ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JANUARY 4, 2015
SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING
Isaiah 60: 1 – 6; Psalm 72: 1 – 7; Ephesians 3: 1 – 12; Matthew 2: 1 – 12
A long time ago, when the Czars ruled Russia, a small town Rabbi pondered the mysteries of the universe and the deep spiritual questions of life. He concluded that when one got down to the very root of things, one just did not know. One morning, after having this profound insight, he was walking across the town square when a Cossack, the town policeman, accosted him. The Cossack was in a bad mood and thought he’d take it out on the Rabbi. “Rabbi,” he shouted, “where do you think you are going?” “I don’t know,” replied the Rabbi. The Cossack was infuriated and yelled, “What do you mean you don’t know? For the past twenty years, you have passed through this square on the way to the synagogue at eleven o’clock every morning. Here it is eleven o’clock and you are headed in the direction of the synagogue and you tell me you don’t know where you’re going. You’re trying to make a fool of me. I’ll teach you!” With those words, he dragged him off to the local jail and just as he was about to push the rabbi into the cell, the rabbi looked at him and said, “You see, you just don’t know.”
For most of us not knowing is very unsettling. We have just passed through the door of a new year and we wonder how 2015 will unfold. Will work go the way we hope? Will good health bless our families? Will death touch us? Will relationships be marked with love or will we be marked by emotional wounds? Will something new and unexpected happen? We wonder about our church family, our neighbourhood and our country, just as we wonder what will transpire in the global community. This year, like years gone and years to come, is a stretch in the journey of our lives.
As Christians we believe every year is a journey empowered by the Divine Wind. Among other things, it’s a journey of discovery. Not only do we not know what lies ahead, we don’t know what God will ask us to do. We each wonder: what God might want me to discover about himself or myself or those around me? How will the Spirit change me? Will I find new ways to live in trust and to love others? Will I grow closer to Christ or will I allow something to push me away from him? Will my spirit soar on the gentle breezes of God’s Spirit or will I shrivel in some rancid spiritual place? What makes a new year so awe-inspiring is that we don’t know. And we won’t know until we embark on the journey.
It’s fitting to begin the New Year with the journey of the “magi”. Who were these wandering “wise men”? Well, we just don’t know a lot about them but we can learn some deep truths from their story. The first is this: the magi were seekers. Like our Rabbi, they didn’t have all the answers and they didn’t pretend they did. They were searching for something and because they were searching, they were open to seeing new things around them. They watched the skies for signs and omens that would give them insight and direction in life. Now, I’m sure the magi had their fair share of routines. They probably got up about the same time each day and washed their faces; perhaps they ate lamb on Monday and chicken on Tuesday. Many of us keep similar routines. Routines give our lives a semblance of order but they can also prevent anything new from getting in. This is also true of our spiritual routines; we read the bible and pray each day; Sunday mornings are set aside for worship; once a month we give gifts to people in need. These are solid spiritual routines; they sustain us on our journey. But just as chicken every Tuesday can become dull, our spirits also thrive on what is unexpected. We grow by following our routines and we grow by keeping our hearts and minds open to something new. Spiritual people are life-long seekers. We’re always on the lookout for something fresh that may emerge in the middle of everyday things. These fresh things may be as simple as looking out our window at a bird feeder or a snowfall. They could be as simple as a word of kindness or wise counsel from an unexpected person or as grand as a new opportunity that beckons us to new life. They can be hidden in everyday experiences or discovered on a Sunday morning while going through your church routine. In the midst of the sitting, standing, smiling, singing, or looking at your watch, are you open to the Spirit’s signs that point us towards God in fresh and surprising ways? Perhaps a scripture passage which you’ve read a hundred times reveals a new insight and suddenly you get it. It cuts through your soul like a hot knife slicing through a buttery haze. It’s an “aha moment”! The question is: will that insight lead you forward in your life journey? The magi saw a star because they were searching the night sky for a sign, but finding the star wasn’t the end of their search, it was the beginning.
The magi took action; they followed the star. That sounds pretty simple but following this star meant packing up their things, saying goodbye to their loved ones and leaving the comforts and security of home behind. Without a map – let alone a GPS, they headed out into the inhospitable environment of the desert’s scorching days and freezing nights. They travelled on foot or by camel, carrying their provisions and hoping the water held out until the next oasis without any idea of where the next oasis lay. It was a journey of courage and faith. Whether it’s a star, a sign, a promise or a calling God continually invites us to step out in faith. Throughout scripture people set out on a journey with nothing but their confidence in God. Abraham and Sarah left Ur to travel to “I just don’t know” where. Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness following a cloud and a pillar of fire for 40 years. When the people asked where they were going Moses had to admit he really didn’t know. Mary’s faith led her through a cloud of gossip to give birth to a son without knowing her journey of motherhood would end in agony. Every journey involves faith. Have you noticed that when appear to be lining up by our plans, an urgent tweet goes out to someone named Murphy and whatever can go wrong often does? Faith – entrusting our journey to God – is at the root of life for Christians; clinging to our version of safety is a false security. Only by faith can we give up our old ways or let go of a false hope so it can be replaced with something real. By faith we stop worrying about stuff that really don’t matter nearly as much as we’ve told ourselves it does. The magi journeyed out in faith.
The surprise for many Christians is that “faith” does not guarantee a worry free trip. The magi didn’t follow a straight path without any difficulties. Every journey, every life, has land mines and potentially destructive moments. As the magi grew closer to their destination their journey took them to the doorstep of Herod, the hallways of supremacy and the throne room of corruption. The magi went to the palace of King Herod as his guests and innocently inquired of Herod about the birth of the new born king. They didn’t know it but Herod didn’t share their enthusiasm for this new king. In fact, he was paranoid about this infant rival to his throne. He was determined to murder the child even if it meant killing many innocent children with him. It’s both incredible and tragic, isn’t it? God is doing the greatest thing since creation and powerful people are threatened by it. Lies, manipulation, loss and suffering emerge on the magi’s journey to discover Jesus. Our journey has obstacles and threats woven through it as well. There are times when life throws us a curve ball and we wonder if it’s worth continuing on. Or we share our journey with others and they are openly hostile; sometimes they do all they can to get in God’s way – to destroy the good that’s being done by putting obstacles in our way or trying to co-op us into sabotaging God’s act of salvation. Sometimes we suffer heart wrenching sorrow. Every journey has roadblocks and pitfalls. Our faith lies not in the desires and actions of people but in God. The magi continued to listen and watch for direction. God intervened and we can trust that God will help us to find a way around those who would bar our path and that which would wound our souls. We need to trust that God will do what God has set out to do and that no human power can prevent that.
Eventually the star led the magi to the end of their search and the discovery of an even greater sign. Often we get so caught in our own life events, we forget the journey isn’t about us, it’s about the object of our search. It’s about Jesus. Upon finding Jesus, the magi bowed before him in worship and honoured him with their gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts pointed to the journey which lay in front of Jesus. Myrrh foretold Jesus’ sacrificial death, frankincense revealed Jesus’ role as the great high priest who would intercede on behalf of all humanity and gold celebrated Jesus as the King above all Kings who will reign eternally. In the presence of Jesus’ the magi laid down their gifts, their love, their devotion and their lives. That is the outcome of every encounter with Christ.
As we embark on a New Year, we “just don’t know” where it will lead us; but if we are searching for the mysteries of the universe and the deep spiritual answers of life; if we are seeking, open and willing and if we trust in God, our journey will lead us to Jesus who is the root of all things.