- On January 9, 2022
- 0 Comments
I didn’t expect to be writing this note this morning! I expected when I left for a vacation on Christmas Day that we would be back together. However, while this is what I was looking forward to … this is not the case! The Omicron variant has us locked down once again and that alone can have the effect of dampening our spirits. In Paul’s letter to the congregation in Thessalonica he encouraged them to … 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5: 16-18)
I know that these words may be hard to understand when we are once again shut off from our friends and family and are unable to engage in our normal activity. I know as well that this has made in even more difficult for some in our fellowship who are dealing with isolation and rehabilitation from illness. So, I want to share with you a note that I received this week from Margot, the chaplain of the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. My hope is that her words will bring you encouragement: for when we are able to live with joy in the worst of circumstances our light shines into the darkness that the world is experiencing.
Good morning and Happy new Year Patrick. When I gathered with patients just before Christmas, I shared with them the story of how your prayers shawls were created, and then handed out the last remaining ones. Several patients had tears in their eyes, as they felt the concern and care of strangers for them. I wanted to pass on their thanks to your team… know these were deeply appreciated.
I would be grateful if your team would consider donating another batch of shawls, particularly as we move into a period when patients may be more isolated in their rooms due to program reductions and staff shortages. I would gladly visit and gift these shawls to those who are in distress.
Our worship today is focused on the Epiphany – the visit of the wise men to pay homage to the child Jesus. I have chosen an eclectic mix of music to accompany our worship and reflection this morning:
Video for worship: https://knox16presbyterian.ca/worship/weekly-worship-services/
Wise men still seek him https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AySyNNg4IrQ
We three Kings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx35_DRIZ8g
Straight to Hell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXesiUED8jE
God be with you ‘til we meet again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZHrtHdbdOE
As we engage the lessons of Scripture and the journey of the magi, I invite us all to reflect upon our own Spiritual journeys – the trials and the celebration – as we enter with joy and hope into this new year.
In-Person Worship: As a result of the rapid spread of the Omicron virus and the latest restrictions from Ontario’s public health department, in-person worship at Knox 16 will be postponed until further notice. A Sunday worship video will be sent out via e-mail until we are back together again.
Session will meet on January 21st and will communicate an update through the worship memo/video on January 23rd. If you have questions or wish to discuss further please reach out to Brenda firstname.lastname@example.org
And as always, if you would like to have a pastoral conversation, please contact me by e-mail email@example.com or 905-257-2770
60 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Prayer for Illumination
Spirit of God,
in the proclamation of your Word,
reveal to us the hidden mystery of your love in Christ,
so that we have the strength to follow you
on our journey of faith. Amen.
Reflection: The Journey of Faith
Today we celebrate the feast of Epiphany. The story of the wise men, people on a journey of faith, who were seeking to find God: the child who has been born king of the Jews. Today we celebrate the day, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, when the wise men paid homage to the infant Jesus by offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Imagine if you can a Christmas pageant where 3 six-year-old children are playing the parts of the 3 wise men. As they came up to Mary and Joseph in the stable, the first one handed over her present and said, “Gold.” The second presented his gift and said, “Myrrh.” The third one then gave them her treasure and said, “And Frank sent this.” …
We chuckle at this misinterpretation of a six-year-old at the beginning of her faith journey, who is learning, through drama, the traditions of our faith. Because we know that in the folklore of our faith tradition there were 3 Kings: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar; from 3 different areas of the East; who brought 3 gifts. And we know that each gift has a different symbolic meaning that foretold the life and death of Jesus which provided meaning and purpose to his life: gold to symbolize his kingship; frankincense to symbolize his priestly role; and myrrh to symbolize the importance of his death as the means to humankinds’ salvation. …
However, I wonder if this interpretation was the only one that Matthew intended? Or was there some other reason why Matthew wrote this story into his gospel? We know with certainty, that the episode described by Matthew was different from the infant narrative told by Luke. Luke described the visit to the manger by the shepherds after hearing the heavenly host sing hallelujahs. Luke never mentioned wise men who followed a star. Nor did he mention Herod the ruler who desired to be King of the Jews or his intent to have Jesus murdered. So, it is fair for us to ask, is there a wider truth that Matthew wishes to reveal? And is there a lesson – something that we can observe and learn in our context – that is relevant for our world today? (pause)
Let me draw your attention to the response of Herod when the wise men met with him in Jerusalem. Herod was frightened. Why? Because the wise men were claiming that a child had been born that will compete with him for the crown. Without going into a history lesson that discussed Herod, his desire to be recognized by Rome as King of the Jews and his habit of murdering any potential adversaries, suffice it to say that the birth of a rival who could claim the throne was a serious threat.
What is perhaps even more interesting, is that when Herod asked the chief priests and the scribes if they knew where the infant was to be born, they answered yes. They were aware of the prophecy; and yet, the religious establishment was doing nothing to prepare for the arrival of the infant King. It is as if Matthew is saying the secular world didn’t know and the religious establishment didn’t care. Come to think about it … this is one of the major themes that runs through the Gospel of Matthew: the rejection of Jesus by his own people.
And here is a third thing to notice: the wise men, from a distant land, who are searching for something that they do not comprehend. They are astrologers who followed a star to the capital city Jerusalem expecting to find the infant who would be king. They were seekers who got lost and yet continued to sense that there was something worth searching for … and so continued their journey of faith to Bethlehem where they encountered Mary, Joseph and the infant.
Juxtaposed against the rulers who were blissfully unaware and the chief priests and scribes who didn’t care to seek anymore, are the pagan astrologers from the East searching for the messiah. Thus, perhaps the wider truth that is contained within Matthew’s Gospel story, is that it was those who were the outsiders who were truly seeking God – and it was those in power – both secular and religious – who conspired to maintain the status quo and keep the outsiders – out. (pause)
As you know, we were back in Newfoundland for Christmas. And while we were there, I had the chance to read sections of the book Where I Belong: Small Town to Great Big Sea by Alan Doyle. This was an auto-biographical book that described, as only a Newfoundland storyteller could, his childhood growing up in out-port Newfoundland. One of the chapters was entitled Transubstantiationand delved into two competing and complementary influences on his early life. One was the fact that he was acutely aware of the distinct divide between Protestants and Catholics in his community. And the other was that from his young perspective most of the Catholics, of which he was one, didn’t understand the tenants of their faith. As a young boy seeking to understand his faith, he was perplexed by the fact that his community didn’t understand aspects their faith and that they, nor the priest that led them, were interested in finding a deeper understanding. And yet they were insistent that their religious observances and denominational separations were an important part of their lives that must be maintained and reinforced. It is important to point out that the religious establishment both supported and encouraged the status quo.
Alan subsequently went to university and took religious studies – where he was able to learn more about religion; however, his study did nothing to deepen his faith. Interestingly, his questions of faith found an outlet in his music and as the lead singer of Great Big Seahe continued to seek answers through the songs he wrote and performed. Straight to Hell is an obvious example – however the themes of guilt and hope are aptly explored through Consequence Free and When I am Up (I can’t get down). As I read his memoir, and listened to his music, I could see that his journey of faith continued outside of the institutionalized church as he continued to search for understanding. As an outsider to the religious establishment, he was touching on themes that were challenging to a religious institution that was no longer providing a system, or the insight, that allowed people to find meaning in their lives. (pause)
One of the things that I can count on receiving in my stocking on Christmas morning is a novel or two. And being a minister, it is not uncommon that I receive a novel with a quasi-religious or spiritual theme. That was the case last year and again this year. Last year I received the novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore, which told a story of the teenage Jesus as he grew into a young man, through the eyes of his best friend Biff. Now, Biff was a self-proclaimed idiot (arsehole) and this story was at times a raucous romp as the young Jesus and his best friend engaged in a quest to find the 3 wise men so that Jesus could learn how to become the messiah who he was prophesied to be. Suffice it to say that fundamentalist Christians would not be the least bit amused with how the young, very human Jesus was portrayed.
This year I was given the novel The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. While the time-period of Jesus life was the same, this story was completely different … for this story was told through the eyes of Jesus’ wife Ana. Yes, Jesus’s wife. As the author pointed out, while there is no record that Jesus had a wife, there is no record that he didn’t either!
What was interesting about both of these novels, is that at the end of each, there was a section where the author’s described why they decided to write the novels that they did. And for me this was the most important part – for in writing their novels both of them were seeking to better understand who Jesus was.
Here is one of the questions that was posed to Sue Monk Kidd and her answer which demonstrates how she engaged her questions of faith.
The idea of a married Jesus goes against centuries of dogma and tradition. Did you feel any trepidation about writing a novel with this premise? How did you go about writing the character of Jesus?
And her response was, “I did not take writing about a married Jesus lightly. At times it may even have kept me up at night.
My primary approach in fashioning the character of Jesus was to portray him as fully human. I wanted to depict what the late historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg called the “pre-Easter Jesus.” It has long been a doctrine of the church that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, but over the centuries his humanity diminished as people accentuated his divinity.” Post-script P6)
Sometimes, she continued, in order to imagine a married Jesus, one had to dig through layers of internal resistance. There is, of course, the tenacious old fear of stepping outside sanctioned beliefs or of questioning religious authority. There can also be a personal reluctance to see Jesus as fully human. Or the resistance can from the centuries-old division between spirit and flesh, in which sexuality is viewed as unholy. Toward the end of the novel Ana (his wife) poses the question, “Did they believe making him celibate render him more spiritual?” It’s a probing question to ask ourselves.
As you can hear, echoed in this interview, these two scholars, who exist outside of the establishment, are asking questions and exploring possibilities. Like modern day wise men, they are on the outside looking in, not satisfied with the rhetoric of dogma and doctrine in the light of the scandals and actions of the organized religious establishment. Like Alan Doyle and countless others who are living in the fast-paced, ever-changing world, they are searching for meaning – something beyond themselves – something that they cannot quite articulate or comprehend, but none-the-less sense is there. And like children in their first Christmas pageant, they are making what appears to be mistakes – especially to those who know what we have been taught are the correct answers. I would suggest that these writers and singers are the wise men of our generation and that we would be wise if we were open to their questions and explorations as we continue along our journey of faith. (pause)
So, as we begin this new year, the question that remains for us – that confronts us – is whether or not we are open to joining them? Are you willing to begin once again the journey of faith, following in the footsteps of the wise men in search of the infant Jesus – who will be the King of the Jews? For Emmanuel – who is God with us? Amen