Today was another message in church. I am finding myself always adding things to the script, and unless I take the tape and listen to myself, I really don’t know where I add things. Sorry that you only get the script, but at least it is something. Here is what they were supposed to hear today. The scriptures were: Isaiah 60: 1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12 and Matthew 2:1-12. The title is/was, “After the gifts/beyond the Wisemen.”
Well, I have to say the church still looks much more festive than our house does. We usually put up the Christmas decorations shortly after Thanksgiving, so by the day after New Year’s we are more than ready to take things down and pack them away, and that is just what we did on Friday. Although, we did leave up the Nativity scenes because we had to wait until today to celebrate the coming of the Wise men. And then we left up all the snowmen because, well, it is still winter. And, upstairs I didn’t have the energy to put away the small collection of angels or Father Christmases, and …I guess you get the picture. We took down the tree and the wreaths and a few other things. I will put away the rest of the items when I get tired of looking at them, or maybe when I get the energy to organize the places where they are stored so that everything fits again. Hopefully it will be cleaned up sometime before we drag out the items for Easter.
Now in looking at the tree and the candles here at church I guess, we/I was so busy getting us organized to have a fun day of caroling and setting up the tree and all the other decorations in the church that I never did figure on how we were going to take it all down. Perhaps I will need some advice on this one. I guess it is always easier to prepare for an event than to tear it down. Perhaps that was why our college drama professor was such a stickler about striking set immediately after the final performance. He knew that if anyone left the theater after that last time on stage, they wouldn’t come back later to take things apart. Cleaning up is always more difficult than going through the planning and the actual task. Maybe that is what our real focus is for today, striking set/cleaning up after the decorations and drama of the celebration of the birth.
Here we are celebrating another year after the birth of Jesus. The night in the stable is long past. Mary and Joseph have likely moved into a small house or at least a more permanent if temporary dwelling with their young baby. Anyone who has had a baby or cared for a child can easily understand why they wouldn’t be getting back on the donkey and heading for Nazareth until Jesus is older. Nowhere in the story or any part of the scripture does it tell us how the enrolling or the taxing or the census that Joseph had to take part in turns out. We don’t know if it was a day long thing or a few minutes or what exactly he had to do, but we know that with a baby it is hard enough to travel with modern conveniences, we certainly wouldn’t want to do it in the setting we can imagine for the time of Jesus birth.
So, Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem. They are there with baby Jesus, and some Magi come to visit. Last week we talked about the amazing events of the trip to the temple where Simeon and Anna recognize baby Jesus for who he really is. Today, men, wise men, apparently quite wealthy men, astronomers no less, come to see little Jesus.
Some of the prompts that I read for today talked about the fact that the wisemen came from the East. Without knowing the history of the wars that the Jewish people have endured, we might not realize the significance of that fact. East it seems is always the direction that those who conquer them come from. It from the east that the Babylonians and the Assyrians came from in the past wars they have endured. It might have been part of the reason that the leaders in Jerusalem, especially Herod, get so upset.
Then to top it off, they were searching for the King of the Jews. Maybe if they would have asked for the baby who was to grow up as the next spiritual leader, or even the Messiah, maybe then there wouldn’t have been such an all out search for the baby. No these wise men knew who they were searching for. They knew that the baby whose star they were following was to be a great leader, and that leader would be coming from the lineage of Jewish kings. Matthew writes this to the Jewish people and to us. Jesus is the long expected king who will be born a Jew, but die for all people.
Epiphany if celebrated on Jan. 6 as it is supposed to be is 12 days beyond Christmas. It is actually the date when the presents are exchanged in some cultures. I vaguely remember one of my cousins marrying into a strictly religious Dutch family and they were not allowed to exchange their gifts until Epiphany. The grandmother said that Christmas is for honoring Christ and that gifts to each other didn’t belong in that celebration.
Sometimes I agree with her. Every now and then you have one of those Christmas gift exchanges where you can see the looks of disappointment on the faces as gifts are opened. You see that the fit is wrong or the color is not preferred, or as at our house this year, one of the gifts is even missing from the box. It was found later in a bag, somehow it didn’t make the box before it was wrapped. Then there is always someone in the group, who cleans up all of the paper and stuffs it into a garbage bag before you even have a chance to see the names on the tags. Those years make me want to stop and listen to Linus and say to the group, “And that’s what Christmas is all about…Charlie Brown”
I hope that we can realize that today’s story is more than just the gifts. It is more than three men (as we see on all the pictures and cards of wisemen) or more than a few wise men/astronomers and their entourage. It is a story of God’s love for us. A love that was so intense that he was willing to offer his only son to come to earth to do whatever it took/even death, to make sure that we could have the opportunity to be reunited with him in paradise.
So what does it all mean for us today? Well, for us, right here and now as we are perhaps preparing to exit the building and think about all the things we have to do this week, the first full week of the New Year, maybe it is time for some reflection. Maybe after celebrating the Epiphany, this time of the coming of the Wisemen, we need to think about how Jesus has been declared the King of the Jews. Then again maybe we are already looking forward to the life, the teachings and the death of Jesus on the cross, for us. From our perspective in history, we can’t help but look at the full meaning of this baby. As much as we might want to focus on the Christ Child and the magic of Christmas time each year, we can’t help but look beyond to the death and resurrection of Christ. We live after the gifts/we live beyond the wisemen each and every day of our lives. It is just a fact of where we fit in history.
What I would like us to do today in honor or perhaps because of that fact is to spend the rest of the week with the focus on our gathering next week for Mission Fest. It might seem like an odd time to hold a Mission Fest, yet, in some ways, this might just be the best time to hold this event. Here we are with all that Christmas stuff still in our heads, and for most of us it is a time of great blessing. What better time to hold a Mission Fest than next week? We can think about all we have, all we have been given, and we can spend this week considering what we can share with others. What can we do beyond the Wisemen? What can we give after we have been given so much? Think about that this week and come back next week prepared to share your blessings with others. Amen!
We took down all of the decorations after church and it was amazing how many stayed to help. It used to always be a select few. Now that we opened it up to anyone, we all stay and have such a good time doing it. One mentioned the pizza which we did when decorating. I think they would have enjoyed a pizza party again when taking down. We may have to consider that for next year!!
Happy New Year to all.