Monday, January 05, 2009

Epiphany of Our Lord; January 4, 2009; Matthew 2:1

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, (Matthew 2:1, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Everything seemed normal in the little stable when the baby was born. His mother had all the normal birth pangs; his father paced and worried that everything would be all right. The animals around watched in eager expectation. The birth of a baby is always as special occasion. When he was born he was quickly examined to see that everything was perfect. At first glance, it all seemed to be, but when he staggered to his feet and began to walk that’s when everybody realized something was different. They weren’t surprised that he could walk, all reindeer walk moments after they are born, what was surprising was his nose. It was unexplainable; there on the end of his face, where the hair gives way to the soft skin of his nose, was a light. It was perfectly formed. I know that many of you are imagining this light as a bulb screwed into a socket right there where his nose should be, but it wasn’t like that at all. There between his nostrils, on the flat part of the reindeer’s nose, the skin was, well… transparent. It was a little like a car’s headlight. The flat surface of his nose was the lens, underneath, was some kind of unexplainable light source, and behind that a very smooth and very shiny surface. It cast a bright red beam that was brighter than any halogen light that is driving down the highway today. It was so bright that everywhere the little deer looked heads turned away to protect their eyes. The animals fled the stable, even though there was a freezing blizzard outside; at least they understood the wind and the snow. His mother screamed and fainted. His father broke down and wept.

You know how the story goes, “all the other reindeer use to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf, join in any reindeer games.” He was excluded, different, not part of normal reindeer life. We can relate to Rudolf. Remember on the playground? Lining up to be picked to play a game of ball. “I’ll take Joe.” “I’ll take Peggy.” “I’ll take Dan.” On and on it goes until everyone is picked, except one. Neither captain wants to pick him, because well frankly he can’t play. He is uncoordinated and slow. Finally they try strike a deal. “You take him.” One captain says to the other. “Ok.” He agrees, “but you have to give me Dan and Peggy, too.”

It is a part of human existence to exclude certain groups of people from the ‘normal’. Our own country’s history is a dark example of racial hatred and exclusion. Our bloodiest conflict ever was fought, in the shadow of the African American slavery. Even with slavery abolished, the scares will likely never heal. Talk to Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, or Polish settlers in Nebraska, their stories are the same. They were excluded.

I’d like to tell you about Willy. He was 8 and afraid to go to school because of the protestors. Whenever he did go, they would stand outside yelling obscenities, and racial slurs. He didn’t understand why people hated him so much just because of his race. He had heard of several schools like his had been burned, and the teachers beaten, and that men dressed in white sheets were terrorizing his relatives in town. Sometimes he was angry with his parents. “Why did they have to be so different?” He wondered. “Why couldn’t they be like other people? Why did they have to be so . . . German?” That, of course, was a picture of history in this country during the First World War. When racial prejudice was expressed against Germans, and German Lutherans in particular. It was at the height of anti-German sentiment that nearly closed parochial schools around the country. No racial group is immune from exclusion.

God hates racism. There is no question about this. Hatred and exclusion based upon a person’s race is outside of God’s desire for this world. He created man most of all with a capacity for relationships. First and most important, he created him for a relationship with God, Himself. Second, he created him for relationships to other people. Our relationship to God is expressed in Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment… to fear, love and trust God above all things, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. When Adam watched Eve pick the fruit, he had decided that they knew better about what was good than God. He pushed himself away from God, ripping the loving, trusting relationship that was between them. In an instant destroyed the nature of relationships forever. Without a proper relationship to God, a proper relationship to others is impossible. That destruction is the nature of sin, and its power over us.

Over time humans have gotten pretty good at relationship breaking. Cain killed Abel. Jacob deceived Esau. Hitler gassed Jews. Southern whites beat blacks. There’s ethic cleansing in the Sudan. Every generation is the same, and worse.

But, before we begin to think that we are immune here on the crest of the hill, because we live in a ‘protected,’ ‘secluded’ community. We may not be guilty of gross prejudice, but we are guilty. No, I’m not saying we are responsible for our ancestor’s wrongs. We didn’t invoke slavery. We have enough guilt of our own. Scan your memory for your thoughts, or words. When have you spoken about ‘those people’ in DesMoins or Omaha. ‘He’s a pretty good worker for a colored person.’ When have you seen a person of color and wondered what they were doing here. Immigration is a hot topic, but what’s the first thing you think of when you see a person who looks to be from south of the border? When have you told off color jokes about Jews or others, and passed them off as nothing. When was the last time you heard of a racial slur causing pain and separation? It happens, and it happens right here, in your heart.

As much as God hates separation, he loves separated people. The Bible is a love story about how God reaches out with loving, protecting arms to restore his relationship to the world. His love reaches beyond political and ethnic boarders. He reaches out to people of all nations and races. It isn’t that God is colorblind. He loves people, in all their varying shapes and colors, all their walks of life, both rich and poor, black and white. He loves them so much that, once in time, he sent his son to be born in a quiet and dark stable. He became an ethnic human being.

Our text tells us of visitors to the infant Jesus. They were outsiders, Gentiles. Despised by the Jews. They were the butt of jokes told in the daily market place. Contact with them caused you to be unclean. “What are they doing here?” was asked of them. But, they came and gave expensive gifts to the Christ child. Matthew goes to great lengths in his Gospel, with this account and many others; to assure us that God’s love in Christ is for all people, even the despised and outcast. He tells us how Jesus love poured out on even the unwanted, hated separated people around him. He healed them, forgave them and comforted them. Finally he was raised up on a cross, spread out his loving arms to the entire world, every race, every color, every nation, and he died for them all. This great act of love evaporated the separation between man and God. Through faith in his un-separating work, human beings can once again be in a relationship with God. They can trust him and love him. The can look to him in times of pain and times of joy. He can heal their broken relationships with others.

God’s work of healing is a work of healing for you and me. We are gathered together here as a community of believers. We confess faith in the work of Jesus Christ to end our separation from God. We believe in this work for all people. It is only through this faith that we can begin to tear down the walls of separation that exist. Through this faith, God will enable us to heal the brokenness caused by our own prejudice.

So many years ago, ‘outsiders’, Gentiles, went to visit the Christ child. They weren’t Jews. They traveled a great distance to be there. They traveled into a foreign land that didn’t welcome them. When they found him they stood in wonder, then they bowed down in worship. There before them was a Savior, not just a Savior for the Jews, but also a Savior for all people. He was a Savior for ‘outsiders’ and Gentiles like them. He is a Savior for ‘outsiders’ and Gentiles like us. God had led them there to show us that his love and forgiveness crosses ethnic boundaries, race, and nation. He wanted us to see ‘The World’ worshipping Jesus. ‘The World’, with all its ethnic variety, needs this Savior. It needs him to restore its divisions, its ethnic hatred… its sin. That’s why he came to this world. He came to gather the ‘outsiders’ to himself. You see, as wonderful as the Christmas story is, the real joy for us is that … “Magi came from the East.” Because, their visit shows us that we too are included in God’s grace. Their visit shows us that God’s saving act through Jesus Christ was for Gentiles like them, and like us.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

No comments: