Gathering In The Light Of God's Love

[]Gathering in the light of God's love. It is what we are doing here today, gathering to offer our praises…praises befitting a newborn King, praises and homage brought even by three wise men (or three wise sages, depending on which way it's worded in our Scriptures). Matthew's Gospel sets up an understanding, from its very beginnings in the birth story, that this Jesus, this newborn King has come not only for the redemption of Israel, but has come for all people. These wise sages or wise men who traveled from the Far East, astrologers who have seen this star signifying to them that a newborn King has come, are invited by the very light of that natal star placed in the heavens by God, placed in the hearts of many.

These three wise sages could not be more distant from the people Israel and from the Israelite faith. They came from distant lands and no one knows what faith they may have had or what gods they may have worshipped. But this light has beckoned them forward. The wisdom they had from studying the stars told them that some form of king has been born. And so they set off on a very long journey. Remember, no Amtrak, no airplanes, no cars or motor scooters, or even bicycles for that matter. Probably simply camels as we denote in the nativity story, or donkeys, or horses. In any event, they were not very fast moving, and it took them a very long time.

We celebrate Christmas on December 25, which was a date chosen by the Roman church centuries ago…probably not the actual date of Jesus' birth. But there is a distance between the date that we celebrate Christmas and the date that these wise sages arrive. They came some time after, still journeying when the city of Bethlehem was already celebrating this gift of the Messiah. And here they came, not just from distant lands, but also distant beliefs from the people of Israel. And yet God has summoned them to the feet of the Christ child.

These wise travelers visit Herod, and Herod is stunned to hear that there is a new king born in Bethlehem. Feeling threatened, he asks the wise men about this. And he asks his own priests who say, "Ah, in Bethlehem. That's where it has been prophesied that the new king would be born." So Herod, in attempt to trick the wise men, or at least get more information from them, asks about the star and its rising and says, "Yes, go. Please bring him your gifts and pay him homage and come and let me know where he is because I want to go and visit this Christ child." We will talk more about Herod's deviousness in coming weeks. But the wise men, hearing the confirmation from the priests of Israel that yes, this has been foretold by the prophets, I'm sure are feeling that much better about the star they had been following, that much more certain and reassured that yes, this is a king we are going to see that has been prophesied in the faith here in Israel.

So the wise men continue to follow this star and they see the star stop. And behold, there is the Christ child. Gentiles in the presence of the Messiah. Gentiles in the presence of the one who was to come and redeem Israel. What does that say to us today? Clearly, Matthew is setting up a theological understanding for us that Christ has come for everyone. Not only the people of Israel, but everyone; the gentiles, which includes all of us. Redemption to the entire world. It is a strong and bold statement that will be unfolded throughout the New Testament, and especially in the letters from the Apostle Paul.

So let us not think that only the people of Israel, the Jewish folks were the only ones who were enlightened by the coming of this newborn King. No, even wise men, and shepherds from the fields. It doesn't say whether the shepherds are people of Israel. We assume that they are law-abiding Jews under the law of Torah, but we don't know that. But God's redemption has appeared in the world. The Messiah, the Christ has come, and God has summoned everyone under the light of that star and they have gathered in. And they have worshipped him, and they have brought him the best that they have to offer and paid him homage, worship and praise befitting the Son of God, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.

When we read Matthew's Gospel, we understand that even we fit in. We might not consider ourselves wise sages, but they are our stand-ins in that scene in Bethlehem with various different beliefs that they brought with them. And we don't know that they all came from the same land. But assuming they come with different beliefs and different life experiences, those things did not matter. And today they do not matter. Christ is still gathering us in the light of God's love. Christ is still gathering us in the church to celebrate the glory of God, the gift of life and creation, the gift of love and redemption. It is here for all people, for all who come, summoned and beckoned by the light of this child, by the light of the Messiah, by the light of the one who brings redemption, who brings grace, and who restores us not only to God, but gives us the ability to restore our relationships with each other.

This is an amazing gift worth bringing the best of what we have to offer to our Lord. This is a gift that began in the hopes of Israel, from the prophets saying, "This day will come." And here it has come, and has stayed. The hope of this season should keep us in the light of that love, in the hope that all people have been gathered. No one is barred from the church or from the light of God's emanating love. All of us are welcome in this place. All of us are gathered in for the same purpose: to glorify God, to experience God's love and be transformed, and to transcend our own shortcomings.

The story of this redemption continues. It is part of the continuing story as we move through the season of Epiphany and quickly into the season of Lent where we focus on those shortcomings and how we relate ourselves with God, how we have been that force of gathering in all of those with different thought and understanding, how we have found ways to bridge the gaps with those of different faiths, how we've reached out the arms of reconciliation promised in God's love in the child born to us.

These things are all very much interconnected. And the joy of this season leads into a journey of reflection, a journey of faith practices, a journey of calling ourselves to faithfulness, a journey of calling ourselves to be stretched by God's love, stretched to love those who we may find unlovable. But all are invited into this light, and all are invited to come to Christ's table, which will be the place of redemption again for us here today. It is a joy for us to celebrate. And it is good that we continue to sing these joyous Christmas and Epiphany hymns (the hymns we are singing are Epiphany hymns even though they might sound like Christmas carols). But they are part of this season, and the season continues.

But for us, the twelve days of Christmas begin at Christmas and they end on Epiphany when the wise men arrived. And what an arrival it is! Let us continue to celebrate, even though the twelve days of Christmas have now come to a close. The Epiphany, or the new understanding that comes with this light of God's love into the world, is a new reason for us to celebrate. So let us continue to sing and live out this joy of Christmas. Let us live in the light of God's love.

January 4, 2009

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve