Sermon 8 January 2017

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 08 JAN 2017, EPIHANY

Listen Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crpqH190FF4

 

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,

wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking,

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” Matthew 2:1

 

At St Columba’s the great Christmas tree is down.

This year’s Nativity scene created by the children of Hill House is boxed;

and the smaller Mission tree –

where the offerings of Socks and Boxers for the Night Shelter is also put away.

In our own homes the same, I imagine.

 

On Thursday night, Twelfth Night,

I lingered a little over the un-decorating; one item in particular.

A little crib figure, bought in the year of the Millennium,

from Palestinians living near Bethlehem –

a ceramic, haloed child in a manger –

chipped this year from interaction with real children –

now wrapped in tissue paper and laid in its box,

bound for the shed and eleven months of hibernation.

Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?

 

It is Matthew’s Gospel question.

You may have witnessed a child/grandchild utter it at a Christmas pageant –

there, of course, blended in with shepherds and angels.

Though beautiful of its kind, those images can be misleading.

For the birth stories in Matthew and Luke are different, intentionally so;

(bear in mind that Mark and John have no birth stories at all.)

Matthew and Luke are different and the sharpness/clarity

of what each is saying, is lost – when we merge them together.

 

In honesty, we know so little about Jesus’ early life –

the significance of his life comes back to front.

It is the events of his adult ministry and the mystery of his highly public death

that generate the gospel.

It is in the light of the adult man

that Matthew’s birth story shimmers with significance –

prologue to what is to come.

 

Matthew majors on impressive genealogy, (though with surprises,)

angels, signs in the heavens –

all bearing witness to the special child.

This morning’s instalment – the journey and gift giving –

a wondrous, shadowy tale, that veers between starlight and slaughter.

 

The wise men from the East observe and set out;

they enquire and persevere;

they arrive and give; they dream and leave.

All the while navigating by the question:

Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?

 

And once they found their answer did they think, Mission Accomplished?

In the story, their physical journey was only mid-way, its dangers increasing –

their spiritual journey, even further to travel –

the rest of their remaining days.

 

On the long trek homeward, were they full of excited talk,

or were they silent; saddle bags emptier,

but hearts wider/more exposed/more vulnerable?

Did they weigh these mysteries and their implications;

No one has ever seen God. But it is God the only Son,

close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

 

Then finally they have a life to live back in the old place –

though a life that can no longer be, as it was.

 

Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?

The birth of any child sends ripples/shock waves spreading –

ask any bleary-eyed new-minted parent.

Yesterday I heard a new father reflect on his own particular, post-birth journey:

 

Tom Chaplin is the lead singer of a British pop band, Keane.

Endearingly I believe, the band was named after Tom’s music teacher, Mrs Keane

rock ‘n roll!

Speaking on Radio, Chaplin was asked to choose his so-called, Inheritance Tracks

one remembered from youth that meant a lot;

one that he would like to pass on to the next generation.

For the inherited track he chose Simon & Garfunkel’s, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

And for the song to pass on to his young daughter, A Charmed Life, by the Divine Comedy.

 

Part of Chaplin’s story is that he has enjoyed enormous success and fame at an early age – but then has struggled in time with drug addiction.

He admitted that a year after the birth of his child, he had no relationship with her –

that he said is the mark of addiction’s strength.

 

He is one of the lucky ones – with help, he has been able to turn his life around.

“Being a father has made me less self-centered

and to see the world in a different light.”

Strikingly he said of parenthood:

“When you discover you love someone more than yourself,

it comes as a relief.

You don’t have to worry so much about your own self-importance.

He describes his new album as a document of survival – it is entitled, The Way.

A nice echo of the gospel’s final verse:

“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,

they left for their own country by another way.”

 

Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?

The temptation with packing up the nativity

is that we don’t let the child grow up,

and with it our own maturity of faith remains childish.

 

Last week, preaching on New Year’s Day, Church of Scotland minister, John Bell reflected:

These days, many people don’t know much about Jesus.

And if the primary adjectives they have heard with regard to him

are words like Gentle and Meek and Mild,

then why bother about someone who sounds like a wimp?


Travelling widely, he meets people who don’t believe Jesus was ever angry;

So he tells them there are over twenty places in the Gospels

which describe Jesus in that condition.

He meets people who say Jesus was a chauvinist and a racist.

So he tells them about nearly two dozen women

with whom he had positive engagements,

or the equally positive relationships with people

of some seven different nationalities and faiths.

People say he’s making it up! His response:

 

But it’s all there, in black and white, in flesh and blood,

the Jesus who is bigger than the baby at the centre of the nativity play,

the Jesus who is more dynamic than the motionless figure

in the stained-glass windows,

the Jesus who is more risky, inclusive, hospitable, transforming

than the rather insipid saviour we may have been introduced to in our childhood.

John Bell (Sunday Worship 01/01/17)

 

Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?

At the other end of Matthew’s Gospel the same explosive title is used –

King of the Jews – only this time it is nailed above his battered head.

From its overture, Matthew’s Gospel  lays out this paradox:

the crown and the cross; adoration and rejection.

 

We too have a choice at the outset of this New Year (2017):

To pack away the baby – meek and mild – for another year;

or let Christ grow to maturity – to accompany us, challenge us, support us.

What that will mean, where that will lead us –

we cannot know, individually or collectively,

until we take the next step along the Way;

navigating by the question –

Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?

Where is the Christ?

 

In the Queen’s Christmas speech she referenced Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

“We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”

 

Amid the cards put away on Twelfth Night

one reflected on a past year that has included both severe health problems

and the care of church friends:

“When one sends a card, flowers or takes time to visit

one cannot know if it helps at all.

I have to say that all of these acts of kindness are enormously uplifting –

a source of energy when things look pretty bleak.”

“I felt both nurtured, and despite everything, blessed.”