A group of wise men see an intriguing new star in the sky. Taking it as a sign that a great new king is born, they set out on a quest to find him.
Most likely, these ‘wise men’ are Zoroastrians from ancient Persia (Iran). Sometimes referred to as magi or astrologers, they believe that every good person has a guiding light in the heavens, which appears as a star at their birth. The greater the person born, the brighter the star. Magi would happily trek across the desert in search of one whose star was extraordinarily bright. But it takes a while to travel a thousand miles by camel or on foot. By the time the magi arrive, most of us have put away our Christmas decorations and moved on.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus are no longer in the stable. They are in a house. When the magi finally arrive at the house, Mary and Joseph welcome them with true Middle Eastern hospitality. It doesn’t matter that they are foreigners bearing unusual gifts for a child. They are welcomed.
This snap shot of our faith history – when two devout Jews parenting the child who will become the foundation of Christianity welcome Zoroastrians from Persia – reminds me of last week’s Open Table here at St. Paul’s. We gathered to have a conversation about the humanity and divinity of Jesus. So, he was at the center of our conversation. The community gathered included many of our regulars: a couple of Bahia (one from Persia), 2 or 3 Buddhists, 1 or 2 agnostics, a few practicing Roman Catholics and Anglicans, and some disaffected folks from various traditions. And there was a visitor in our midst; a young Muslim man from Zanzibar. From my perspective, it was a wonderful, insightful, respectful discussion; each honouring what the other brought to the conversation. The most alarming event of the evening happened earlier on, when the fastest, healthiest church mouse I have ever seen scampered across the kitchen counters as we were setting up!
My son has a quote on his Facebook page that goes something like, being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic. That seems to be one of the tasks of mainline churches today; to help people have civil conversations about difficult topics.
We aren’t told how long the wise men stay with Jesus, but we are told that having completed their quest, the magi help to protect him and his family by returning to their own country on a different road, thereby avoiding Herod. Joseph gathers his family and flees by night to the safety of Egypt. And there they live as refugees until Joseph deems is safe to move to Nazareth.
This past Thursday, the clergy gathered in Orleans to learn more about Congregational Development. One of the models for development suggests that the primary task of a congregation is to gather people for transformation of our hearts, minds, and actions, so that we can live out our baptismal identity and purpose. We gather to be transformed so that we can act as God’s loving and transforming presence in our world.
This is the task of every Christian congregation. It’s not about entertainment. It’s about worship and transformation. It’s about becoming agents of God’s transforming presence in our own unique context.
So, it’s important that we have a sense of where God is in our current situation. That helps us become a stable, open congregation – keeping in mind that stable is not the same as stuck. It means being grounded and living in the present so that we are open to what God is asking of us here and now.
For the Holy Family that meant living for a time in Egypt. Joseph had to figure out how to provide his family with food and shelter while Mary was busy taking care of the Christ child. We can best live in the current moment when we trust that God is present in this current moment – even if it is not quite what we want it to be.
The questions we were asked on Thursday are:
Where is God in your here and now?
How are you listening to God?
How are you being changed?
Some 30 years after the magi had come and gone, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
After John’s arrest, Jesus comes to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
Almost 2,000 years later, we are called to be a transforming community for God in Almonte in a time of incredible change. God help us to be faithful to our call and live out our baptismal identity and purpose. Amen