Reflection for Sunday – January 8, 2017

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6; Mt 2:1-12
Preacher: Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler

Our oldest granddaughter celebrated her birthday last week. She’s one of the sweetest kids I know. Not that I’m biased, or anything! She has a sunny personality. An inquisitive mind. And lots of energy. I drove a long way to celebrate her birthday with her. And it was worth every mile.

I remember when she was born. And that long journey, in cold and snow, to meet her. The joy. The hope. Wondering what her future held. Thinking about the boundless potential of new life. The “oohing” and “aahing” when we finally saw her.

There’s so much hope in the arrival of a new baby, isn’t there? Perhaps that’s one reason we love Christmas stories so much. But we are always in danger of keeping baby Jesus in the manger, rather than remembering him as the adult who invites us to journey to him. Like all babies, Jesus was surely cuddly and cute. We find the baby Jesus appealing. Non-threatening to our general way of life. A baby’s demands are relatively easy to meet.

Not this child, however! In some ways, Jesus was a difficult child. Creating hardships for his parents. The sword piercing his mother’s heart. Causing his parents to flee into Egypt as refugees. Getting lost in the temple.
In today’s gospel, we hear that his very existence is threatening. Even though he’s still an infant. The astrologers’ inquiry about his birth throws Herod and all Jerusalem into turmoil. These strangers’ questions challenge the establishments of king and temple. We know that Herod resorts to desperate measures to eliminate any threat to his power. Notice this, too. The religious leaders seem to know that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. But they don’t leave their comfortable niche to join the search for him. Did you ever wonder about that?

Only the pagan foreigners are eager to seek the newborn King.

The good news of Jesus always evokes two responses: either acceptance or rejection. No in-between. And for those who accept him, there is no going home by the same path. No returning to business as usual. The journey to Jesus will change us. Change all our lives, our vision, our very lifestyles.

Oh, sometimes we wish it could be otherwise. Have our cake and eat it, too. But following this child of Bethlehem will not allow that. If he is Lord, then it is he who shapes our faith. And sets our values. Guides all our decisions. Herod is right to tremble with fear. One who manifests God’s kingdom does, indeed, pose a threat to established authorities. And the loyalties and practices they often uphold. No wonder Jerusalem is in turmoil!

The full scope of Jesus’ life and mission are acknowledged on the verge of its very beginning, both in the magi’s symbolic gifts and Matthew’s language. By using the same words in his Passion narrative to describe Jerusalem, Matthew connects the child Jesus with his destiny. This birth is special because it ended in a life, death and resurrection that were special. That achieved the salvation of all the world.

Matthew uses the magi – outsiders, astrologers from the east, beyond the scope of Israel – to make the point that this child is for everyone. For God there are no foreigners. No outsiders. No exceptions. No one is excluded from God’s love and redemption.

The magi recognized the newborn king in unlikely circumstances. Can we recognize him in someone we consider unlikely? One who is poor? Or addicted? Or worships differently? Or is a refugee? Or a political opponent?

This child will challenge us to recognize the divine spark in every single person and in creation, too. Our journey to him will change all our lives, our vision, our very lifestyle. Epiphany compels us to pay attention to that challenge. To examine our own commitment to his mission to the world. The choice to follow Jesus, no matter the cost, is ours. We can be confident that the God who was faithful to Jesus will be faithful to us, as well.

Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler
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