Matthew 2: 1-12 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Isaiah 60: 1-6 January 6, 2019
“Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you.”
Prayer: May we be enlightened by your Spirit, O God, as we listen to your word, as we worship you in the new year. Amen.
You may recall the ever-popular movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. Kevin Costner’s character Ray receives the strange and mysterious message whispered into his consciousness, “If you build it, they will come.” Remember that? Of course, the ‘it’ he is to build is a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field on his farm in Iowa, and the ‘they’ turns out to be old, long ago deceased baseball players still wanting to play baseball. Crazy idea, right? But, Ray does the crazy thing, and builds the field of dreams. And the players come from the cornfield to play ball. As the movie ends, “If you build it, they will come,” is heard again, only this time, ‘they’ refers to the many people who will pay good money to come to see these long deceased baseball players play ball. The last scene has the ball diamond lit up against the night sky, and miles of headlights of cars approaching the farm can be seen in the distance.
That catch phrase “If you build it, they will come” kept coming back to my mind as I prepared for today’s message. I think it’s safe to say that God lit up the world with God’s spiritual light when Jesus was born. And, just as Isaiah proclaimed, when God’s light, when God’s glory rises out of the darkness of the world, nations, kings, dignitaries, royalty, and ambassadors and people of all kinds all will come and bring gifts and pay homage. If you, O God, light it, they came. You, O God, lit it, and they came.
Some scholars suggest that the Magi, the kings, the wise men, the wise women, all the visitors we sing about probably came from all over the known world. Palestine, specifically the Jerusalem Bethlehem area, sits right where the continents of Africa, Europe, and Asia meet. These visitors no doubt were not Jewish but represented different races, different religions, different cultures and nationalities. All came to pay homage not so much to the newly born king of the Jews, but indeed, to the newly born ruler of the whole world.
So, there is an extraordinary hope for today—because if God lights up the world in Jesus’ birth, people will come. In these biblical stories, we see representatives of the variety of earth’s people coming together, overcoming differences, worshiping and giving gifts to the one who gives new life and light to the world, and helps us work together for a better future.
The question is can we do the same? Can we as a human race strive to come together? Can political, civic, academic scientific, medical, and religious leaders from all races and nationalities overcome differences, come together, and work for a better future? Can we worship the same God who gives new life and lights up the world? Can we let God’s love be the uniform base for all our thinking? All our decisions? Can we let the ways of Jesus be our guide? Can we extend God’s grace and forgiveness that we’ve been given?
I was told over the Christmas holiday break that there’s no way that leaders from all areas of human development could ever come together and work to overcome differences, to deepen respect, to work for a better future. “That’s just pie in the sky thinking,” I was told. “Idealistic,” said another.
But, that’s the way God intends for us to live. That’s the way of love. It’s the way Jesus taught. If you take that way of life and let God light up your life, light up your spirit, light up your personality, people will come. Because you’re drawn to the light. Because we are stewards of God’s grace and forgiveness we receive. We’re sharers of the love God uses to light up our life. We’re the beneficiaries AND the benefactors of gifts freely given to us by God. If you, O God, light up our lives, they will come.
We just don’t know who God will send into our lives because we are radiant with the Holy Spirit. You may be the one person who can help another particular person in need. If God lights it in your, they will come. They will see God in you. Lift up your eyes and look around. They all gather together. They will come to you.
I recently read about an 84 year old Cuban-American Catholic priest named Fr. Ruskin Piedra. Father Piedra serves a parish in Brooklyn, New York and founded the Juan Neumann Center, a nonprofit that provides affordable immigration legal services to the community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Much of his work at the center defends people facing deportation or seeking asylum in the US. Father Piedra also holds funeral masses without the deceased body to help undocumented people grieve because they are afraid to go home for the actual funerals of their loved ones. Too dangerous. So, he puts a bare casket stand in the room as he conducts mass providing immense consolation to those families in need. They feel the love of Christ freely given. They see the work of the Holy Spirit. And God lights up his life, and people come. (New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/08/nyregion/the-very-busy-life-of-an-immigrants-rights-priest-in-2018.html, retrieved January 5, 2019). If you, O God, light up our life and we share your gifts, people will come.
If we light up our church. Christ Church, with God’s love and grace, with warmth and caring, with welcome and hospitality, people longing for those characteristics of loving God for the experiences will find out about us. People starving for a place of inclusion, seeking a spiritual home where faith can grow and talents and skills are used will come. Because we cherish God who spends more energy welcoming people than keeping them out. We love God who spends more time binding up broken hearts and attending to wounds than crushing the world with an iron fist.
I can’t help but wonder about the story after the Magi left and went home by another way. King Herod flew into a rage and sought to kill baby Jesus by conducting a massacre of all male first born babies 2 years old and under! This situation in the Palestinian homeland was too dangerous, and the Holy Family, dare I say it, immigrated to Egypt. But, what if they got to Egypt only to find a wall preventing them from receiving asylum? Where would we be today?
If you, O God, light up our church and we become a mirror of your love and grace, lift up our eyes. Let us look around. Those seeking a place of welcome will come.
If we let God light the flame of justice and peace in us, people will come in solidarity and support.
Of course, we all remember when nine people were shot at Emmanuel AME Zion church in Charleston, SC back in 2015. Well, last fall, when the Pittsburgh shooting occurred in the Jewish Tree of Life Synagogue and eleven people were killed, Rev. Eric Manning from Emmanuel flew to Pittsburgh to show his support directly to Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. And, when Pastor Manning went back to Charleston, he had the bells at Emmanuel toll for the Pittsburgh victims, just as they had for Emmanuel’s lost members in 2015 (Century Marks, Christian Century, December 5, 2018, p. 8).
If you, O God, light the flame of justice and peace in us, let us lift up our eyes, let us look around and see how people of our faith communities gather together in solidarity reflecting your brightness. Let us be radiant when we come in your name. Let us be fully inclusive and welcoming that we may be instruments of your love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, justice and peace. If you light it, they will come. Amen.