Wise MenLectionary Scripture Passage for Reflection:  Matthew 2: 1-12

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? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Happy New Year!  It’s almost over—this season of readying and wrapping, of decking the halls and visiting with friends and family, of over-running and over-eating and over-spending.   If you’re like me, you love all there is about Advent and Christmas but when it’s time for it to be over, you’re ready.  You’re ready to go back to normalcy, back to your usual schedule.  You’re ready to go back to your life.

When I was little, we had a manger scene that sat on the entry table of our home during the Advent and Christmas season.  I think that it was probably my favorite decoration.  Putting it out meant that Christmas was here.  And during the season, my brother and I would continually move it around and change the story a bit.  Sometimes the Mary and Joseph were in the stable and other times they were carefully but precariously placed on the roof.  Sometimes the Shepherds were herding the camel and the Wisemen were traveling with a sheep or an angel.  And sometimes the baby was in the manger and other times the character would show up in various other places throughout the house.  But, always, at the end of the season, it was sad to me to put the manger scene away, to rewrap all the characters in their tissue paper that they wore for most of the year, put away the baby, and close the box.  It was over.  It was time to go back.  Now is the time.  What now?  What do we do after it all ends?  The truth is, “after” is when it begins, “after” is when it becomes real, and “after” is the whole reason we do this at all.

In the Gospel text for this Sunday, we find the last (and maybe the main!) question of Advent.  It comes not at Christmas Eve in the midst of the candlelight and carols but after.  And, believe it or not, it’s not asked by those who had been waiting and hoping for it to happen.  It is asked by some who knew nothing of its happening before.  All they knew was what followed, what came after.  But they believe that the star (or, for some, an unusual conjunction of heavenly bodies that produces an especially bright light) marks the birth of a special child destined to be a king.  They ask, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?

We all know the story of the Wise Ones from the East (Wisemen, or Magi, or Kings, or Zoroastrian followers, or whoever they were numbered in three or however many tradition holds).  They came at the request of King Herod.  They came supposedly to “pay homage”, but we know that that was not the case.  The truth is, Herod had heard that there was a new king in town and for him that was one king too many.  So, “paying homage” was only a precursory mission leading up to the demise of this new competing ruler.  We are told that they brought gifts, gifts fit for a king.  And then the passage tells us that, heeding a warning in a dream, these wise and learned (and probably powerful) members of the court of Herod, left Bethlehem and returned to their own country, a long and difficult journey through the Middle Eastern desert.  Rather than returning to their comfortable lives and their secure and powerful places in the court of Herod, they left and went a different way.  They knew they had to go back to life.  But it didn’t have to be the same.  So they slip away into the night.  Herod is furious.  He has been duped.  So he issues an order that all the children two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem should be killed.  The truth is that Jesus comes into the world as it actually is, not as we wish it to be.  Evil and greed are real and the ways of the world can and do crush life.

This passage moves the story beyond the quiet safety of the manger.  We realize that the manger is actually placed in the midst of real life, with sometimes dark and foreboding forces and those who sometimes get it wrong.   The primary characters are, of course, God and these visitors, these foreign Gentiles who did not even worship in the ways of the Jewish faith.  They were powerful, intelligent, wealthy, and were accustomed to using their intellect and their logic to understand things.  You know, they were a lot like us.  But they found that the presence of the Divine in one’s life is not understood in the way that we understand a math equation.  It is understood by becoming it.

Maybe that’s the point about Christmas that we’ve missed.  Maybe it’s not just about the nativity scene.  Maybe it’s more about what comes after.  We often profess that Jesus came to change the world.  But that really didn’t happen.  Does that mean that this whole Holy Birth was a failure, just some sort of pretty, romantic story in the midst of our sometimes chaotic life?  Maybe Jesus didn’t intend to change the world at all; maybe Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, came into this world to change us.  Maybe, then, there IS a new normal.  It has to do with what we do after.  It has to do with how we choose to go back to our lives.  Do we just pick up where we left off?  Or do we, like those wise men choose to go home by another way?   The point of the story is actually what comes after.  And that, my friend, is where you come in.

epiphany-germanySo, the baby cannot just be put away in the manger scene box.  The Incarnation of God happens over and over and over again.  Christmas day happens each and every time that we see God in each other, that we see the sacred in this world, and that we see that we have the Divine all over us.  We cannot go back to life as it was.  It doesn’t exist.  There is indeed a new normal that comes after all of the celebrations and after all of the birthing.  So, in these days after Christmas as you put the decorations away for another year, look around at your new normal.  Look around at what comes after.  What are you called to do?  How have you changed?  What other way will you travel home?

When the star in the sky is gone, When the Kings and Princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks, The Work of Christmas begins:

            To find the lost, To heal the broken,  To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner,

            To teach the nations, To bring Christ to all, To make music in the heart.

(Howard Thurman, “The Work of Christmas”)

Happy After!

Grace and Peace,



Lectionary Passage:  Luke 9: 28-36 (37-43)
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said.34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.  37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.  43And all were astounded at the greatness of God. 

This passage requires that we open our mind and widen our souls; it requires that we strip away the things that we think we have figured out; it asks us to focus our attention on what is to be seen rather than on what we see.  In other words, it ask us to go further, to view our world in the light of God’s Presence—not the way we imagine God to be but the way God invites us to experience the holiness and the sacred that is all around us.  It calls us to see things differently, to remove the veil that we have created in our lives that shield us from things that are uncomfortable or do not make sense.  Seeing things differently is not a new theme for us. 

I mean, think about it.  Here we have the story of a child born into anonymous poverty and raised by no-name peasants.  He grows up, becomes a teacher, probably a rabbi, a healer, and sort of a community organizer.  He asks a handful of people to become his followers, to help him in his mission.  They leave everything they have, give up their possessions and their way of making a living, they sacrifice any shred of life security that they might have had, and begin to follow this  person around, probably often wondering what in the world they were doing. And then one day, Jesus takes them mountain climbing, away from the interruptions of the world, away from what was brewing below.  Don’t you think they were sort of wondering where they were going?

This story is told in all three of the Synoptic Gospels.  The mountain that Jesus and the disciples climb sounds a lot like Mount Sinai that Moses had ascended centuries before.  (The truth is, there is actually no historical mention of what mountain this might have been, or if there was a mountain at all.) Now remember that for this likely Jewish audience, mountains were typically not only a source of grandeur, but also divine revelation.  And also remember again that in their understanding, God was never seen.  God was the great I AM, one whose name could not be said, one whose power could not be beheld.  And so this cloud, a sort of veiled presence of the holiness of God, was something that they would have understood much better than we do. And there on the mountain, they see Jesus change, his clothes taking on a hue of dazzling, blinding white, whiter than anything they had ever seen before.  And on the mountain appear Moses (this time with no veil) and Elijah, standing there with Jesus—the law, the prophets, all of those things that came before, no longer separate, but suddenly swept into everything that Christ is, swept into the whole presence of God right there on that mountain.

So Peter offers to build three dwellings to house them.  I used to think that he had somehow missed the point, that he was in some way trying to manipulate or control or make sense of this wild and uncontrollable mystery that is God.  I probably thought that because that’s what I may tend to do.  But, again, Peter was speaking out of his Jewish understanding.  He was offering lodging—a booth, a tent, a tabernacle—for the holy.  For him, it was a way not of controlling the sacred but rather of honoring the awe and wonder that he sensed. And then the voice…”This is my Son, my Chosen:  listen to him!” OK…what would you have done?  First the mountain, then the cloud, then these spirits from the past, and now this voice…”We are going to die.  We are surely going to die,” they must have thought.  

And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, Moses and Elijah drop out of sight and Jesus was standing there alone, completely unveiled.  In Old Testament Hebrew understanding, the tabernacle was the place where God was.  Here, this changes.  Jesus stays with them and the cloud dissipates.  Jesus IS the tabernacle, the reality of God’s presence in the world.  And all that was and all that is has become part of that, swept into this Holy Presence of God.  And, more importantly, we are invited into it.  No longer are we shielded from God’s Presence.  We become part of it, a mirror for all to experience and encounter the living God. And so the disciples start down the mountain.  Jesus remains with them but they kept silent.  The truth was that Jesus knew that this account would only make sense in light of what was to come.  The disciples would know when to tell the story.  They saw more than Jesus on the mountain.  They also saw who and what he was.  And long after Jesus is gone from this earth, they will continue to tell this strange story of what they saw.  For now, he would just walk with them.  God’s presence remains.

The Hebrews understood that no one could see God and live.  You know, I think they were right.  No one can see God and remain unchanged.  We die to ourselves and emerge in the cloud, unveiled before this God that so desires us to know the sacred and the holy that has always been before us.   The truth is, when we are really honest with ourselves, we probably are a little like the disciples.  We’d rather not really have “all” of God.  We’d rather control the way God enters and affects our lives.  We’d rather be a little more in control of any metamorphosis that happens in our lives.  We’d rather be able to pick and choose the way that our lives change.  We’d rather God’s Presence come blowing in at just the right moment as a cool, gentle, springtime breeze.  In fact, we’re downright uncomfortable with this devouring fire, bright lights, almost tornado-like God that really is God.

This account of the Transfiguration of Jesus seems to us that it should be the climax of the Jesus story—the quintessential mountain-top experience.  After all, how can you top it—Old Testament heroes appearing, God speaking from the cloud, and Jesus all lit up so brightly that it is hard for us to look at him.  But there’s a reason that we read this on the last Sunday before we begin our Lenten journey.  In some ways, it is perhaps the climax of Jesus’ earthly journey.  Jesus tells the disciples to keep what happened to themselves, if only for now.  And then the lights dim.  Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for awhile, God stops talking.    

Have you ever been mountain climbing?  The way up is hard.  You have to go slowly, methodically even.  You have to be very careful and very intentional.  You have to be in control.  But coming down is oh, so much harder.  Sometimes you can’t control it; sometimes the road is slick and seems to move faster than your feet.  And sometimes, through no fault or talent of your own, you get to the bottom a little bit sooner than you had planned. Yes, it’s really harder to come down.

Jesus walked with the disciple in the silence.  The air became thicker and heavier as they approached the bottom.  As they descended the mountain, they knew they were walking toward Jerusalem.  The veil that had been there all those centuries upon centuries was beginning to lift.  One week from today, Lent begins.  The Transfiguration is only understood in light of what comes next.  Yes, the way down is a whole lot harder.  We have to go back down, to the real world, to Jerusalem.  (I think that’s why the verses following this account are there.  Life goes on…) We have to walk through what will come. Jesus has started the journey to the cross.  We must do the same.    

Grace and Peace,



Lectionary Passage:  Jeremiah 1: 4-10
4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you,8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

This account of the calling of Jeremiah includes the things that so many call stories do (including, probably, most of ours).  They include a calling from God, a promise that God will help and support and walk with the one that God has seen fit to call.  Then it includes an argument.  “No, no, no, not me.  I have my life all planned out.  This cannot be happening.  In fact, this is really going to mess up my plans.”  But, finally, it includes a response.  In Jeremiah’s case, God puts the words in his mouth, promising him that he would know what to say and when to say it.  And from that time on, Jeremiah is single-minded in what he is called to do.  But the problem is that the words that Jeremiah was called to say were not what people planned on hearing.  In fact, Jeremiah’s message didn’t resonate at all with the society to which he was appointed to serve.  He wasn’t called to tell them how great they were doing; instead, he was called to pluck up, pull down, destroy, and overthrow.  And then, and only then, is he called to build and plant.  What is that about?  This plucking and pulling and destroying and overthrowing doesn’t sound like God’s work.  In fact, it just sounds like out and out chaos.

So did you forget?  Did you forget what God does with chaos?  Read Genesis 1.  God took chaos and created order.  And, as I recall, it turned out pretty well. And yet, we often forget that.  We would much rather God take the plans that we’ve conjured up for our lives and have God just continue them. But sometimes we have to pluck and pull and even destroy and overthrow.  Sometimes, we just need to start again with a new plan.  But change is hard. Change is scary.  Walking that tightrope can tip us into opportunity or crisis at any turn.  So how do we prepare for that?

Maybe we don’t.  Maybe preparation comes not in the form of plans but rather a sort of clearing of our minds and our souls so that God can fill us.  Maybe preparing for change, preparing for what God is going to do in our lives, has to involve plucking and pulling and destroying.  Maybe deep in that chaos is a certain holiness, a newness that has just begun to emerge from its womb.  And God, rather than stamping some sort of holy approval on our comfortable and complacent existence, calls us into a new way of being.  God is always recasting the vision for our lives, always pushing us out of our comfort zones, and always birthing us into newness. 

But God reminded Jeremiah that even in that womb, he was not alone.  God is there in our transformation.  But we can’t stay there.  God has too much in store for us.  So, all through our lifetime, as we emerge from womb to womb, God is birthing us closer and closer to the life that God has created just for us.  Maybe we’re not called so much to plan our lives but rather to emerge.

Grace and Peace,


Water Plus a Miracle

Lectionary Passage:  John 2: 1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

We actually refer to this story that we read from the Gospel According to John as part of our marriage service order, mentioning that in it, “Jesus graced a wedding at Cana of Galilee and gave us the example for the love of one another.”  I’m not really sure why because the truth is this passage is not about marriage; it’s about wine.  So last week we read of Jesus’ baptism and now we read of his first miracle.  He definitely got the show on the road, so to speak.  And yet, the story is a little odd.  We read later of teaching, of healing, of including, even of raising from the dead.  So what’s this thing about wine?  Why was this act important enough to put in the Gospel and, particularly, to place it where it is the first miracle that we find Jesus doing?

Well, according to the Mishnah (which is essentially a redaction of the oral tradition of Judaism and a documentation of the traditional understandings of Scripture), the wedding would take place on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow. The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There would be speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. It is probable that there was some sort of religious ceremony, but we have no details. The processions and the feast are the principal items of which we have knowledge. The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week (so, OK, that would be quite a lot of wine!).

So Mary, the mother of Jesus, is at the wedding, although her role seems to be more than that of a guest. Perhaps the couple was an extended family member or something.  But she seems to be one of the first to know that the wine is running out. She instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they appear willing to take her instructions.  Now you have to understand that this was an embarrassing situation.  The wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution.  Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?)  But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary.  She expects him to fix the problem.

In the setting of this story, Jesus has not yet begun to perform all the miracles and the teaching and yet his mother thought he could do this.  It’s unclear whether or not Mary really understood what “hour” to which Jesus was referring or if she really grasped who this man that she had brought into the world was, but, timing aside, Jesus helps out and fills a need.  Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things.  Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this?  I mean, really, wine?  Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor?  Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain?  Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do?  Now THAT would have been a miracle.  But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, creates a party, a feast.  Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more.  Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life.  And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself.  It begins as ordinary grapes.  Well, not really.  If you go even farther back, you start with water.  Everything starts with water.  And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed.  And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary.  And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait.  They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait.  We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.

And Biblical theologians have over and over pointed to the relationship that this story has with the Eucharist.  Think about it.  We take ordinary bread and ordinary wine (or in our case, ordinary Welch’s Grape Juice), and through what we can only describe as a Holy Mystery, a veritable miracle,  those ordinary things become holy.  They become for us the body and blood of Christ, the very essence of Christ to us, for us, and in us. 
And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine.  Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift.  Water and a miracle…

So this story of wine makes a little more sense.  Wine is water—plus a miracle.  But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water.  No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself.  Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation.  No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine.  Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.

And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different.  God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us.  We, too, are water plus a miracle.  So as we lift the chalice today, let it be a reminder of Christ’s Spirit infused into us, living in us.  13thcentury German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.”  It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle.

So maybe this story of Jesus’ first miracle is not as odd as we thought.  Our lectionary places it immediately following the remembrance of Jesus’ baptism and the remembrance of our own.  It is the point where God’s Spirit, where the holy and sacred itself, was poured into each of us.  So, yes, we are a miracles, created matter, Spirit-breathed.  We are the good wine that God has saved for now.  We are water plus a miracle.

Go be the miracle you were created to be!

Grace and Peace,


A Must See!

Lectionary Passage:  John 1: 43-46 (47-51)
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

At the risk of overusing movie metaphors, I saw an advertisement for a movie that touted that the critics had dubbed it “a must see.”  We all know what that means.  It means that someone is telling us that we need to try to find time to go see this movie, that perhaps our lives will be more enriched by the very act of taking the time to watch a movie.  It doesn’t mean that it’s inviting us to rewrite it or recast it or, for that matter, even critique it.  It doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a quiz at the end of it to make sure that we understood it in the way that the writer intended.  And it’s not even maintaining that we have to commit every line and every scene to permanent memory.  It’s inviting us to simply come, to put down what we’re doing and quit worrying about what we’re not doing, if only for a couple of hours, and come experience it.  It’s inviting us to come and see.  And the claim is that in some small way, our lives might be enriched by the act.

The Scripture that is used here is only part of our lectionary Gospel passage for this week.  But in this short segment, we meet Nathanael.  Most of us don’t know much about him.  After all, he was never part of the “Big 12” as far as we can tell.  But that usually didn’t matter much to the Gospel writer that we know as John.  In this version of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the notion of “disciple” is broader than Jesus’ inner crowd.  You see, Nathanael is a whole lot like us.  He wanted to understand who this Christ was and, yet, it didn’t make sense to him.  Shouldn’t there be something more?  Shouldn’t this be obvious?  How can anything this incredible come out of this little nothing town?  After all, in the first century, Nazareth wasn’t much.  There was no Roman settlement there which means, more than likely, that there was little work.  In fact, you wonder how a carpenter family even eeked out a living there.  It was probably just a couple of houses, a blip on a map.  It was nothing anyone would ever really want to see.  Yes, Nathanael was trying to make sense of this, to put it into a perspecive that made sense to him.  He was trying to take this Presence of God that was beyond anything that he could imagine fit into his notion of who God was.  But Philip’s response was simply, “Nathanael, just come and see.”  In other words, put down all of your preconceived ideas of who you think God should be and what you think God should look like and from where you think God should come, and just come and experience the Presence of God.

I don’t think that Philip was promising that Nathanael would see something tangible that would prove the existence of God.  After all, “seeing” is not limited to what we do with our eyes.  Philip is instead offering Nathanael the experience of God.  But in order to experience God, to “come and see”, one has to put everything else aside.  We cannot see God by listening to something else; we cannot see God when our hands are holding too tightly to what we think we need; and we cannot see God when our minds are so full of who we think God should be.  We’re not being called to figure God out or know everything there is about God.  You know what?  We’re not even called to be perfect renditions of what God envisions we should be.  I think God’s a lot more filled with grace than we give God credit for being.  And I don’t think we’re called to be “godly” people.  I hate that word.  Being “like God” is really God’s area!  Shhhhh!  Just come and see. 

Last week’s lectionary passages included the first few lines of Genesis.  We read of God’s spirit “sweeping over the face of the waters.”  In other words, God’s Presence was not just standing beside or standing over Creation.  God’s Presence washed over Creation, consumed it, made it part of the Divine.  We are no different.  Seeing God is about letting God’s Spirit sweep over you.  It is about experiencing God in every fabric of your being.  Joseph Wood Krutch said that “the rare moment is not the moment when there is something worth looking at, but the moment when we are capable of seeing.”  So, for all of us who are waiting for that one incredible moment when we finally see God, stop.  Just come and see.  It’s a “must see”!

What is right now so important, to what are you holding so tightly, and what are you doing now that means you cannot come and see?

The Days That Come After

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1: 1-5)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. (Mark 1: 9-11)

I saw a movie trailer for a new movie called “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” which is apparently a story of a young boy’s life after his father is killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The trailer ends with these words written on the screen:  “This is not a story about 9/11; it is a story about the days that come after.”  I thought that was a very profound statement.  After all, do we sometimes focus so much on specific times and specific days that we lose what it means to live the rest of them?  In some way, living a life of faith means getting beyond endings.  Maybe it even means getting beyond beginnings.  It means doing something with all of them as part of the totality of life.

Yesterday we remembered the Baptism of Jesus and through that also remembered our own.  And our lectionary readings for the day included the first five verses of Genesis.  We all know that it is the beginning of the story of Creation, the beginning of life, the beginning of our own beginnings.  But, truth be told, it wasn’t the beginning of EVERYTHING.  After all, it says that before it all, the earth did exist.  It’s just that it was a formless, shapeless void.  Perhaps it was a chaotic mass of swirling, meaningless matter.  And then God Said.  Those are the most powerful words imaginable.  With one simple statement, God creates order, shape, life.   As God’s Spirit sweeps over the waters, meaningless matter becomes earth.  It is not perfect; it is not the way it will be; it is the way it should be.  It is good.

But we know it doesn’t stop there.  The days go one and God creates sky, and land, and seas.  Then, rather than directly creating (we sometimes gloss over this), God appoints the earth to start creating, to bring forth vegetation.  God calls Creation to create.  Then God creates suns, and moons, and animals, and us.  And then, as the pinnacle of Creation, God creates Sabbath rest, completion, a taste of eternity.  You see, it doesn’t stop at “in the beginning”. The days that come after are what makes Creation the way it was intended to be.

And in those days that Creation continued,  once again God’s Spirit moved over the waters.  And this time, the heavens were torn apart (not opened, but violently ripped apart in a way that they could never go back together in the same way), and God’s Spirit decended.  And once again, God spoke:  “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Once again, God Said. It is good.

The days that come after are the days.  Beginnings and endings are only markers, turning points, crosswalks.  We are told to “remember our baptism and be thankful.”  Truth be told, I don’t remember mine.  I was just a baby.  But remembering is not about the beginning; it is about the days afterward.  So, as people of faith, what will we do with those days afterward?  Faith is not about baptism; it is about the days that come after.

What will you do with your days that come after?

Grace and Peace,


P.S.  As a programming note, I’m going to try to post a blog entry twice a week or so during this Season of Epiphany and then return to daily posts during our Lenten journey.  Thanks for staying with me!  Shelli

Beginning the Journey

Whew! It’s over–this season of running and shopping and baking and wrapping and giving and getting and dressing and partying and, oh yeah, worshipping the Christ who has come!  Now we can go back to normal.  Whew!  It’s over!  But what is the deal with all this light around?  Really?  So what was the point?  Truth be told,  as Christmas is the celebration of God’s coming, Epiphany is the manifestation of our going.  Epiphany is the beginning of the journey.  So, in other words, don’t get too comfortable!  There is work to do!

This season of Epiphany probably gets sort of glossed over.  I don’t know, maybe we’re tired.  Maybe we’ve eaten too much or run too much or just too much-ed.  Or maybe we just don’t understand what it’s about.  Epiphany is about making Jesus real, making the Christ child part of your life.  It is about doing beginning to travel down a road that you’ve never traveled before.

We know the story of the Wisemen, those learned ones who came to pay homage to the new king.  I suppose it was just a politically correct fulfillment of accepted etiquette.  There was a new king in town and they would greet him and give him the proper gifts and perhaps he would remember them in the future. (And in the meantime, perhaps the press would treat them kindly in this politically volatile season!) It was, after all, the proper and the smart thing to do. But instead, something happened.  Perhaps it was the star; perhaps it was the king; perhaps it was some sort of divine inspiration.  But, whatever it was, these wandering souls got it.  They saw a pathway that was different than the one that they were on, they saw where God was calling them to go.  And so they went home by another way.

Many of you have heard the Henry Van Dyke story of “The Other Wise Man”.  It is the story of a magi named Artaban, who waited impatiently for the star to shine so that he could travel with the other magi to see the new king. In fact, he had sold all of his possessions and bought three jewels—a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl—to give to the new baby king.  And, then, he finally saw what he had been waiting for as the dark eastern sky was filled with light.  He hurried to join his friends so that he could meet the king.  But on the way, he came upon the form of a man lying on the side of the road, motionless and dying.  He knew that if he stayed to help the dying stranger, he would miss meeting the Messiah.  So, with a heavy heart, he stayed and cared for the man until his strength returned.  And in return, the man, a Jew, blessed his travel to Bethlehem, where he told him the king had actually been born.  So, left behind by the others, Artaban was forced to sell the sapphire, buy a train of camels, and provisions for the journey. 

But he arrived there three days after the others had departed.  He entered a cottage and found a young mother singing her baby to sleep.  And quietly, the woman told him that the new king and his family had fled secretly in the night.  Suddenly there was a noise outside as Herod’s soldiers came for the child.  Artaban went to the doorway and met the soldiers, telling them that he was alone in the house.  When the soldier did not believe him, he reached in his pocket and pulled out his ruby and gave it to him.  The soldiers went away.  The woman blessed him.

Artaban spent his life searching for the king.  In all this world of anguish, he found many to help, but no one to worship.  He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick, and comforted those in despair.  Thirty-three years later, he came for the last time to Jerusalem and was met with a flurry of activity as the city prepared to crucify Jesus of Nazareth.  On hearing this, Artaban knew that this was what he was called to do.  The pearl, the last of his riches, could be offered as ransom for the king’s life.  It was then that a young slave girl was dragged through the streets and threw herself at Artaban’s feet.  Save me, she begged, they are going to kill me.  He sadly took the pearl from his pocket.  It gleamed with radiance as he handed it to the girl so that she could buy her life.  The earth began to shake around him; the sky darkened; and it was then that a heavy tile hit Artaban on the head.  As he lay there, the slave girl bent over him to try to hear what he was saying.  It was then that she heard a faint voice from above—“verily I say unto thee,  Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”  A calm radiance came over Artaban’s face and he breathed one last breath.  His journey had ended.  His treasures were accepted.  He had met the King many, many times.

Well, obviously, this is fiction.  There’s no basis to it.  It’s not Scriptural.  But the point is that we are the other wisemen.  We are the ones called to the work.  We are the ones that will meet the King.  Maybe we will see it to fruition; more than likely, we will not.  The point is that it’s not about the end-result.  It’s about the journey.  It’s about making the Christ-child real in your lives.  It’s about meeting the King. But more than that, it’s about getting it! It’s about making it real. It’s about letting the Light illumine your life.

God came and the Light shined into our midst.

We are called to follow, to walk in the way illumined by the Light.
Let us follow the Light as it guides us on our journey.
Let us follow the Light as it leads us to Life.
So, in this season of Epiphany, make the newborn Christ real in your life!  There is work to be done!

Grace and Peace,