Rev. Heather J. Blais
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If at Christmas we celebrate love being made manifest, God becoming present in human form, then at the Epiphany, we celebrate how that love is made manifest beyond the Jewish community, in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. We celebrate how our God is revealed to all people, in all places, throughout all time. While the Jewish community was awaiting a political Messiah, the rest of the world wasn’t expecting anyone at all. Which is why it is so remarkable that the magi would follow a star from the East to pay homage to this newborn child. Over the next seven weeks, we will witness several manifestations, where Jesus’ is revealed to be God’s Son. First in the visit of the magi, then in his baptism and in calling the disciples, as Jesus heals the sick and tends to the oppressed, and again in the transfiguration.
Today’s story features a ruler, his kingdom, wise men, a baby and his family.
For the ruler this is a story about fear. Fear of the stranger. Fear of lost power, place, and prestige. Fear of a child, whose very existence, threatens his rule.
For the people who lived in the ruler’s kingdom, this too, is a story about fear. Fear of the ruler’s instability, his anger, his erratic actions. Fear that children they love will be killed, when the ruler condemns every child two and under to be killed.
Fear of what ends this ruler might take their kingdom if left to his own devices, yet ever more fear of what might happen
should they try and stop them. That kind of fear leads to a blind, disempowering submission.
Yet fear is not the only way.
There is also love.
For the wise men, this is a story about love. They leave the safety and comfort of home to follow a star and pay homage to new kind of king. They encounter a fear driven ruler, and still, love sustains them, and drives them further on in their journey. When they saw the star had stopped, they knew they had found the child. They were overwhelmed with joy.
Because when we take the risk to love, we will always find joy. The joy will overwhelm us and has the power to make us whole. The wise men gave lavish gifts to this rather ordinary, poor family. Gifts of love that had come from a far away land, simply so this family might know their child’s life had already begun to touch the lives of people in strange and far away places.
This is also a story about love for this child and family. They do not completely understand, but know this child is special. The shepherds and strangers from distant lands have all come and bowed down to their child as though he were a king himself. These new parents do not get caught up in the potential power or prestige. Any fear of the unknown is kept at bay by their faith that God must know what God is up to, even if they do not quite understand it yet. And mostly, it is kept at bay by their love for this beautiful and precious child that has come into this world and turned their lives upside down and right side up again.
This story is one about the decision to live in fear or lean into love. In fact, nearly all the stories within scripture
at their core are about this decision--fear based living or leaning into love. Yet the choice between living in fear and leaning into love is not only for those we read about each week.
It is the choice we are faced with every morning when we wake up and start again. And there seems to be a sort of momentum to the decisions. Meaning, if we typically choose to live in fear, that becomes the easiest way to live. It seems to become physically harder and harder to choose to lean into love. Yet it is still, and will always be, possible. If we take courage. And the opposite is also true--the more we find ourselves leaning into love, the easier it becomes. Until leaning into love feels a bit like discovering you have the ability to fly. Choosing to love again and again will take us to faraway places. Within ourselves, our relationships with others, and with God.
The story of the ruler, his kingdom, the wise men, the baby and his family is a reminder of the everyday decisions we must make. Will we let fear or love dictate our choices? From our first encounter in the morning with a spouse or child or coworker. From the sad and scary news we might face when we learn of a friend or loved one’s illness. To the pain and loneliness of a broken relationship with a partner, a child, a sibling, or friend. To the choices we make about how we treat the earth or the effects of the public policy we support, either consciously or unconsciously in our actions.
Everyday we face decisions about living in fear or leaning into love. I’d like to say our faith will give us the courage to always lean into love. But we will all face fear. There will be some days when we will wake up and we will live that whole day in fear. It might even drag out into weeks, months, or years. Yet the great hope of being in a faith community together,
is that we can help one another follow the magi’s example. The wise men model for us how to be bold and courageous
in following the star of hope that leads us back to Christ again and again.
What do you choose in this moment--living in fear or leaning into love?
How can we help one another chose hope and lean into love together?
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