Traveling Back On A Different Road

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Palm Sunday, Year AApril 5, 2020Sunday of the Passion: Palm SundayMatthew 26:18
Lent 5, Year AMarch 29, 2020Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A 2020John 11:1-45
Lent 4, Year AMarch 22, 2020Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year CPsalm 23
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Lent 2, Year A – March 8, 2020 – the Rev. Deacon Carey ConnorsMarch 8, 2020Lent 2, Year AJohn 3:1-17
Lent 1, Year AMarch 1, 2020First Sunday in Lent, Year AGenesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
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Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year AFebruary 23, 2020Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year AMatthew 17:1-9
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year AFebruary 16, 2020Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year ASirach 15:15-20; I Corinthians 3:1-9, I Corinthians 13: 11-12; Matthew 5:21-37; Psalm 119:1-8
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year AFebruary 9, 2020Epiphany 5, Year AIsaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12];Matthew 5:13-20
The PresentationFebruary 2, 2020Presentation of Jesus in the TempleLuke 2:22-40
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year AJanuary 26, 2020Third Sunday after the EpiphanyMatthew 4: 12-23, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Congregational MeetingJanuary 19, 2020Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, Congregational MeetingIsaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42
First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year AJanuary 12, 2020First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year AMatthew 3:13-17
Epiphany, Year AJanuary 6, 2020The Epiphany, Year AMatthew 2:1-12

 

Traveling Back On A Different Road

Sermon Date:January 2, 2011

Scripture:

Matthew 2:1-12; Jeremiah 31:7-14

Liturgy Calendar:

Second Sunday after Christmas, 2010


Our first hymn today begins with the words “Love came down at Christmas.” 

God’s love, born on earth in his son Jesus, is God’s gift to a broken and hurting world.

Jesus was born during the rule of Augustus Caesar, into a country occupied by Roman forces,
forces that ruled over 90 million people who lived in a vast empire that had
been cobbled together through endless wars and intrigues. 

And even though this vast empire benefited from the efficient rule of the Romans,
millions of Roman subjects lived in abject poverty under Roman
subjugation. 

Jesus was born into the part of the empire  under the rule of Herod the Great, known as the King of the Jews, a ruthless and power hungry ruler who stopped at nothing to maintain his power and control over his subjects through force, and even through murder.

Herod, fearing revolt within his own family, had his wife, two of his sons, and other family members executed.

Constantly fearing attack, Herod built seven massive fortresses around his territory in Palestine.  The ruins of these fortresses are still being excavated today. 

As I mentioned on Christmas Eve, God took a risk, sending love into such a violent
and broken world. 

But after all, the world of the Roman Empire was lacking in love, so God did take a risk, and it was into this hurting and broken world that God sent Jesus.

And so Christmas is a season of gift giving. 

In today’s gospel passage,  we have just heard a Christmas story of gift giving.

Wise  men from the East have seen a great star rise up into the sky, and they have followed it.  They want to pay homage to this new king. 

Now because Bethlehem is not that far from Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is where you’d expect a king to be born, the wise men must have assumed  that the star stopped over Jerusalem, and so they go to see Herod.

 “Where is this child who has been born the King of the Jews?  For we have observed
his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 

Herod, as we have already heard, is paranoid and anxious, so news that the king of the Jews has been born rattles every nerve in Herod’s body.  Rumors of the coming of the
Messiah, whom people of the time believed would oppose Herod’s dynasty, sends Herod into a state of distress. 

So Herod investigates, and finds out from the chief priests and the scribes that the
Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem.

And he sends the wise men toward Bethlehem, with instructions for them to come back and let him know what they find,

As they  leave the city, the wise men  are thrilled to see the star again, guiding
them beyond Jerusalem toward the royal and  mysterious child/king they seek. 

At last the star stops, and the wise men are overwhelmed with joy. 

They enter a house where they find Mary and her child.

They  kneel down and worship the child. 

And then they open their treasure chests.

They present Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

These gifts are especially appropriate for Jesus.

The gift of gold indicates his royalty, his role as Messiah, king of kings, and Lord of Lords. 

The frankincense was a form of incense burned during worship.   Its swirling smoke rising toward heaven symbolized prayers rising to God.  And prayers, like incense, will rise up to this little child who is divine, and who will one day ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God. 

The myrrh, which was used to prepare corpses for death, reminds us that this child is not
only fully divine, but fully human as well.  Jesus will die at the hands of a Roman governor, on a Roman cross.  Jesus is fully human. 

So for now  let’s leave Jesus and Mary and the wise men, still on their knees, their treasure chests open, and return to the present. 

Each one of us in this room has probably received several gifts during this season,
especially chosen for us.  The best gifts represent some special part of ourselves that the giver wants to acknowledge and the gift  also represents a connection between the giver and the person who receives the gift. 

For instance, you all gave me the wonderful gifts of a stole and a cross when I was ordained.

I especially love this cross because this cross is enclosed in a circle, which  is very symbolic of the fact that we gather together each Sunday as one body, the body of Christ, and that Jesus is at the center of this community. 

How appropriate then, that we gather together today as the body of Christ to share with  Mckenna Rylee  in the great gift of baptism.

It’s as if her family, and we too, have followed a star, a star that we know will lead us
into the very presence of God, and this star has stopped right over St Peter’s, right over this baptismal font!

And  as we gather in this place, around this baptismal font, to witness Mckenna receive the gift of Holy Baptism, we too will

receive gifts —and like the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus, these gifts will tell us
about who we are.

One great gift that we receive through our baptisms  is the gift of unity. 

Baptism reminds us that we Christians are united into one body. 

Remember the opening words of our service today?

The word “one” occurs seven times in the opening exchange.

And this word, “one” reminds us that even in our differences, we are united as the body
of Christ,

more than just  a collection of diverse individuals who tolerate one another because we choose to worship in the same place, but we are the body of Christ

We reflect  the very unity of God—

God– Father, Son and Holy Spirit– One God and Father of all.

This is God’s great gift to us—the gift of unity,

offering us God’s way of being in the world, a way that seeks wholeness through community as
opposed to division, destructive power, and oppression. 

And this unity that baptism gives us is not just with other human beings, but with all of creation itself. 

In just a minute when we pray the baptismal thanksgiving prayer, we will thank God for
the gift of water. 

Water is the earthly substance on which the life of every living thing on earth depends.

Every living thing on earth is united by its dependence on water.

Water has existed since the very beginning of time on this earth—over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.

Water flows throughout our history as God’s people.

And this baptismal water unites us with God and with one another.

In this water, we are buried with Christ in his death.

By this water we share in his resurrection,

and through this water, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.

This water immerses us in the realization that we are united with each and every living
thing on this earth by the source of water itself,  the divine source of all creation—God.

And along with the gift of being brought into unity with one another and with all of
creation, at baptism we receive another great gift. 

We are marked as Christ’s own forever. 

And marked as Christ’s own, we are marked as people who follow Jesus and his way of life,
a way of life fully open to  God. 

Jesus, the son of God, took time to pray, so powerfully open to God that God shaped his
ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness.   

Jesus was so richly fed by his Father that Jesus was able to open  his heart and have compassion on the people.

Jesus opened his hands and he healed the people.  Jesus opened his mouth and he
taught the people.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” 

Jesus said, “Come  to me, all you who are weary, and who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will refresh you…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

So now that God has given us this gift of unity, brought us into the body of Christ through
the waters of baptism, and marked us as Christ’s own forever, marked us as
God’s children,  how do we use these gifts  when we leave this place?

The wise men are in this same situation.  Now that they have found this king, brought their gifts, NOW WHAT? 

The wise men had to shut their treasure chests, get off their knees, say goodbye. 

They had to go back into the world, return to their old lives.  Had anything changed for them?

Yes!  At the end of the gospel reading for today, we find that the wise men leave Bethlehem to return home with a new and different perspective. 

At the beginning of the reading, the wise men sought direction from Herod, because
they assumed that a king would be born to the family in power in Jerusalem. 

But instead, they found the king they sought in the dirty little village of Bethlehem,
in the arms of a simple peasant woman.

The perspective of the wise men changed. 

And so instead of obeying Herod’s orders, and returning through Jerusalem,  a seat of worldly power, the wise men paid attention to the warning they received in their dreams, and

they left for their own country by another road.

When we leave here today we, too, will return to our old lives.  We will return to our usual activities, or maybe even begin something new, but having been led by the star to this
baptismal font today,

we will go back to our own countries now by a different road,  the road we have seen in our dreams, a road that leads to the kingdom of God, brought to earth
by Jesus himself. 

If we choose to travel this different road and difficult road, we will travel  beyond  the divisions, conflicts, hatred and violence that are part of Herod’s
world of power and intrigue, and that still dominate our own world,

Away from a world in which Herod murdered  all of the
babies in Bethlehem because he was afraid,

Instead, we move toward the kingdom of reconciliation and healing for all the
nations,

The kingdom of heaven that Jesus has brought near in his time on earth,

a kingdom like that described by Jeremiah in the passage we have heard today.

Jeremiah  describes a kingdom in which we sing aloud, a place where we are radiant with the goodness of the Lord,

A kingdom where our lives become like watered gardens,

A kingdom where our mourning is turned into joy,

Where God comforts us, and gives us gladness for sorrow.

As the body of Christ, we witness to that kingdom
of God, come down to earth.

We witness to God’s love that has come down at Christmas.

We, one united  body,  marked as Christ’s own, shining with the light
of God’s love,

we become the star,

the star that leads all nations and all people to  Bethlehem,
to Jesus,

to the one who redeems us, and who makes each one of us  a new people by water and the Spirit. 

Jesus is the one who makes us one body, one spirit in him,

And so we bring him our gifts,

our transformed hearts

and our gifts of loving, healing, and serving the world in His name.    

Amen.

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