the act that matters most
January 5, 2014
Roy W. Howard
It’s a happy convergence when the day we ponder the gift giving Magi occurs on the same day we ordain our elders and deacons. Such drama! No wonder Amahl and the Night Visitors is so popular. It doesn’t matter that scholars debate many of the historical details of this text. What matters is Matthew’s intent for his listeners in rendering this story. The gospel is about theology; it’s about the revelation of God among us and our response to this revelation. The moment we forget that is the moment we lose our way.
We could be dazzled by the star and speculate on whether it was a comet or a supernova that illuminated the path of the magi. But that would miss the point. It’s not the star that matters, it’s where the star is leading. Remember this line we sing: Star of wonder, night of night, star of royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding guide us to the perfect light.
We could be enthralled by the magi whom legend describes as kings from the East. Every kid wants to be one of them in the Christmas pageant; they get to wear the coolest clothes. We could note that they are the original seekers, from other faith traditions, who set out on spiritual journey while the religious leaders of the story fail to make any journey at all, and in the end side with the status quo. But, again, it’s not the magi that matter most; it’s the One whose birth draw them that matters most.
We have to keep this always in mind: the season of Epiphany is about the Light that has come into the world for all people. Who is this Light who threatens the rulers of this world? How do we live in response to him? For Matthew that means right here at the beginning we see the fulfillment of the promise of what was foretold by the prophet Micah about the little town of Bethlehem, from which shall come the Prince of Peace.
Tom Troeger, the Dean of Yale Divinity School, who was our Saint Mark lecturer a few years ago,suggests that the key to the whole story and our response lies in the Greek word “proskyneo”that is rendered “worship”or “homage.”It means to bow oneself completely before a king. These seekers took off an arduous journey, what we might call a spiritual journey, across the wilderness all the way to Jerusalem so they can “pay homage”to a child whose birth was made known to them. It’s a spiritual journey they take and it leads to a change in their lives. This is the Baby King before whom all knees bow in adoration. Troeger points out the irony that King Herod declares ‘when you have found him, bring me word that I too may pay him homage.’Oh sure, Herod wants to pay him homage? Wink, wink! “The irony is that Herod unknowingly states what in truth he needs to do. The despot who rules by violence and fear needs to bow before the King of love, compassion and justice; he needs to give himself entirely to the grace that is incarnate in the child whom the magi are seeking.”
When the magi arrive at the destination of their spiritual journey did you notice what happens as soon as they cross the threshold and gaze upon Christ? I didn’t either until Troeger pointed it out to me. Before anything else, they bow on bended knee and pay homage to Christ. Before any gift giving, these seekers gave themselves utterly and completely to Christ. They worship him whose is love incarnate.
All of us have gifts to give our Lord. Gifts of kindness and compassion, gifts of mercy and tenderness, gifts of forgiveness and courage and more. This is especially true today for our elders and deacons who will be ordained in the service of the Church. Yet, before all gift giving there is one essential act more important than all others. It is the act from which all gifts arise and are sustained. When the magi arrive they bow on bended knee and gave themselves entirely to Christ.
Elders, deacons and all members: Will you begin this new year by giving your life entirely to Christ?
We are going to stand now and sing the last stanza of the hymn In the Bleak Mid-Winter number 144. I ask you to sing it as a prayer.