Monday, January 6, 2014
Every pilgrimage of the wise leads to Bethlehem. . .
So maybe you have already packed up the decorations and taken down the Christmas tree and put away any thoughts of Christmas for another year. Judging by the stack of Christmas trees at Dunbar Cave, that began Christmas morning. I will have to admit some sadness when all the decorations are gone and all we have left are memories; hopefully good memories! But, that said, I want more than memories of Christmas.
I would suggest, however, that the gift of Christmas is not limited to a day or even a season. Today we observe Epiphany, the Gentile Christmas that came nearly three years after the birth of Jesus. The Christ whom the Magi sought was not some temporary distraction but the radical transformation of their whole lives. He was their gift through which their whole lives were redefined. This gift of Christmas never ends.
The ultimate question of faith and life is the same one the Magi asked of old: Where is the Christ that we might worship Him? What the Magi were asking is not where is Jesus. They had not yet learned of Jesus. What they were asking is where is redemption for my lost life? Where can my my sins be forgiven and my conscience cleansed? Where is answer for my guilty conscience? Where is life that death cannot swallow up? Where is God who can restore my purpose in life?
All of these questions were subsumed in their question, Where is the Christ that I might worship Him? They got the direction right. The light of the star led them to the area. Indeed that is about all our human hearts can do with the conscience God has placed within us to light our way – we get the direction right. But the exact address requires the Word of the Lord. The Magi needed the voice of Scripture to tell them exactly where the Christ can be found to answer their questions.
Even those who had long since given up on the promise, knew the promise of the prophets well enough to answer the Magi on behalf of Herod. In Bethlehem of Judea, the prophets say. The Magi had come to the right area and from the unmistakable source of Scripture, they knew where to go.
Every true pilgrimage in search of the answers to the great questions of life leads to Bethlehem. We who live a couple of thousand years later are haunted by the same questions that led the Magi to undertake their journey of discovery. Where is redemption for my lost life? Where can my my sins be forgiven and my conscience cleansed? Where is life that death cannot swallow up? Where is God who can restore my purpose in life?
The light of conscience can point us in the right direction but only the Word of God can locate the true source of Him who answers these burning questions of life. We are led like them.
Led by the Spirit to the Word of God that points us to Jesus, that cradles Jesus like a manger to deliver the Savior long promised to a people who have been waiting a long time.
Every true pilgrimage ends in Bethlehem – first at the manger where the incarnation of God's Son is revealed. From the Bethlehem of Judea, Scripture points us to the House of Bread that is the Church. Not in the town of Judea but here on the altar and given to us in the Holy Communion is the Christ who gives us His body in bread and His blood in wine. We no longer go to a small village in Palestine to find Jesus. We go to the Bethlehem, to the House of Bread, that is this Church. Here is Christ as He has promised.
The prophets still point us right here. Not to some Christ of our imagination but to the Lord of bread and wine. All who are wise will follow the Magi and end up right here. Where the light of conscience directs and the Scripture's reveal, here is Christ. Here is the One who answers all of the great questions of faith and life. Not an idea or a principle or even an example but the true Emmanuel, the God who comes to us to save us.
He is incarnate now in bread and wine. This bread which is His body as His Word promises and this wine which is His blood. The journey of the wise always leads to Bethlehem – not the place of His birth but the place of His presence. We are the Magi whom the Spirit has enlivened, pointed in the right direction, and then revealed to us the fullness of the divine promise in the Christ who is born of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. Here is God who forgives the sinner. Here is God who rescues us from our aimless wandering and gives purpose and meaning to who we are and what we do. Here is God who meets us in the valley of the shadow of death and imparts to us the life death cannot overcome. Here is God who redeems His lost creation and gives us back our birthright.
The ultimate question of faith and life is the same one the Magi asked of old: Where is the Christ that we might worship Him? Because of this, Christmas never stops giving us the gift of God. Because of this, our gifts to Christ return to us more than we offer Him. Because of this, the holy joy of this season cannot be packed away and forgotten.
Epiphany means revelation. The Magi found the revelation God had promised and we do, too. It is the beginning and the end of all life. The journey is directed by God to the place where His promise is incarnate to us. Once in a manger in a village in Judea and today upon this altar in this Holy Sacrament. A blessed Epiphany to you all. Amen.