Epiphany Sunday 2019 – Nurturing Naivety with provocative questions
‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’
As we read the Scriptures we have various ways that we come to them. Sometimes with the beautiful naivety of children we listen to the Scriptures with wonder and delight. Stars that hover over one house in Bethlehem don’t need to be explained. And little drummer boys can become a part of that story without any problem. Big bad wolves like King Herod also make sense devouring tiny infants in their desire for power. Children intuitively wonder at the story with the star and the visitors to the child and they enter into the story rushing the parents to safety in another country.
Others will automatically worry about which star or event of planets overlapping could have drawn foreigners to make such a journey. Was it Halley’s comet in 11 BC and the dating of the story is all wrong? Were there more than three Magi? Were the Magi men and women? Is there historical and archaeological evidence for the massacre in Bethlehem. When you read the commentaries, scholars have asked all the questions most of us can think of. Often without any really satisfying conclusion.
I suspect it is better if we can somehow hold multiple ways of reading the scriptures together to enrich our understanding. I love the fact that children can get on and enjoy a story about a patch work coloured elephant. The story will stay with them long after they have grown up and they will begin to see patchwork coloured people. Some of those people will be patchwork coloured because they are gay, or because they have a different religion, or they come from a different country. They won’t want these people to change any more than they want the elephant to lose his wonderful colours. If you have never read Elmer then I encourage you to head down to the local library and find a copy.
What stays with us when we have been raised on stories of Magi visiting the infant Jesus bringing gifts. Maybe we will see people who shine with wonderful light. Perhaps that light we see in them will be because they have a vision of a world full of love and joy. We will be stirred deep inside to bring rich gifts. Our gifts will express our love and the joy that bubbles up inside. Our gifts will have deep symbolic meaning expressing the deep human desire for happiness and good health, and holiness. Although we may never use the word holiness to describe that inner desire.
Is it possible to have that naivety and still ask a thousand questions? Usually the questions bring an end to the naivety. Never-the-less questions are important. One commentator I read wants us to keep reading on in Isaiah.
12 For the nation and kingdom
that will not serve you shall perish;
those nations shall be utterly laid waste.
The question the commentator asks is, “is Isaiah stuck in a discourse of domination”. Is it just a revenge fantasy? Has the organization of imperial power changed, or is it just reversed? As we read our psalm for today we see the same sentiment. At first glance the psalm also sounds wonderful. Let’s note verse 4.
May he give justice to the poor among the people:
and rescue the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor.
We were going well for a while. The commentator, Michael J. Chan, suggests that our questions should lead us into dialogue with the Scriptures. Our questions need to evoke “a conversation between the reader and the text.”
The vision of hope that Isaiah gives us is a powerful incentive to keep working for the God’s reign to be realised. Bp George Browning reflects on the importance of a vision of hope after his visit to Bethlehem recently. He says:
There is little doubt that if given vision for a less selfish, less greedy, and a more harmonious, sustainable, just and peaceful world, people will respond selflessly. From the political elite that vision is not currently on offer, or leadership provided. At present the vision offered is that we are the sum of all that we accumulate or possess and therefore competitive consumption is the only game in town.
Either there is a story, a narrative, which frees and emboldens all humanity to new heights of shared and sustainable living, or we must all live in our walled environments attempting to protect from the enemy outside the little we have gathered or inherited. But the narrative tells us the enemy is within. If we build the wall, we enclose with us that which has the capacity to undo us.
So the wonderful capacity to ask questions drags us into a conversation with the Scriptures allowing the naivety that nurtured our faith to bloom into a deep response to the light of Christ. The questions help us to see the shadows within that hinder our capacity to bring from our treasure trove gifts of exquisite beauty.
Before I finish I want to invite you into two goals for 2019. I see them as elements that the Light Christ brings to the world. The first one is an invitation to move through forgiveness to healing. Often in the Gospel story Jesus says, your sins are forgiven and the person who has come for healing is made whole. Forgiveness has various dimensions, our need to be forgiven and our need to forgive others. Often our need to forgive others brings more healing than does our need to be forgiven. May be that is because we struggle with that more. At times it is our capacity to forgive ourselves that produces healing. All of this requires a journey. This again is where our naivety can get us into trouble if we don’t also bring questions to the Gospels. It seems simple to be forgive or to forgive even from the cross. “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34) It is important for our naivety to nurture the desire for forgiveness and to forgive. And let’s also enter into conversation with the text so that we appreciate the journey involved. The Lenten Study this year will explore these questions. Even if you don’t feel the need for forgiveness or to forgive others, I hope you will join us on the journey so that you can walk with others on the journey. I guess if you are afraid to start the journey because you know the pain is deep, I want to encourage you that we will not expect you to be all done and dusted by the end of lent. The journey continues at the pace we can manage.
The second goal for this year is for us to rediscover the earth as our home. Some people seem to think, if we completely destroy the earth it will be OK because some of us will have colonised Mars by then. Just like building walls and walling in the capacity to destroy ourselves, running away to another location usually includes taking that same capacity in our cargo. But the light of Christ that the Magi saw includes the love of the earth. The early Celtic Christians knew it intuitively. We don’t have to run away from home if we learn to see the grace and beauty of God in every fibre of creation. Most of us regard our homes as a place we feel safe, a place we can be ourselves, and we know that we need to care for and maintain our homes. So, my invitation in the second part of 2019 is to rediscover the earth and the whole cosmos as our home. Again, this seems to be an area where political leadership is wanting, so let’s move forward into this new deep ecology bringing our politicians with us.
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