  The angel who appears to Joseph in his dream explains the situation with this holy child who will save his people from their sins.  The angel even takes care of the all-important naming process, telling Joseph to call the baby Jesus.  This is a tall order for a man in a patriarchal, honor/shame culture.

On that night of dreaming, as much as on Christmas Eve, an angel hovered near interrupting the nightmare visions of accusation and estrangement that played in the theater of Joseph’s dreams.

“Here,” whispered the angel, “is the key that unlocks your dilemma.  Believe her unbelievable story.  Marry her, and become the father of God’s child.  He will need a father to be accepted by others as he grows to manhood.  He will need, not just any father, but a father like you, capable of nurturing him, and giving him a name.  ‘Immanuel -- God with us.’

“He will need a father like you to teach him to take risks like the one you are about to take, for he will be tempted not to take them.

“He will need a father like you to teach him to withstand the disapproval of others, as you will soon have to withstand it.

“He will need a father like you to teach him what to do in situations like this one, when all hope seems lost and only pain remains; to model how to believe the unbelievable good news and to walk ahead in faith.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d have to think long and hard after that sort of dream!  It is hard for me to picture Joseph simply waking up smiling.  To follow the angel’s path requires Joseph to set aside much of the law that has been so important to him.  I suspect that the often overlooked miracle is that Joseph can trust the radical new direction in which he is called, even thought this call directly challenges all that has anchored him in the past; the law and his honored position in the community.  

Perhaps some background information about early Jewish marriages would be helpful. First we need to know that in this culture engagement was a formal contractual matter, usually decided on by the two fathers in question.  That is, it was an arranged marriage.  The first stage of the marriage itself was completed some months before by the formal wedding ceremony.  That is why Matthew says that Joseph had resolved to "divorce" a woman to which he was engaged because engagement then, unlike engagement in the West today, was a legally binding contract.

 

Also remember in that patriarchal culture, the birth of the first-born son was all-important and crucial to the family line and property transfer.  The fact Joseph is prepared to give up the right to sire his own firstborn son and even the right to name Jesus says a lot about the character of Joseph.

Joseph proves himself not only to be an honorable man but also an obedient Jew.  He is willing to walk a much more difficult path and step far outside cultural boundaries in order to follow God’s desire and intent for his life.  Matthew even notes that he refrains from marital relations with Mary until the child is born.

Could he have really understood the import of his decision and the consequences it would have on his and Mary’s lives?  Scripture does not reveal any words or thoughts from Joseph.  All we have is the record of his actions, but they speak for themselves and should speak strongly to each of us.

Joseph’s unusual role in Jesus’ coming into this world is no less important then Mary’s.  Joseph is an example of a man who was righteous, who was caring, yet who had the proverbial rug pulled right out from under him.   Even then he managed to respond to God’s call with obedience and grace.   He foreshadows Jesus own life, illustrating, like Job, that being righteous does NOT mean that everything goes smoothly!

The wonder of this story is that through the faithfulness of an ordinary man, God was doing something extra ordinary.  The amazing news that God is sending his son to be born of a virgin, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world, is working itself out in the faith and obedience of a humble man like Joseph.

The angel proclaims the miraculous news that God is coming among us as a little baby, yet unlike Mary, who responds with joyful exuberance by saying, “my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” Joseph speaks no great words. Joseph was not a big talker. He was a carpenter, a practical man.  He reminds us that though God can and certainly can and does use folks who have great words, Paul for example, some of the most important roles are reserved for the quiet faithful, who simple do what needs to be done with righteousness tempered by mercy.

We are grateful to God for Joseph and all the faithfully quiet saints who bless our lives.

Amen

 

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 16:44
 
Keep Herod in Christmas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 16:39

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Let’s Keep Herod in Christmas1:  Matthew 2:16-18

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

December 8, 2013

 

Jeremiah 31:15-17

15 The Lord proclaims:? A voice is heard in Ramah,?weeping and wailing.?

It’s Rachel crying for her children;?she refuses to be consoled,?

because her children are no more.

16 The Lord proclaims: Keep your voice from crying and your eyes from weeping,?

because your endurance will be rewarded, declares the Lord.?

They will return from the land of their enemy!

17 There’s hope for your future, declares the Lord.  Your children will return home!

 

Matthew 2:16-18

16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:

18  A voice was heard in Ramah,? weeping and much grieving.?

Rachel weeping for her children,? and she did not want to be comforted,?

because they were no more.

 

I hope you noticed that our New Testament lesson echoes the Old.  Jeremiah was written to a people who could metaphorically see the handwriting on the wall, Jerusalem would fall and the people would be taken into exile.  The metaphor, by the way, references the story found in the 5th chapter of Daniel when mysterious handwriting appeared on King Belshazzar’s wall during a party that warned of Babylon’s fall.

King Herod could see the handwriting on the wall when Kings from the east came to seeking the baby who was born to become a king.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might see the handwriting on our own walls.   Amen

My first response to keeping Herod in Christmas was “Why?”  In fact, I am perfectly happy keeping the wise men in Christmas without giving Herod a second thought.   If I had my choice, I’d avoid all that stuff about killing babies! … and I usually do.

Herod “The Great”, as he was known, was a bad man, a cruel man, and an evil man.   He was born in the Sinai, a descendant of Abraham through Esau who had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Maccabees.   (They were the ones who led the revolt to free Judea before Jesus was born.   The story of Hanukkah, concluded on Thursday, commemorates that event.) The point is Herod was an Edomite Jew, not a “real” Jew!

By the time Jesus was born the world was in turmoil.  In Rome, Brutus and Cassius had murdered Caesar.   In a struggle for power, Cassius was defeated by Mark Antony, who was then killed by Octavian, who became known as Caesar Augustus.  He was the ruler of the newly named Roman Empire who was trying to subjugate and control Greece, the Near East and Egypt.

Herod’s father, Herod Antepater, had allied himself with Rome and was named ruler of Judea.  Herod the son became a charismatic young soldier who was sent to Rome to become friends with key Roman leaders.  Later he became governor of Galilee where he endeared himself to Rome by brutally crushing a local Jewish rebellion.  He became adept at playing both ends against the middle.

Now listen closely for this part reads like a trashy novel and I’m giving you the condensed version.

When Herod’s father was poisoned he was names ruler of Judea and married Mariamne, the daughter of the High Priest, to consolidate his power.   He loved her insanely and was passionately jealous.  When she urged him to appoint her brother Aristobulus as high priest, he did so.  However, within a year, Herod had the 17 year old drowned because he was too popular.  Mariamne accused Herod of killing both her brother and grandfather.   Then Salome, Herod’s sister told him that Mariamne was sleeping with an uncle so Herod ordered Mariamne’s execution

All this is to say that Herod was brutal.  He wanted total control.  He pacified most of the Jewish people under his rule by allowing them to worship their God in the temple rather than worshiping Caesar.  In return, he placated Rome by demanding a huge temple tax, and sending it to Rome.  He kept international trade routes open and brutally quashed any uprising.

Herod was a great builder.  It made him look good.  He lavishly remodeled the Tempe with a solid gold altar, magnificent imported marble walls and a “heavenly” blue ceiling.  To pacify Rome he placed golden eagle over the temple entrance.  When protestors tore the eagle down Herod captured, placed them in chains and dragged them 13 miles down the “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” from Jerusalem to Jericho where he had them burned alive.

There are other stories, but suffice it to say that suspicion fear, and brutality permeated Herod’s life and rule.  The wise pilgrims looking for a baby who would become “King of the Jews” set his perverse mind into high gear.  You know the results.  When he discovers the Magi have “gone home another way” and were not longer under his influence he went into a rage, ordering all the young boys slaughtered.  Picture soldiers breaking down the doors of every house in Bethlehem, killing babes in mother’s arms and dragging toddlers out to be slaughtered in the streets.  The Bible explodes in grief, recalling Jacob’s wife Rachel, who died in childbirth.  She had become a generic term for women in tragedy.

I suppose we could fluff the story, saying it was told to remind us of Moses and Pharaoh, the hero and evil ruler of an earlier time.   I think there is a more important meaning and it is found in Exodus 3:7-8.   At the burning bush the LORD said, "I've clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I've heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I've come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that's fullof milk and honey…”

We must keep Herod in Christmas because he reminds us that Jesus came into the real world, the world of death and suffering.   In Jesus God directly challenges those who want ‘total control’ even at the cost of justice, of all that is good and humane.  The early hymn of the church phrases it well:

Though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.

But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.

When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil 2:7-8

The danger of Christmas is that we envision Jesus as a sweet little baby, smelling of Johnson’s baby lotion and wrapped in a soft flannel blanket embroidered with holy symbols, the soft glow of God emanating from him.  More likely he smelled of blood and animals, was bound tightly in homespun and shivered in the dark with his parents, listen to the boots of Roman soldiers on the cobblestones outside.

Jesus came into our world the real world where babies in Africa die of starvation or Aids; and

Babies in Palestine and Iran die from embargos that keep out medicine and medical equipment; and babies in the United States die because they had no pre-natal care or are aborted by women who can see no hope for their life.  Jesus came to us as a baby.   It is only by the grace of God that he survived.  It is by the hatred and fear of worldly powers that he was killed.  Yet those powers were overthrown by God when Jesus was raised from the Grave and moved among his followers bringing hope and a new vision to our weary world.

We need to keep Herod in Christmas because our condition cannot change or be changed until we face and name it.   That’s why Paul talks so much about the split between flesh and spirit.  Flesh is his moniker for all that is wrong in the world, everything from selfishness and greed to the blasphemy of violence in God’s name.  If the story were being told in our time, Jesus would have been born in Nazi Germany.  Would we have recognized him?   Protected him? Or did he die with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and countless others in a jail cell.

Herod the king is a symbol of the evil and suffering in the world and God weeps along with Rachel and all the mothers throughout time.  We need Herod in Christmas to remind us of how desperately we need a Savior in this evil world; to remind us to work and pray always for the reign of God in our lives and all the earth.

Fr. William J. Bausch in his book *Storytelling the Word* has a sermon where he says King Herod is still out to harm the child.   He speaks of five Kings H-E-R-O-D:  King Hurry-Up, King Erotic Explotation, King Rage, King Only Me,  King Dollar.   You may have other names for the kings in your life.   Maybe Depression, or Egotism, or hunger.

On Friday, via an email from the Board of Pensions, of all places, I was introduced to John Douglas Hall’s newest book, Waiting for Gospel: An Appeal to the Dispirited Remnants of Protestant “Establishment.”2    His thesis that the only antidote to the church’s dying is to embrace the good news!  He writes:  People in and around our old churches are seeking is not just friendliness or communality or exhortation to moral improvement or a little blessed quietness in the midst of a noisy world or the even the assurance of ultimate happiness. (heaven!) … To be sure, some will snatch at anything that is well advertised! But what the sensitive and the “quietly desperate,” both want and need is something far more radical than novelty and hype. They are waiting for gospel!”

Then he goes from preaching to meddling saying:  “Gospel does not ask first whether church finances are in order or community relationships congenial or parishioners contented and active. To be sure, the vocation to proclaim gospel does not despise good order and decency, but its first concern is understanding the character of the human predicament and the quest for a truth that is searing enough and modest enough to speak to that predicament.

“Good news can come upon us only when we are honest about the human predicament and the world we live in. When we can name the evil in the world, and stand up to it, even if offends the establishment our closest neighbor, or person in the next pew- even when it threatens my own bottom line or shakes up international alliances.”  This is hard work, frightening work, it shakes the very foundations of who we have become.  It is necessary however, if we are to recognize and welcome followers of the Christ.

Jesus was born under the rule of Herod the Cruel, who destroyed anything or anyone who got in his way.   Jesus was raised from the dead under the rule of God the Lover, who came into Herod’s domain and showed up another way to live, eternally!   He taught that evil is not “out there”, but “in here” suggesting that we worry about the log in our own eye before we become obsessed with the splinter in the other’s eye. Matt. 7:4  Sin resides in the human heart like dormant seeds in fertile soil, ready to sprout and grow when given the opportunity. We desperately need more than just another prophet; we crave more than a good teacher; we must have better than a great physician.  Like a drowning person crying for help, we plead for a Savior – for one who can save us from evil, within and without; one who can turn us from our sinful selves, root out the “Herod” in our hearts and bring the Kingdom of God to earth as in heaven.

 

1 Developed from an Advent Study by Richard Wilke, Christmas, The Good the Bad and the Ugly.

2 Cascade Books, 2012.

 
Keep Wisemen in Christmas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 16:35

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Keeping the Wise Men in Christmas:  Matthew 2:1-12

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Dec 1, 2013

 

1st lesson Isaiah 60-1-6

60 1 Arise! Shine! Your light has come;?    the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.

2 Though darkness covers the earth? and gloom the nations,?

the Lord will shine upon you;? God’s glory will appear over you.

3 Nations will come to your light? and kings to your dawning radiance.

4 Lift up your eyes and look all around:? they are all gathered; they have come to you.?

Your sons will come from far away,? and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.

5 Then you will see and be radiant;? your heart will tremble and open wide,?

because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;? the nations’ wealth will come to you.

6 Countless camels will cover your land,? young camels from Midian and Ephah.?

They will all come from Sheba,? carrying gold and incense,? proclaiming the Lord’s praises.

 

2nd Lesson: Matthew 2:1-12

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,?by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,?because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

 

Mike has already had his say about not letting Christmas creep into Advent;  however- I’m confident you will notice that I am looking at Advent from a very different direction this year.   Most obviously:  one does not usually start Advent at the end of the birth story!

One of the reasons stories are interesting and comforting is that they give us a sense of direction.  Stories have a beginning, middle and ending.  In fact, if we choose, we can glimpse the final destination even while we were still on the way.  Life is seldom like that.  When I was resisting a call to pastoral ministry I wrote in my journal:  “I don’t mind if you are driving the train, but just tell me where we are going!”  I, of course, never imagined it was going here!

I tell you that simply because the wise men teach us much about following Jesus, the one who comes into the manger and into our hearts again and again.   As we prepare for His coming it’s good to know what to expect.

 

Let us Pray: Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might “welcome you aright.”   Amen

I’m always moved by the resurrection accounts of Jesus “opening scripture to them.”  During my fall study leave I was reminded that there was a full 40-50 years between Jesus crucifixion/resurrection and the earliest New Testament writings.  This was a time of opening scripture.  It was another decade or so before the first gospel, Mark, was written.  That gospel contains no birth narrative, as if the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were unimportant or not necessary in order to follow Jesus.

The content of both the gospels and the letters suggests that during that half century of silence Jesus’ followers were trying to understand their experience of Jesus and the times in which they were living.   They did this by bringing new meanings to traditional texts.  This happened naturally in the synagogues as the Resurrection spirit moved week after week through worship and discussions of scripture.

Later still, Matthew wrote to faithful Jews, telling them that the experience of Jesus’ life, teachings and resurrection Spirit should be understood through the lens of the ancient texts.  We do the same thing all the time.  When something completely new and different happens to God’s people, that for which we have no words, we look at traditional words and stories to understand the new experience, to put into context.  Jesus death and resurrection was like that.

For example when we speak of “wresting with God” we are referencing Jacob wrestling with the angel on the river bank.  Not that we are Jacob, but that story helps us remember, among other things that God’s people have always “contended with God.”  (That is the literal meaning of Israel.)

I have a friend who needed God to give her confidence in what she felt called to do.  She spoke of laying down her fleece, like Gideon.  (The story is in Judges chapter 6 if you want to look it up later.)   The point is that stories expand our vocabulary to let us use words that point us toward the Holy unspeakable Mystery we call God.

We see this in Matthew’s birth story.   Matthew experienced Jesus as a devout Jew who opened the arms of faith to gentiles.  He also experienced Jesus as one to be honored and praised by the whole world.  Finally in a time of turmoil he experienced following Jesus, (discipleship), as difficult, time consuming and costly.  His story about the wise men is meant to teach us all those things and more.  Let’s look more closely.

Mike start rhythm.  One of the images embedded in my Christmas memory is a song we sang at church when the kids were little. Pat “Once upon a cold December, many long years ago.  Three important kings took time to travel a year or so.

Mike joinOver mountains through deep valleys traveling awfully slow.”

The point of the song is in the last verse:  “What we learn from those three wise men, is that we must take time. Time to find him, time to follow through all the dirt and grime. There are valleys we will enter, there are hills we’ll climb.  He will help us through it all if, we just take time.

We cannot expect to draw close to Jesus or he to us, if we are buried beneath a to-do list that never lets us rest or be still.   Jesus is much more likely to come to us when we are gentling rocking on a camel, or porch swing or chair.   In the church calendar Advent is a time set aside to take time to live deeply into the story in order to find the gift of God.

By the time of Matthew’s story, folks were beginning to call Jesus the wisdom of God.  By John’s time we get the full-blown declaration:  “In the beginning was the word,”… evoking the story of wisdom hovering over the waters of chaos when God began creating.  When Matthew wrote Paul was already evangelizing in gentile Europe and Turkey.  Philip had baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.   This inclusiveness had already become a point of conflict within the synagogue/church when Matthew was writing.

Matthew’s story of wise men teaches that the smartest secular scholars leave their comfortable posts in court and university to travel for months to kneel down to God’s wisdom.  We echo Matthew when we use the phrase: “Wise Men still seek Him.”

Just as a reminder, please notice that Matthew does not specify how many wise folk there were, only that there were three gifts.  We saw two of the gifts in the lesson from third Isaiah;  “They will all come from Sheba,? carrying gold and incense,? proclaiming the Lord’s praises.”

Gold, of course is a gift for a king.  Kings had the right to demand taxes, i.e. gold!  Gold is a gift for a ruler.  Frankincense was used in both Greek and Hebrew worship.  Psalms speaks of prayers rising as incense.” Ps 114:12   Like gold, it was very expensive because it had to be imported from southern Arabia.  Frankincense was a gift fit for God.

But, why myrrh?

Listen again: “They will all come from Sheba,? …”  There is a story in Kings10:1-13  where King Solomon was honored by a visit from the queen of Sheba.   Solomon was known for his wisdom and the queen gifts Solomon with gold and frankincense and precious stones. 1King 10:10  Myrrh is embalming an oil that came only from Sheba.

Myrrh is no only costly but more symbolic than gems.  Myrrh evokes Jesus’ suffering and death, which is the bulk of Mark’s gospel.   Like Solomon the wise, this new king is honored by gentiles with gold and frankincense, but instead of jewels they bring myrrh, more costly and deeply symbolic.

So, in this season of coming and on the day of pledge dedication, we remember that who honor and worship Jesus have always brought gifts.  What kind of gifts is not really important.  No one other than Matthew even speaks of it.  The carol we sang earlier tell us what is really important.  What Jesus always wants, is your heart.

Our pledges are really simply promises we make to ourselves as an expression of our intention to let Jesus rule in our hearts.  Our money is a way of monetizing our time, passion and skills.  So we pledge money to develop a habit of giving regularly and steadily of what is really important – our truest selves.

Finally I learned a new lesson from the wise men as I was preparing this message.  Richard Wilke, in his Advent study, Christmas, The Good the Bad and the Ugly” points out that the wise men return home a different way.  In Matthew’s story, a different way is required to avoid evil King Herod. We’ll talk more about him on another day..

What is important now is to remember that Jesus said, “I am the way” and the first believers were called people of the way.  I would be using a common metaphor to speak of life as a journey.  A common theme in Advent is to repent, meaning to turn around and go a different way.  So the encounter with Jesus changes the wise men and aided by an angel in a dream, they go home by a different way.

As Christians we are called to take a different way from the powers of our culture.  Wilke makes specific suggestions saying: “The way means as husband and wives we will not look on others with lust. Matt 5:27-28   We will not swear, even on a stack of Bibles; but our yes will be. yes and our no will be no.” Matt 5:37  Because our bodies are the temple of the holy Spirit we do not abuse them with alcohol, drugs or poor diet.  Like the Good Samaritan, we help the sick and wounded, even in the Philippines.  “Greed with not control our appetites, but we will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit the inmate.”1 Matt 25:35

Wilke concludes, and so will I:  “We need to keep the wise men in Christmas” because they represent all the people of the world, regardless of race or creed or political leanings.   The Magi teach us that no one is so far away that they cannot travel to Bethlehem.   Even the wealthiest and the most powerful among us need a Savior, a purpose, a way.  The greatest can kneel in humility before the Lord, rise up, and serve God in faithfulness.”

 

 

1 Wilke, Richard B:  Christmas: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, pg 23, Abingdon Press, 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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