When You’ve Found Him, Bring Me Word! Once Upon a Time: The World Came to See Him

… A hush in the stable, but no pause in the street.

Angels start tuning, yet the world keeps its beat.

Heaven stands waiting and watching to cheer

While crowds that are surging just walk right by here.

It was true in those old days in Bethlehem town,

but we come to bear witness Love has come down,

So we stream to Christ's cradle… and hope in his crown.

No longer broken, no more forlorn,

The news of this day: Christ the Savior is born. 

So… on this first Sunday of this brand new year… what in the world will we do with Jesus? Ahh, sweet, new-born Jesus. It is likely we will do with him as we always have, right from the start. Many will take no notice. But among those who do, what then? Some will come to see him. They will stop at nothing. No hill or valley, personal or on the landscape will stop them. No distance will seem too much to cross. They will come and see. They will love and adore. And they will never go home the same way again. There is one more option. Some will seek him, only to compromise or co-opt him. Only to divert or divest him of his power. All these will seek to destroy him, just each in their own way. Whatever else this Christ-birth is, it's a tipping point. Hope to one side, fear to the other; trust on one end, trial/tragedy on the other. Which way the world (in general and ours in particular) will fall all depends on Christ and none other. So … this year… what will you do with Jesus? How will the world fall as it teeters on the balance in your heart? 

As Matthew tells the story there are not just three kings, but three classes of kings in the story of Christ-come-into-our-world. #1: Christ himself, of course. #2: Herod, great by his own say-so. #3: the Magi. According to Matthew, it's how the second two host the first that determines whether the rest of us live in hope or fear. Delight or disaster. Slaughter or salvation. And all of these are in the tale. It's for us to decide what will be the final telling. Do we stop at Christmas? Do we pause to cheer him, and then just put away the decorations? Or do we hit the road to pursue him like those "wise men"? Is there an epiphany inour path, a sudden, startling, revolutionary revelation that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself? Do we see, as we hug this baby, God hugging the world to himself and refusing ever to let go? Do we see in these swaddling clothes a light to lighten those without faith, and a glory to God's people here on earth? Or not?  

I would not wish this message to be a mere head-trip. I would have it encourage us on a faith-walk all through this nervous new year. I could recite the news here. Recession, or renewal with a new beginning later this month? Conflict from Gaza-to-Pakistan-to-India, or some process toward peace? I could stay closer to home. Fractured families or mended souls? Turmoil in the schools or healing on the playing fields? A church that stands watch/a church that can't stand still in the service of the Manger-Child. How it all comes out depends entirely on how we respond to this Jesus

The Magi respond to the star-in-the-sky and the Christ-in-the-cradle with hope. Deep hope. Profound, knowing hope. Because they have studied the holy ways, not just focused on the chaos in their days, they can see that God is up to something in the coming Christ. Everybody looked up at the same sky in those days. They all saw the same star, hung in the heavens for anyone to follow. But they alone "got it", it appears. There are at least two lessons here for us in this year to come. Do get to know what God is up to! Study. Pray. Pause. Ponder. (There's more to be gained from Inner Space than Cyber Space, intimate enquiry than internet surfing. 'Sorry about this, hip ain't bad, it's just not holy-in-itself.) Spiritual preparation. That's the first lesson. 'Second lesson: like the magi, look up, not just around, when you wanna know how and where to go. Those old saints knew God had something better in mind than what they saw all around them. They had the good sense to trust. And the good courage to follow the Dream God revealed to them. Do we? Do we look up for God's vision for ourselves, our families, our jobs, our school, our church, our community, our world? And are we willing to actually walk in the direction of that light? (Or will we continue to be those who "sit in great darkness," says Scripture? And, "prefer the darkness instead of the light"?) Magi study. Look. See. Follow. And are changed. How about us? 

In my heart of hearts, I know there's no one here who would overtly choose to follow after King Herod. Instead of hope, he chose fear at the thought of Jesus. 'Fear of a holy challenge to the established order of things. 'Fear for his own power, status, well-being. He chose to act out of his darkest heart. He sought to minimize, marginalize Jesus. He sent out the soldiers after him. All of these choices are still open to us and to our world. You and I clearly won't be sending any soldiers. Yet we silence Jesus more gradually (but just as effectively) by our own silence when we do not speak up for him. We con each other into believing he didn't really mean what he said when he judges us. We pretend to follow him by taming his teachings into just being polite, nice people rather than renegades for a real righteousness on earth (our little part of it) as in heaven. We make little decisions in the face of big challenges because we fear that God in Christ may not be with us as he said he would. We are shy when we do not face the sky.  

In response to his birth, once upon a time, the world came to see Christ on those camels carting kings. Will the world still come today? Will we? Once upon a time, a petty potentate trembled at the thought. "When you've found him, bring me word!" he declared. Silence was his motive; the status quo his heart's desire. The only king in this story who still lives still lies in a manger. And it is for us to decide how to lift him up and let him learn how to walk in our lives and in our world. 

May it be we will see what this moment is that comes our way:

Our God is the One who comes to us in a burning bush,

in an Angel's song, in a newborn child.

Our God is the One who cannot be found locked in the church,

not even in the sanctuary.

Our God will be where God will be

with no constraints, no predictability.

Our God lives where our God lives, and destruction has no power

and even death cannot stop the living.

Our God will be born where God will be born,

but there is no place to look for the one who comes to us.

When God is ready God will come

even to a godforsaken place like a stable in Bethlehem.

Watch… for you know not when God comes. Watch,

that you might be found whenever…wherever…God comes.

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