Sermons

Choosing a Different Path; Rev. Jean Crist Thompson; January 2, 2022

Let’s take one last look at the Christmas story—or stories—  before we leave it for another year.

For today (at Rev. Dee’s suggestion) I chose a passage designated for Epiphany,

which is traditionally celebrated on January 6.

That passage comes from the Gospel of Matthew,

which offers a version of the first Christmas

that has little in common with Luke’s account.

Instead of shepherds we hear about magi, or astrologers,  traveling to Palestine from the East.

This broadens the picture somewhat to remind us that God reaches out not just to some folks but to all people; Epiphany pushes out beyond the boundaries of religion, race, or revelation and calls us to remember that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, Jew or Greek,

Christian or non-Christian—-not even faithful or unfaithful.

So what could possibly have started these foreigners,

these magi, on their travels?

Matthew implies that the trip began with an unexplainable longing—-an “epiphany”, in other words..

Something unaccountable led them to follow a star

without knowing where it would take them.

The gospel tells us little about these people.

In recent editions of the Bible they are described as “magi” or “astrologers”, and we are told that they make a long journey, following a star, in order to pay homage to a new king of the Jews.

When they got to Palestine, they went to the capital city, Jerusalem, a logical place to find a king.

But the only king to be found there was Herod the Great,

appointed king of the Jews by the Romans.

And when King Herod heard of a king born to the Jews,

he was frightened.  Herod was psychotic about his throne;

he killed several members of his own family,

for fear they might take the throne away from him.

But when these three visitors from the East came to him,

he didn’t reveal his true thoughts and feelings.  Instead he made  what seemed to be quite a solicitous appeal.

When these travelers found the new king, would they please bring word back to him, so that he too could pay homage?

His intention, of course, was to arrange for the infant to be killed, as he later tried to accomplish by killing large numbers of infants and toddlers all around Bethlehem.

 

Well, the magi did find Jesus. They left their gifts

for this peasant child, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And when it was time to leave, the story tells us that they were warned in a dream NOT to return to Herod,

but rather to leave for their own country by another road.

And that is what these gentlemen did;

they went home by another way, a different route.

 

I must confess that that statement caught my attention

and my imagination.

On the one hand, the story may be talking in terms of geography and road maps and travel plans.

But I believe there’s more to it than that.

I believe they took a different route home because they were changed by their journey,

by what they saw and experienced there at the stable.  They were not quite the same persons who arrived in Bethlehem.  They may have come as scholars,

or political consultants, or men on a quest for power.

But they were changed; they were transformed by their journey. Their hearts were now leading them in a different direction.

 

So what about us?

I think we do a fairly good job of celebrating Christmas.

We do a pretty good job of coming to the manger with our gifts.  We get caught up in good things, like giving, and friendship,

and singing and laughter, and talking about peace on earth,

and doing things for other people.

But are we changed by what we see,

by what we experience as we celebrate, yet again,

the birth of Jesus, the Christ?

Might God hope that we too may be changed by our journey? Are we open to the possibility of experiencing or allowing

an epiphany in our lives?

something that might possibly change the direction of our thoughts or actions?

 

Now today is the first Sunday of a new year.

There could hardly be a better time to set out on a new journey by another way, could there?

And yet all too often the new year feels pretty much like yesterday and the day before, doesn’t it?

What’s different?  What’s new about it?

The distinction between this year and last is artificial, dictated by a calendar, but it’s also a time when lots of people make resolutions—-about something we’re going to do differently in the new year.

It is my belief that every time we encounter God—in worship, in nature, in one another—we are meant to be changed, transformed, and we are meant to continue our journey by at least a slightly different route.

The essence of what God is about, I believe, is, making all things new; as the prophet Isaiah tells us, ‘even now it breaks forth from the bud (he says). Do you not perceive it?  ‘

That’s the key, of course:  do we, or do we NOT perceive the new things God is even now trying to bring forth among us, within us, in our church, in our community, in our world?

 

The Bible is the story of God’s trying, over and over again,

to do something new—to make the world right—

to bring humanity back to seeing the light,

and to being God’s people.

Remember the story of Noah and the flood early on in the OT?

It describes one of God’s first attempts to restore things to what God intended.  But it didn’t work.  People were soon just as corrupt and misguided as they had been before the flood.

And surely Christmas, Jesus’ birth, marks another time, according to the biblical story, that God made a particularly dramatic effort to bring the world to its senses,

to teach us what it means to live according to God’s way.

And in a couple of months we will begin the more somber season of Lent, leading us to Easter and its more difficult lesson  about God’s efforts to make all things new.

 

So the question I would ask you this morning is this:

do you believe that God might be working

in and among us here to make things new?

Or are we too locked into the patterns and habits of a lifetime

to be able to see, let alone to cooperate with God

in bringing God’s creative work among us to fulfillment?

 

I believe that God calls each one of us to wrestle on every step of our life’s journey, with what it means to be a child of God today.  What does this day and its challenges require of us

as God’s people?

I  believe that God calls us to live with awareness of the challenges and new possibilities of life: what does each change of circumstances, each stage and each new twist and turn of life require of us and invite us to?

And what of this church?  What is the newness to which God is calling us?

Isn’t it true that that we are about to experience

a period of transition in our church

as Rev Dee prepares to leave us and we must begin yet again the task of examining who we are and who we want to be

and what kind of leader we will choose—

so isn’t this a perfect time to consider how God is offering us

a chance once again to make all things new?

Are we willing to really open ourselves to listen for God’s word /and to prepare ourselves to receive that word/,

and to cooperate in making it happen.

Recently I watched (again) the movie Miracle.

It’s the story of the formation of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that ended up—against all odds—winning the gold medal that year, for the very first time.

But what the movie was really about was team-building.

And it was about believing.  It was about a coach who had a vision and a strategy for building a team that could win.

He didn’t choose the so-called best players in the country—

he didn’t choose the known stars of the sport.

Instead he chose players who could be molded into a team,

who would work together and even come to see themselves

as family. He pushed them, and trained them,

and pushed them some more, to give all they had to this effort.  And one other thing—he trained them not to play for themselves, but for something beyond themselves—

in this case to play for the people and the glory of the USA.

And they did the impossible; they beat the long-undefeated Russian team.  It was a miracle—a miracle that began with the vision and the strategy and the training plan of their coach.

 

I want that kind of miracle for this church, for this community, for each one of us. I want us to become the very best we can be.

I want us to be open to doing things differently,

if that’s what it takes, if that’s what God calls us to do.

I want us to put some effort, and yes, even some training into it.

I want us to go on a journey, following a star, putting effort into seeking what God intends for each one of us, and for this church.

 

We have just celebrated Christmas—the birth of Christ,

and the promise of new life and new light in our midst.

Now we may think that we are done with Christmas.

Certainly that’s the case in the world around us.

–but perhaps Christmas is not done with us.

—Not until we’re ready to go home another way.

 

God says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.  Do you not perceive it?”  Will we open our eyes to see it,

and to go even further, will we cooperate with God

in creating whatever newness of life God has in store for us,

both as individuals and as a congregation?

 

As individuals and as a congregation, may we find the new route, the new path, that beckons us forward toward newness of life.

It’s a new year, and by God’s grace, a wonderful place

for beginning the journey again.

May it indeed be so for us all.  Amen.