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The 365 Days of Christmas

Matthew 2:1-12      

Rev Ellie Hummel

It is an annual ritual at our house:
Every December, when it is time to pull out the Christmas tree
and ornaments,
We also pull out our crèches.
I set up the 50 year old one that stood in my family home
when I was just a little girl,
Complete with the mismatched figures,
the a donkey without ears,
the two guys who might be Joseph
And a few other faded looking creatures.
My partner Heather, on the other hand,
carefully pulls out her valuable Hummel figurines,
With which she fell in love long before she met me, another Hummel!
And so we both carefully place all our figures into the crèches.
All, that is, except for six figures:
The two sets of kings are banned far away from the crèches,
Usually on top of the piano,
Because they don’t appear at the manger until much later.
When we do so, we think we are true to scripture.

You see, while our pageants place
Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and angels
together with the kings at the manger,
a literal reading of the Gospels indicates that the timing was quite different.
The kings most likely arrived
when Jesus was a toddler of about 2 years,
And they visited the young family probably at their house.
Furthermore, if we read the Gospels literally,
We find huge discrepancies between Luke and Matthew.
Luke knows nothing of the kings,
While Matthew has no manger, no shepherds and a very unromantic birth.
So who is right?

Well, when we ask that question,
We tread in dangerous territory,
For the Bible is not a history book or a factual document.
It is the story of our faith that gives guidance and direction.
So what is there in the story of the three kings that informs and encourages our faith?

It is really a story about God in action,
The story of inclusivity and good news for all.
On Christmas Eve, we hear how the news of Christ’s birth
Reached the lowest of the low, the shepherds,
Those who were geographically close
But excluded from the community.

Today, on this Epiphany Sunday,
We learn how God’s love extends to the outer reaches of the known world.
Thus, God’s message spreads from the bottom to the top,
From close to home
to about as far away as the Gospel writers could imagine.
From those scared witless to those following a star.
In other words, God reaches out as near and as far as possible
And with all methods possible.
God calls the kings, wise men, probably astrologers,
Or , as some commentators suggest,
Zoroastrian priests from Persia
 -people from another faith!-
And invites them to share in the Good News of Christ’s birth.
How very unlikely!
Think about it!
The Christian story is
an inter-cultural, interfaith event right from its very start!
How amazing is that!
That certainly warms my heart, as I am serving a multi-faith ministry.

It sets the tone
And shout from the mountaintops that God’s love is meant for all people.
All means indeed all when God invites!

But the good news does not stop there.
When we look at our gospel reading,
we hear that God doesn’t just invite.
God is directly involved in the path of the Magi
and directs them on their way.
The first sign is the star, the most familiar symbol of the magi,
The one they followed until it led them to Jesus.
The second sign was a verse from scripture,
From the prophet Micah
 confirming their path,
confirming the birth in Bethlehem.
And finally, God directs the magi in their dream,
warning them really,
telling them to return home a different way,
Throughout the story, God continually guides the magi
And directs their ways.

Isn’t it amazing to see God’s guidance all along the way of the magi?
In that way, it is such a comforting story,
Because it also tells us that God guided Mary and Joseph,
The shepherds and the angels,
The disciples throughout the ages
And yes! Yes, the story tells us by extension
that God guides us today in 2012 and always.

And we could just leave the Gospel story there
and sit with this knowledge and comfort.
It is certainly a message many of us long to hear.
God is still active in the world today!

But there is another part to the story of the magi.
And that is the role the magi play.
What did they do in the story that we can learn from?
Well, the first thing the magi did in our story is ask a question.
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”
And then they began searching for this child
and did not stop at anything.
No long, arduous journey could stop them,
No mean-spirited secular King could stop them.
No, they kept searching.

In my work as chaplain at Concordia University,
I encounter many people who search.
They search for the right field of study,
 For the perfect relationship,
 Sometimes for solutions to material problems,
 Like living arrangements or financial problems.
 The search for a way of life that gives them meaning,
 For a career path through which
  they can do their bit to make this world a better place. 

So often in our society, we dismiss people who are searching as immature, as floundering,
 As people who don’t know what they want
 or who haven’t figured it out yet.
But I tell you, when I am in the presence of some of those folks,
 I am inspired,
 and I am challenged myself to ask what it is I am looking for.

And here we have the magi, esteemed, respected leaders,
Inviting us to search,
Telling us that searching is a gift of faith.

And the second thing the magi tell us to is to try new things.
At the end of the story,
we read how they were warned not to return to Herod,
 but to go home by a different way.
I wonder if they had planned their return trip carefully,
If they had envisioned going home
on a different road than on the one they had come.
I wonder if they had long discussions about the merits of a different path,
And they way things are normally done.
But the fact remains that they choose a different route, a new route,
And with that, the magi invite us also to try new path.
Trying new things.

A while back I heard about a workshop leader
who spoke about church renewal.
He said, “If you want renewal, you have to try 100 new things.
98 of them might not work,
but you have to keep trying until you find the one or two things that do.
Just keep trying something until something will stick.”
That seems like such a challenge,
 Especially in the church
 where traditions are so important and valued.
But today, the magi offer us the gift or daring to try new things, new ways.

And that, my friends, might be what the story of the magi is all about,
This might be the gift the magi offer us today,
Their gift of faith and faithfulness to us:
Because we know that God’s love reaches far beyond
what we know or imagine,
We can search diligently for meaning, for hope, for peace,
And we can try out new things, new ways to be church,
to be a society that cares,
Even new ways to be ourselves.
And when we do so,
Then we do the work of God in God’s world.
Then Christmas is not one day or twelve days,
But 365 days.
Then God’s realm can become real.
That is the work of Christmas and of this New Year.
May God guide us as we do God’s work in love and hope! Amen.

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