Friday, January 6, 2012

The Last Day of Christmas

Today we reach the end of the Christmas season, which every year seems all too short.  Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi, those wise, wise men.

Matthew 2: 10-11

10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

I find my Advent mood seeping into this Feast Day.  I think of those wise men, their study of the night sky, the arrival of the new star.

I've written a longer blog post about this aspect of the story over at Living Lutheran:  "But the Magi don’t miss the message of the star. They show up to do the work. They’re not lazing about hoping that something reveals itself. They are present and receptive to the message of the skies. They participate in the discovery of the message."

We might prefer the blaze of angel light, the night sky disrupted, the message plain and clear.  We might wish that we didn't have to rely on a lonely star, beaming its speck of light from such a great distance.  The wise men remind us of the Advent message, the value of watching and waiting and staying alert.

The travel of the Magi speaks to some of us this time of year.  Not only were the magi watching the skies, they were ready to hit the road.

Jan Richardson has a great meditation and poem on this aspect of the story:  "As we travel toward Epiphany and savor the final days of Christmas, this is a good time to ponder where we are in our journey. As we cross into the coming year, where do you find yourself on the path? Have you been traveling more by intention or by reacting to what’s come your way? What direction do you feel drawn to go in during the coming weeks and months? Is there anything you need to let go of—or to find—in order to take the next step? In the coming months, what gift do you most need to offer, that only you can give?"

Too often, with both our Christmas story and our Epiphany story, we stay with the happy elements:  we focus on the baby in the manger, the arrival of the wise men, the happy crowd, all assembled.  We forget what happened next.

Matthew 2: 12-14

12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. 13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

The journey of the Magi plunges the family into chaos, into flight, into refugee status.  These stories are not all sweetness and light.

In this post, David Eck reminds us of the political implications of the Epiphany story, the fact that the wise men didn't find the new king in any of the power centers of the Roman Empire:  "This is good news for us who live in a world where rulers are easily corrupted and governments cave-in to lobbyists and special interest groups. It serves as a reminder that Jesus, the ruler of our hearts, is found among the poor and the needy, the lost and abandoned. If we really want to see him face to face we will NOT see him in Baptist ministers running for political office or in T.V. preachers living lavish lifestyles. We will find Jesus sitting with the homeless on a park bench, shivering in the cold, waiting for a shelter to open for the night. We will find Jesus holding the hand of the victim of a hate crime who is crying out for justice and for safety. We will find Jesus huddled close to a space heater with a family of five because it is the only source of heat in their entire house."

Here is a prayer that I wrote for today:

Creator God, on this day when we celebrate the mystery and the wisdom of the Magi, we ask that you grant us a portion of their patience.  Let us continue to watch and wait for you.  Let us see the specks of light that lead us to you.  Let us have the courage to follow the star, even if it leads us to unexpected places.  May we not react in great destruction, as Herod did.  Grant us the wisdom to know our gifts and to bring them forth.  Let us bring your light to all the dark corners of the world."

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