Year A, B, C, Season of Epiphany
Epiphany of the Lord
January 6 or First Sunday in January
January 6, 2008
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Click here for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this post.
The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
All of us are called upon to make decisions. This can be a decision that is very personal - about how we are to live in harmony with others. And those decisions that appear to be personal also have a wider impact on others. Life style decisions can effect what kind of world we will have. And life style decisions have an impact our political decisions.
The question that is basic to our living together is: What values or beliefs will we base our decisions on? We hear the term core values as the rationale for our actions and our beliefs. Yet, in our pluralistic world the question of how we arrive at core values is very much under question. And there are questions about whether our core values are based on some universal principle - that what we believe is more than our relative culture perspective.
I like to watch Steve Colbert because his program is a satire of commentators that have unexamined yet passionate beliefs about the world. He invented the word truthiness to show how some people’s understanding of truth is just an unexamined bias. Truthiness is belief that overcomes truth and thus a person can impose his will on others because of the claim they have the truth and nothing but the truth, even if it has not been tested and is really one of self interest. His point is many commentators are really projecting a world view that is unexamined and dangerous to well-being.
Dan Gardener in the Citizen, the other day, wrote an article on this very issue. In it he quoted Francis Bacon about how our preconceived notions often blind us. We hold onto ideas that actually interpret what we see about the world and those ideas are hard to change. In fact, we seek out information that reinforces our world view. Now this is why I read Gardener, for he pushes me and offers an alternative vision of what is true about reality. There are times when my response is, what he is saying is nonsense. Other times my position is made stronger by addressing what I consider to be his mistakes in his foundational views.
One of the issues for faith is to make it lively and not rote. Whitehead said:
“the best of all possible worlds is not the one that simply reproduces the eternal but is the one where creativity and novelty are present.”
The task of faith is to grow so it provides us with the foundation to address the issues we experience in our personal life as well as the issues society presents. We are to grow in wisdom. We are to grow in understanding. This is so we can confront those ideas that create ill will.
Ideas matter for they are foundational to our core values. And not all ideas are equally good. We have seen this in politics and religion gone bad. Those views which create justification for acts of violence and prejudice. We have seen this in fascism, in racism, and in condemning people who have different life styles. This means we must test our foundational beliefs to see if they are worthy of our loyalty.
When we read closely this story of the wise men we see that Matthew is telling a story about this difficulty of raising questions with the taken for granted views and the demand of joy to change one’s mind. It is in “alerted in a dream not return to Herod, they journeyed back to their own country by a different route.”
Herod is symbolic of all empire aspirations and collaboration with the status quo. His agenda is self protection, control of all information so he can maintain his role as proxy ruler. He is threatened because he knows that his way of ruling is one of domination and evil. This is made clear in his desire to kill all the first born, which the reader knows is a reference back to the Pharaoh. The wise men encounter liberation and a new way of understanding power, in this birth. For it is a story of the power of God being born in life - this is the power of persuasion and the desire for the flourishing of humankind. God shares with us a vulnerability and trusts that love will be the motivation when it is encountered. God offers another dream of how reality is actually organized - that we live in a interdependent world where change can come from those who seek flourishing.
Each of us face moments in our life where we find the old ideas no longer work. One of the times this happened to me as a teenager. I ran into T.S. Eliot’s poem, "The Magi." It gave me courage to ask new questions and be open to new religious understandings.
Eliot captures this issue in these lines:
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
....There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
A hard time we had of it. ...
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
This is the story of discovery of Joy that motivates life. When we encounter the incarnation of God in our daily experience it does cause us to pause and rethink what is crucial for our life together. The encounter with light changes all our perceptions and having been changed we find a new route to flourishing.
The Light allows us to ask questions about taken for granted views and push us into critical thinking, even asking about our sacred and deeply held beliefs about the nature of reality and how to change the world for the better.
One the outcomes is the ability to see even those who think differently from us having some wisdom in their view. This is not to buy whole heartily the world view that supports them, but to see that they could offer a helpful addition to our world view.
An example of expanding our wisdom was a discussion on wondercafe.ca. A woman from a small community shared a problem. It was the custom to give a shower to all brides - everyone was given one and it was often in the church. A member of the congregation had moved away and was being married there. Normally a shower would be held. However, she was a lesbian. What to do? A group in the congregation said if we have done it for all in the past why stop? There may be some criticism but she was confirmed here. They went ahead and the community responding positively. A different route was taken and it began to change a community.
In my experience with Buddhism my faith has been deepened and expanded. By this encounter with a different religious view my faith has grown and made me more of a Christian. Thus to engage in other ideas is not to leave one’s home, but it is to fix the problems we may have built in. The old understandings give way to new ways of being the light of the world. The continuous coming of the aim of God is calling us into new wisdom and new actions that lead to the flourishing of all. Like the wise men, we have encountered the light of God and now we take a new route to the healing of our common world.