All those proclamations bubbling with hope during Advent start to fizzle out by the time the magi arrive. And fall even flatter with John the Baptist’s cry for repentance. With the heightened anxiety created by the current Administration and its recent Tweets, the light of the star fades and the voice heard at Jesus’ baptism is little more than a whisper. Hope for 2018 to be a year of positive change is fragile, if not entirely elusive.
It’s hard to continuously call the people of God to embody Hope and Love when frustration and anger surge through me every time I look at the news of the world. Some days being pastoral in a community (city, country) nearly consumed with its own anxiety feels impossible. I have sympathy for the Baptist. The chaos and meanness of Herod’s rule pressed down on an already oppressed people. Too many were acting as if nothing was amiss, and too many more lived in a state of chronic hopelessness. Then, of course, there were those who supported Herod and benefited from his lavish, self-centered reign. None of this glorified God in anyway. Hence the call for repentance.
Years before, Herod’s selfishness was already made known. He was willing to have innocents slaughtered just to ensure that he remained in power. The magi recognized the tyrant for what he was, and went home by an alternate route to avoid revealing Jesus’ location to Herod. They, however, persisted in pursuing the star until they found the child for whom they had journeyed so far. They were rewarded for their efforts with an overwhelming joy. Imagine being so persistent in our search for the Holy One that we become overwhelmed with joy in spite of whatever the precarious political situation.
As if to remind us of that overwhelming joy, the voice of God echoing through Jesus’ baptism speaks a powerful truth. Jesus is God’s Beloved and we would do well listen up. We, too, are God’s Beloved and we are called to incarnate Love just as Jesus did. How did Jesus respond to Herod and the Temple Authorities, with an outrageous, truth-telling love. Mostly, Jesus didn’t deal with them. He focused his attention on empowering people, building community, and modeling the way of compassion. He tried so hard to get people to see that the Kingdom of God is built with love, not the romantic, feel-good kind of love. That kind of love won’t bring liberation to the captives or set prisoners free. Jesus demonstrated the hard, enduring agape kind of love. This love reveals the presence of God in the here and now. It also fills those who embody it with overwhelming joy in spite of the Herod’s and Temple Authorities who thrive on fear, hatred, and oppression.
We have just walked away from the manger that held the newborn Christ. We will soon witness the magi bring gifts to honor the child and have their arduous journey rewarded with Joy. We will soon see the heavens open and dove descend as God claims Jesus as God’s own Beloved. We are not meant to be passive witnesses. Our knees should ache a bit from kneeling at the manger, desperately searching for the Hope needed to continue on. Our feet should ache with the steps of the journey it took to follow the star. Our hands should feel the weight of gifts carried and given to glorify Emanuel. And our souls should feel that same joy overwhelming us. Our ears should ring with the call to repent. And just when we think we can bear no more, awe should stop us in our tracks as the heavens open and a Voice speaks saving words. All this, and all that will follow, is meant to prepare us to build the Realm of God right now.
No more excuses. No more normalizing or dismissing of the anxiety, fear, and oppression meant to silence and separate the people of God. There will always be another Herod waiting for his opportunity to rule over a people blinded by fear. There will always be Temple Authorities who corrupt God’s ways to further their own agenda and line their pockets with ill-gotten gold. If we have learned anything from the journey to Bethlehem, the impending arrival of Magi, and the Voice that claims us all as Beloved, then we can remain silent no longer. Let us all take up the way of Love, the hard, godly kind, and embody the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love promised throughout the Advent season. Let’s shine with the nearly unbearable Light until the Herods are overthrown, the captives are liberated, and the Body of Christ becomes known for its transforming Love. Now that would be an Epiphany!
RCL – Year B – Epiphany or First Sunday after Epiphany – January 7, 2018
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14