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H O M I L Y       G R I T S     EPIPHANY 

January 6, 2007

Isaiah 60:1-6,9 The wealth of nations
Psalm 72 Deus, judicium
Ephesians 3:1-12 Reading will enable you
Matthew 2:1-12 Herod was frightened

A new month, a new year, , a new time for new beginnings. It's a time
for travel, too, and frequently for dis-location--not only
geographically, but psychologically. It's a time of a lightening, a
brightening, imperceptibly sometimes, in the darkened skies. But
sometimes as well for bright, bright stars, and a time for dreams and
portents, for night mares and night stallions, and a time for serious
searching. You too are busy in your travels now, if only short trips
to the merchants to return gifts, instead of to Bethlehem to bestow
them. The gospel is a gospel of stars and dreams and searches; like a
Tolkein novel, it's got its magi, wizards, kings. The world comes to
see the Rising Star of hope in a Judean cow barn. The magi are full
of Eastern religion, leading them to recognize new birth for
humankind in a tiny house perched between East and West. G. K.
Chesterton wrote that in this house, the house of Christmas,
humankind comes to "an older place than Eden and a taller town than
Rome." Older than the history of human failure, taller than the walls
that divide all our tribes. In this ecumenical age we Christians tend
to lie down and roll over in the face of militant unfaith, the
unfaith of fundamentalism everywhere which wears the mask of piety
but has a Hitler in its heart. But Epiphany has sometihing to say to
Yahoo eveangelicals and religious crazies too. Christ is for all
people, the Epiphany stories tell us now, and will do so for a season
of sharing our Christmas with the created world. The treasures of
alien ideologies and religions are brought to Mary's lap, to the
Child she shows to the world there. The gold and frankincense and
myrrh of all ancient faith and hope, of unfamiliar--even
exotic--cultures are brought in homage here.

Matthew means to tell us that not just Persian or Mesopotmian wizards
have come to surrender "the tricks of their trade" (as some
commentaries put it) to the Liberator whom the Jewish nation-state
itself ignored. He means to tell us that others are finding their way
to the centre, to the one born to be King, to the place of new birth,
to the hope for a human future, whilst the very custodians of the
institutions which claim to serve this God are involved in
death-dealing and deception.

The search of the Magi is a search for fulfillment, and they bring
what they have and place it in the service of the One who shows
himself as Wisdom for the ages, in the lap of a young colored girl.
Can we also see in their party, come to honor the Novelty of God in
human life, can we see the monks of Buddha, the Hindu mystics, the
Sikh warrior, the Islamic philosopher, come to bring their gifts and
have them accepted and honored?

The Pauline writer says that the Gentiles (look around in our world
now, for OUR Gentiles) are fellow heirs with us of the Christmas
Gifts of God, that they are members of the same body--now--(not "will
be" after they've submitted to our ideology and signed the Thirty
Nine Articles, or memorized the Augsburg Confession, or the Shorter
Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, or the Baltimore Catechism).
The Gentiles are already members of the same Body, and partakers of
the Promises. This is the good news of which Paul was minister. His
task, he saw, was to make all folks see what is the plan of the
"mystery" hidden for ages.

Christ's coming has converted the stars themselves, which turn to
him; the skies themselves whirl about him and his mother in a frenzy.
Remember Van Gogh's vision of "the starry night"? The Pauline writer
tells us that even now (not long ago and far away, but now) this
"mystery" is to be made known through the people of God--the manifold
wisdom of God is to be known even to the "principalities and powers
in the heavenly places." What are they? The New English Bible brings
this a bit closer to our understanding when it tanslates them to be
"the rulers and authorities." The Jerusalem Bible puts it this way,
"So that the sovereignties and powers should learn, through the
Church, how comprehensive God's wisdom really is."

Governments and bureaucracies, regional offices and local authorities
have trouble with inclusive truth, for they are caught up in chad
instead of Intent, or with a Catholic mind, a faith for all, a global
economy built to include every human value and accept every alien
gift, and to share it all, fairly and reverently and honestly. The
rulers and authorities of this age or of any age must come to see
that they must descend from their usurped "heavenly places" and get
on their knees with the Magi, who kneel to pay homage to the Third
World Child Jesus, in the cradle of a new revelation, a new
civilization. To lay the "wealth of nations" at the feet of the
hungry human Infant.

We were taught for a century that atheistic communism would destroy
us, but it is atheistic capitalism, the changeling in the crib, that
has grown up fat amongst us and done us in. Herod, like other rulers
of our own place and time, pretends to be a friend of the New, but he
is always out to murder the Infant Christ, and put a changeling in
its crib. When the wise ones of any age catch a glimpse of the Star,
they rejoice; and when the rulers of the age hear of it, they are
threatened. They see no Star. Peering through the ballot held up to
their poor eyes, they can see only a Dimple, they can see no Light.
Herold's near sightedness kept him from seeing the Star, for his
sights were set below. He never looked into the skies, had no dreams,
no visions. He engages in covert activity, and summons the Magi
secretly, to put into action his own C.I.A. scheme to search and
destory. The Iraqi baby is murdered in its bed, the Turkish mother
raped, the election stolen fair and square--it is all one. But Herod,
like the short sighted rulers of any age, like the enemies of the
gospel of human unity, of One Household to recieve the gifts, is out
to hang on to his own special and shabby privilege, his cheap and
narrow "Perks." But the Wise are warned in their dreams not to trust
a tyrant, as the Magi of the Two Thirds World today are looking at
the stars. They haven't seen the star in the sky of western
imperialism, for they have had other dreams besides those of
accepting the domination system of the West and its religion and

They are seeing the star of the gospel of God everywhere--in South
America, in Central America, in Africa, Korea, India, and the Middle
East--they are finding a challenge to change, an invitation to be
pilgrims to the human future. "It is easier to be a Christian in
Africa," says Desmond Tutu, "because the issues are so clear." The
same is true in Nicaragua, where the issues are not obscured by the
media, and the struggle more intense. The view of the U.S. and its
imperial arrogance from here is not obscured by the massive
propaganda of the empire. We see its horror at work close up in our
own politics and religion, meddled in and murdered like innocents in
their cribs.

The light of God's appearance among us remains a "mystery" -- the
Greek word is in Latin a "Sacrament"--there's a hidden quality, in
which the outer shape of revelation is disguised, as a revolution is
disguished as an infant born in poverty, as divinity is hidden on a
table shared with the hungry. Hidden-ness and Revelation come
together in the "Mysterion," in "Sacramentum."

Will our journey towards this discovery be one to delight in it, and
do it homage, that we may have new life? Or will our choice be to
stay home and live in suspicion, and to engineer from afar the search
and destroy mission, to murder hope.

One of the most boring tasks of being an ordained clergymammal is the
task of attending meetings--endless meetings. Since retirement, I
don't accept invitations to many any more. But once, on a busy
morning a dozen years ago, someone learned how to get to me, and sent
the message, "We will all take heart if you will join us." Isaiah
likewise bids us to the Magi and the Manger, with his promise: "Lift
up your eyes and look around, at the sight of what is happening your
heart will throb and be full. Your heart will thrill and rejoice."
When the shepherds left the manager, Luke tells us that Mary
"treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." Eastern
faith has the heart as the centre of our being as humans, as the
receptive and responsive element in us. Grundtvig, the Danish
Lutheran mystic of the last century, spoke of Mary as the Heart
Queen, for in her the responsible heart of mankind beats highest in
the moment she received the first hint of the gospel in the angel's
message and conceived in in her womb. God's call to us as individuals
is to conceive in our lives he hope of universal liberation. God's
action is in us as individuals, but it is in us for all of us. In the
lap of Mary true seekers will find what they truly want--it is the
Catholic faith. Thomas Hancock, a disciple of Frederick Denison
Maurice, sums up the meaning of Epiphany this way: "If we enter ever
so little into the contemplation of the depths of the Catholic faith,
that is the faith for all humankind and for every creature, we shall
find it impssible to separate the unity of the church from the unity
of humanity; we shall find it impossible to separate the unity of
humanity from the unity of God in Trinity. If we do not see that
human unity is in God, and that we can enter into it in Christ, we
shall seek it as the first violators of the unity of humankind sought
it, in some Tower of Babel, some colossal manufacture of human hands
and brains."

What will we north Americans do about Jesus? What? Will we isolate
ourselves with Herod at home, without stars, or dreams, or ventures?
Or will we hitch a ride with the Magi, to the older place than Eden,
the taller town than Rome?

W. H. Auden wrote, "He is the Way, follow him through the land of
unlikeness. You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures. He
is the Truth, seek him in the Kingdom of anxiety. You will come to a
great city that has expected your return for years. He is the
Life--Love him in the world of the Flesh, and at your marriage all is
occasions shall dance for joy."