This week is the second Sunday in Christmastide and the Sunday before Epiphany. I’ve been reading both sets of texts and will be preaching on Matthew’s account of the coming of the magi. These magi traveled from foreign lands to solve the mystery of a star. They likely knew nothing of the God of the Jews and there is no mention of their conversion. What the scriptures point out is that they returned home by another route. It’s this needing to travel differently after kneeling before the baby born in Bethlehem that has long captured my imagination.
This year, though, I didn’t need to imagine much. This Advent felt very different. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was much more aware of the community around me as I made my way to Bethlehem. Gone were my solitary self-evaluations and inward commitments to change. What filled my ears and my heart were the cries of pain and demands for justice that echo through the world around me. These were my guides to the manger this year.
What will you do for Jamar Clark and the countless others like him? What will you do for Syrian women, men, and children desperate enough to escape that they risk their lives? What will you do for the homeless and hungry people you walk by? What will you do for those the world chooses not to see? What will you do for those who are legally oppressed? What will you do?
No matter how I tried to escape these questions, I could not. On Christmas Eve, I found myself in a candlelit sanctuary searching for hope, peace, joy, and love as much as the faces that looked back at me. And sometime shortly before mid-night as the quiet words of “Silent Night” gave way to the bright rejoicing of “Joy to the World,” it hit me – hard.
Back in September, at the Widening the Welcome I heard the sentence, “If one of us is disabled, then the body of Christ is disabled.” On Christmas Eve it struck me that if one of us is a murdered Black child, then the Body of Christ is also. If one of us is a Syrian refugee, then the body of Christ is a refugee. This applied to all those questions that pursued me through Advent. I also recognized the downside which said that if one of us is an oppressor, the body of Christ is an oppressor. This may not seem like a big deal as I write it all out, but it really was a very powerfully revelation, a personal epiphany.
The power in it is that I can no longer choose to let things go by. I cannot condone the body of Christ being an oppressor. I can’t sit back and shake my head when someone fails to see racism for the horrific sin that it is. It means that I have no choice but to advocate for justice and support those who demand justice for themselves and their loved ones. The way we treat one another matters, not just on a personal level but on a global level. I know this isn’t news, but hear it again. And take a lesson from the magi.
Once we have encountered the Word Become Flesh living among us, we cannot keep traveling the same well-worn route. We have no choice but to go home by another road. The voice of Herod is still quite loud. Herod would kill the fragile child who brings hope into the world. Herod would blame the victims of every crime and justify violence and oppression as being good for the people. Herod is a fear-mongering liar.
Did you spend time kneeling before the Babe in Bethlehem? Do you now see that Christ is in every fragile, frail, finite human being? How can you remain quiet while POC die? While refugees suffer? While any human being remains hidden under the veils of legalized oppression? Is it not time we stop justifying our power and position and act as Christ did? Is it not time we make the body of Christ a body that does not reach out a hand to oppress but only to bring justice and love?
My own epiphany at the manger, an epiphany that was years in the making, tells me that the identity of one is truly the identity of all who claim the name of Christ. I cannot return to my former path. I will seek the wisdom of God who led the magi home by another road and risk the discomfort and misplaced footing that occur when one walks a new path.
…And the Word became flesh and lived among us…
RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Christmas or Epiphany Sunday -January 3, 2016
Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom 10:15-21
John 1:[1-9], 10-18