Matthew 2:1-12 and Luke 2:41-52
Although the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is now over in the secular world, here in the church we continue to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Our readings for this Sunday center around Epiphany, which is a church holiday that occurs on January 6th. This is the annual celebration of the arrival of the wise men to Bethlehem, bringing gifts for the new king.
The season of Epiphany is a time to celebrate new knowledge, new ideas, and fresh thinking in our lives and in our world. Just as the wise men followed the light of a star to Bethlehem, this is a time of light bulbs going off in our own minds regarding faith and the world around us. Similar to New Year’s resolutions, this is often a time to take stock of where we are and where we are headed in our lives.
Of course, throughout this holy season, my head has been full of ideas surrounding the birth of our Lord. Inspired by Abigail, the daughter of Nathan and Cynthia Epp, and a relative newcomer in our midst, I find myself suddenly reconsidering the Christ child. I have been watching Abigail, and I have been watching you watch Abigail, and the observations I have made have been amazing to me.
There is something about a baby in our midst that truly draws us out of ourselves. In the large setting of worship, when Abigail cries out, we all have a wealth of patience. Not only that, but many folks here respond in joy to the sound of a baby. If an adult were to interrupt worship in the same manner we would not be as lenient. But there is something about the presence of a baby, that calls us to have better manners ourselves and to be more understanding of others.
I have also observed reactions to Abigail in smaller settings. When dining with the folks in Brown Bag, Abigail becomes the center of attention. Friends are able to continue their conversations, but they are inevitably drawn to interactions with the baby. We suddenly find ourselves engaging in smiles and joy, and sharing about our own lives as children and as parents.
Watching all these interactions, I have come to the conclusion that there is something about babies that draws us out of ourselves. And not only that, but it seems to draw out the best of what is within us. Of course, it happens when we have our own children, but it seems different when we interact with a child who is not our own. Unlike our interactions with other adults, we find ourselves suddenly full of compassion and wonder. We long to hold the child, to touch it, as if in doing so, we could draw closer to its’ innocence. We all long to share in the joy of the world that we find in children. A baby draws us out of ourselves, and helps us to be new and better people.
This season, I began wondering if perhaps that was the point of incarnation. Perhaps that was the point of the arrival of God in our midst as a child. In the reading from Matthew, the child Jesus draws the wise men to his home. They follow the star and enter the home and the author tells us that they were overwhelmed with joy. Overwhelmed with joy upon meeting the baby! And they gave extravagantly to express that joy and affection. The interaction with the baby drew them out of themselves.
In our reading from Luke, Jesus is older, and yet he still is a child drawing people outside of themselves. Jesus is twelve and wanders away from his parents to visit the temple. The story is laden with the teenage angst that is common between parents and twelve year olds, and yet this fresh faced child is making waves in the temple. The teachers and scholars are gathered around this child, and he is drawing them out of themselves and out of their comfort zones. It is an epiphany of new ideas and new experiences for them, all inspired by their interaction with a child.
Pondering all this, I began to have my own epiphany. What if it is the incarnation that save us, and not the cross? I have always had a hard time with the prominence of the cross in our faith. I recognize the value of self-sacrifice, but I also recognize the glorification of violence when I see it. Folks like to bring the cross into Christmas, and I am not sure it belongs there. I am not sure that that was the point of the incarnation.
I want to turn things upside down. I want to bring the baby into Easter. I want to tell a story of a God who loves us so much, that God came among us to draw out of us the best of who we are. Rather than a story where God glorifies and condones violence, this is a story where God draws us out of ourselves in true vulnerability and love.
I know I’m treading on rocky ground here, and “Christmas Heresies” isn’t a good sermon title, so let’s get back to epiphanies. That is what I have been thinking about. The power of a child to draw out the best of who we are, to call us to be our best selves, and perhaps even to save us as a people.
So what are you thinking about? As this New Year dawns and we continue to follow the light of the Christ, how is God speaking to you this morning? Where is a new light shining in your world? Where do things suddenly seem clear? Like the wise men, what star are you following today, and where is it leading you? May God continue to pull us out of ourselves in surprising ways. And may we continue to have marvelous epiphanies throughout this New Year. Amen.