Epiphany – Surprise, Surprise

It’s Epiphany. So Christmas is officially over.

Today is a traditional Christian celebration of the wise men – non-Jewish spiritual leaders who read the stars (astrologers and/or scientists?) – that protected a conceived out-of-wedlock Jewish baby boy whom they believed to be “the one” and honored him with unique gifts.

This would have been an outrage.

This would have been entirely inappropriate.

There’s no way they would have worshiped God correctly, let alone known he was the Son of God, the Messiah or the Christ. And wait – did you see how Jesus was born on earth?

And yet the “wise men” did.

Matthew 2:1-12 records the story of the magi finding Jesus because they followed their own religion and worshipped Jesus in their Eastern custom when they came upon him. They also protected Mary and “Step-Father” Joseph’s son from potential death at the hands of a blood-thirsty jealous King.

You never know who will honor and worship Jesus – they might be someone who’s seemingly far off. But by God’s presence and their seeking after truth they are able to follow and find Jesus, even worship God by their own customs. In spirit and in truth as they say.

Just like some of us already have. May we make room for brothers and sisters such as these. Jesus is truly Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and worthy of all good gifts this Epiphany, even if we think our lives are outrageous or inappropriate.

Awful Death & Subversive New Life

The Empty Tomb

(The Empty Tomb by George C. Gray http://www.zianet.com/fpc/gray/page_01.htm)

I recently saw a video that awhile ago I might have really liked. Like pump my fist and exclaim “yes” kind of like. The message was a call to put away whatever differences we might have with others and just worship Jesus in song together.

As someone who typically thinks ambiguity is beautiful and honest, believes a moderate is someone often honest with complex contexts and is fine with opposing viewpoints and understands their validity, I was left short. This sentiment seemed contrived. It smacked of insincerity and embracing irresponsibility.

As this video sincerely invited people to worship Jesus in song by getting them to forget their differences, I realized he wasn’t really saying much of anything at all, or perhaps even worse. Unbeknownst to him, he could be endorsing some to take evil lightly. That sounds weird, how could a call to worship Jesus, the Prince of Peace, lead to not taking evil seriously? But if our worship of Jesus doesn’t lead us to stand up to or willingly take the heat of oppression here and right now, it is both worthless and harmful. Of course it’s a video with a specific message, so it can only say so much. Perhaps it’s part of the deal when listening and allowing for different voices to be heard and respecting their contexts, attempting to understand and grow from their insights and even getting lost in the shuffle. But if something greases the wheels towards complacency in dealing with oppression and evil in our world, we better get off those tracks quickly.

Some of us will be celebrating Jesus’ few days leading up to his execution, his death and then rising again to new life. I am struck by how we may lose meaning, if not all meaning, if we don’t acknowledge the severity of what may have been happening here in this three-part harmony. If Jesus’ innocent public killing is not some sort of indictment on humanity’s atrocities, ugliness and evil ways, and implicate people in his death, I’m not sure it’s worth claiming to call oneself a follower of Jesus.

I guess what I’m saying is this. We can’t fully enjoy the resurrection and whatever grace and freedom we might receive if we don’t ourselves know in some way that we are either a part of the crowds yelling “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and humbly break down and beat our chests in anguish OR that Jesus is actually like me in suffering at the hands of oppression and evil structures that rob dignity and mar the image of God in each of us and love him and thank him for providing hope. And maybe we realize that we embody both.

When we recognize how we’re intertwined with the cross of Jesus in either of those scenarios, we then might experience the power of his new life and in grace and truth respond in kind to Jesus – in song or life.

So if you ask me to join you in worship without taking the world’s and my unjust suffering or complicity in it seriously, it’s impossible for us to truly worship Jesus.