Home By Another Way
Chilmark Community Church
January 3, 2016
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
All week long as I worked with today’s text, images of “Where’s Waldo” and images of the search for Luke Skywalker kept invading my imagination. If you are a grandparent or the parent of young children, you may have spent time searching for Waldo, the diminutive storybook guy in the red and white striped tee-shirt and horn rimmed glasses who blends in with the multitude on crowded beaches or city streets, or department stores. It takes good eyes and often a lot of patience to find him hidden in plain sight.
The engine that drives the latest Star Wars movie is the search for Luke Skywalker –the emblematic carrier of The Force –who has disappeared at some point in the long Star Wars saga. In this latest episode, Skywalker has become the stuff of legends. He has become the one who must be found if the evil power of The First Order that threatens to destroy the universe is to be defeated.
Whether by design or uncanny coincidence, the story of the search for a mythic savior emerged on the big screen just as we immersed ourselves in the stories of our own search for the Holy Child.
We pick up the biblical story this morning with the quest of three wise men, scientists of their day – astronomers and astrologers – who observed signs in the heavens that eventually draw them into the search for a royal child.
We have strong images imbedded in our imaginations – – elegant and colorful robes of rich silks and brocades, dignified beards, scholarly faces, haughty looking camels, and, of course, extravagant gifts. It is a beautiful story of human beings searching for truth and light and hope.
Their quest and their eventual coming to the place where the great Light of God has come into the world – their finding of the infant Jesus after many years of observing the heavens and reading the signs in the stars, all of this has been named in our tradition as The Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany – – the celebration of a manifestation – – a striking appearance – – a sudden and striking realization – – a new and different perspective – according the Wickipedia definition of epiphany. How better to describe God’s bursting into human life in human form?
But as with any good drama, there is also a dark side to the unfolding events – King Herod hovering just off stage – – caught up in his dreams of power and his fear of losing it.
He seems just a little too eager to know where this longed for child has been born. Herod does not have a good track record when it comes to any threat to his seat on the throne. He has killed off at least 4 possible candidates, in addition to two of his own children and his wife. He clearly wants to maintain his grip on his kingly power and on his control of Jerusalem no matter what the cost. As a puppet king under the thumb of Rome, Herod always lives with a measure of anxiety and fear.
The story tells us that when King Herod heard the news of the birth of this child, born to be King of the Jews, “he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod fears the threat to his rule – – and all Jerusalem is afraid of what Herod will do when his rule is threatened. If we were to read on a few more verses we would see exactly what Herod’s fear would accomplish as he orders the annihilation of all the toddlers in the vicinity of Bethlehem of age two years old or younger. No wonder Jerusalem was afraid.
Fear is a powerful motivator. In the most primitive of scenarios, fear provokes the “flight or fight” response in all of us – – we either want to run from the threat, or we allow the fear to become anger and we fight the threat in some way.
Herod was afraid –but he was not about to relinquish his power – so he fought the threat instead – and in a fit of fury, he issued the order to eliminate the innocent children who threatened him.
But – – as the scriptures assure us, perfect love casts out fear. Love nourishes wisdom. The wise men pay attention to their dreams and refuse to cooperate with the politics of fear. They refuse to cooperate with the forces of violence and destruction. They find another way home.
The story is instructive for us as we enter a new year. As followers of The Way, we will be called upon this year to be wise and discerning as we pursue our own individual and collective search for the light and truth of the Newborn King.
We will be called upon to listen carefully – – to read with wisdom the currents of threat and fear that swirl around us as political rhetoric ramps up even further. But even more, we are called upon not to participate in the fear mongering around us by lending our own energy to it. Mahatma Gandhi’s name for this was “nonviolent non-cooperation” – a simple refusal to buy into and cooperate with the voices and the forces that would snare us in the web of fear and uncertainty.
The admonition to “fear not” appears many, many times across the scriptures, beginning with God’s word to Abraham way back near the beginning of our faith story: “Do not be afraid Abraham, I am your shield; and your reward shall be very great”1 and near the end of Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life when Jesus tells his disciples “Remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.”2
God speaks through Isaiah to Israel’s fears in exile: “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you.”3 The Psalmist reminds us “God is our refuge and strength –a very present help in time of trouble…”4
These are not just pious platitudes designed to offer a false comfort that would blind us to the difficult issues that confront us in the world today. They are reminders that help to ground us and keep us focused and oriented in the right direction –not unlike the star that guided the Wise Men.
When fear is the predominant force that motivates action, it removes the possibility of creative problem solving and solutions. When we are afraid, clear thinking goes out the window. Love and awe of God leads us toward a richer imagination for what a possible future might look like. Our faith tradition leads us away from fear and the violence it spawns toward a more confident and creative future – – characterized by compassion for others and nonviolent solutions to intractable problems. This is a long slow journey without quick fixes; a journey that requires clear thinking and patience, resilience and strength – – and it is a journey that is meant to be shared with one another in community.
One of the things that struck me about the Star Wars search for Luke Skywalker was the way that the stories and memories of his life and adventures kept him with the searchers even though he was absent – – still way out ahead of them somewhere –still to be found and encountered again as a force for good in a very dark world.
So it is with our faith tradition. We affirm Emmanuel – God with us – present and yet inviting us onward – – a force still to be encountered in all its fullness.
It is not by accident that this small community of three wise seekers traveled together to seek the truth. Our own wise Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.”
The journey is not meant to be taken in isolation. So, as we enter a new year, let us enter it together – perhaps to discover our own epiphanies, our own new perspectives, our own new and striking realizations, knowing always that The One for Whom we search is already in our midst, hidden – – kind of like Waldo – – in plain sight – – while all the while beckoning us onward. Let us commit to finding another way home – – a way that will not lead us to the terrible harvest of fear and the hatred and violence it breeds, but to a bright and shining vista of a future filled with hope.
As we move toward the Epiphany feast of bread and cup, may we move together with the intention of drawing closer to one another and to the One who both beckons and feeds. May our communion be the first step on another way to be in the world as the new year begins.
1 Genesis 15:1
3 Isaiah 41:10
4 Psalm 46:1