January 1, 2017
Matthew 2:1-12, 13-23
“Choose Your Own Adventure”
Choose Your Own Adventure was a popular children’s book series in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was written in the second person so that you were the protagonist and you determined your actions and the outcome of the plot. It is rare that the first day of a new year falls on a Sunday, but it feels a bit to me like an opportunity for us to choose our own adventure. Yes, many things that we don’t choose happen to us, but we determine how we will respond. The magi saw a star and without knowing exactly where they were going or what they would find there, they chose to follow it. When we tell the story, we clean them up as if they have just stepped out of the shower and finished a quick trip to the mall. We emphasize them showing up with gifts as if it were a sweet baby shower and all was peaceful in the world. But that is far from the case. Things were a mess politically. Herod was king and he was terribly threatened by everyone around him. He had his wife and sons killed because he believed they were a threat to him. When the magi asked about a baby who was the new king, he told them to bring him news of this king’s location pretending that he wanted to pay homage.
The magi were smarter than that and they went home a different way. When Herod realized he had been tricked and he had no idea how to find this baby king, he had every boy under the age of two murdered. Frederick Buechner says, “for all his enormous power, [Herod] knew there was somebody in diapers more powerful still.” (Peculiar Treasures, p. 56)
We may wish to avoid politics, but that may prove to be impossible. Herod was not the last paranoid ruler. It is important to remember that Jesus’ life was determined by politics from the moment of his birth. He was killed because he was a threat to the leaders of his day. Will Willimon says that the “babe of Bethlehem brought not only gift, joy, but also threat.” (http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/7902/christmas-herod-in-trouble?spMailingID=104917&spUserID=Mzk4NjgyNTUyS0&spJobID=200131558&spReportId=MjAwMTMxNTU4S0)
Many today are trembling in fear because their safety is threatened – immigrants, Muslims, women, lesbian, gay, transgender, refugees, children, and people of color are being attacked. They wonder who will stand with them. How will God care for the most vulnerable today? It is tempting to look for something big and dramatic, but God may come in a different way…it has certainly happened before.
For many years, I had this saying by Anita Robinson on my wall:
“When God wants something great done in the world,
[God] doesn’t dispatch a legion of avenging angels,
Neither does [God] call forth a whirlwind nor ignite volcanic fireworks;
No commandeering of troops into battle nor discharging zealous crusaders to holy causes;
[God] does not orchestrate the burst and boom of thunder nor display fiery arrows’ majesty across the sky to bring [that] purpose to pass.
When God wants something done in this world…[God] sends a baby—then waits.”
Will Willimon says that “Herod got many things wrong, but one thing he got right is that God’s salvation is not just personal; it’s political, a divine shake up, an assertion that God’s truth shall not be mocked by any human power, that God, not nations, rules the world and determines the future.”
Jesus was born into a world where children were subject to gratuitous violence and while we like to think we are WAY more civilized than that, we only have to look at scenes from Aleppo to remember that children are still subject to horrific violence while much of the world stands by. God steps into our world today to offer us the same opportunity the magi had…we can follow a star trusting God to reveal the path as we go. Without a GPS or road map, the magi had to keep their eye on this star. The figures in this story had to listen to the voices of angels. That is how they found their way. How do we find our way today? The world tells us that power and domination are the way to lead. God shows us another way.
With so many possibilities available, God chose an infant, which paradoxically seemed to be the greatest threat to power there is. In the face of threat today, it probably would not occur to us to send a baby. This text calls us to ask ourselves what voices we will listen to in the coming year. Joseph and Mary listened to an angel who told them to “Get up and take the child to Egypt” and then later, “take the child to Israel.” (Matthew 2:13, 20) The voice of God is the one in our midst calling us to stand with one another and not allow innocent children to be slaughtered. It is the voice of God that says, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah,* the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
The child continues to be born among us today and continues to call us to stand up to threats of violence. I anticipate this coming year will have many opportunities to stand with those who have been marginalized. We won’t be the first to do so. Helen Joseph was born in England and moved to South Africa in 1931. She became active in the anti-apartheid movement though most considered it a hopeless cause. Racial discrimination was written in the books and on the hearts. It was the way of the real world. Helen Joseph wouldn’t listen. She continued to fight for a world where all are free. She was placed under house arrest and charged with treason. Not to be stopped, she fought for an end to apartheid until her death.
People like Helen Joseph helped pave the way for the advances in human rights, but we have a long way to go. We are all needed now.
We can’t yet imagine the opportunities that will present themselves to us in this New Year. But like the many characters in the Jesus story, adventures will present themselves to us and we become the author of our story from the moment they arrive on our doorstep. Look at Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, and Magi for clues about how to step out onto this uncertain path. Pay attention to the stars and the voices that call us to go to the place where the vulnerable are. It may mean leaving the familiar road, but God will show us the way.
I don’t know how many of you made New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m committing to pay attention, to follow the unexpected star, and to stand with the vulnerable. Our adventure has arrived. We gather around to celebrate the birth of a child this morning. We can look to the wise ones to show us the way. I am guessing there will be many difficult moments. We don’t hear about the wrong turns the magi took, or the arguments they had about what gifts to bring, or the fear they must have felt as they fled. I’m sure we will find ourselves making mistakes, having some tense conversations as we determine the best action to take, and feeling afraid when we see those threats up close. But I have confidence that mistakes, tension, and fear are only part of the journey. The rest of the journey is God creating a path as we go and sustaining us in ways we can’t yet imagine. An incredible adventure awaits us.