I’ve been wrestling with an Epiphany sermon for the latter part of the week, with a book review in the interstices, and of course classes started at Seabury. I’ll post the sermon in the extended area after I preach it at St Luke’s (already gave it a test drive at Seabury, and it’ll benefit from some burnishing).
That reminds me, the mp3 of the Advent sermon from St. Luke’s is online here, now.
A couple of days ago, Frank sent a pointed open memo to the administrators of the Women’s Media Center. He observed that “ the only place for news on women, links to women columnists, bloggers, media organizations and more” (according to their self-description) was overlooking some of our long-standing neighbors. Frank nominated the best-known, longest-standing friends of ours already, and some obvious omissions among those whom I don’t know so well. They might also think of adding the RevGalBlogPals blog, and Dorothea, Krista, Pascale, Liz, and Naomi (when she has time to blog).
Tripp tagged me for one of those survey thingies in which I resist participating, so I’ll give a cursory answer:
Appetizer: Have you ever seen a ghost or an angel?
I don’t know, but I would expect so.
Soup: What is your favorite board game?
Hmmm. My family had a Shakespeare game I used to play solo a lot, but for social play I suppose Monopoly prevails. Someday I may play Diplomacy again. . . .
Salad: What was the last movie you saw that made you cry?
I don’t remember, but it’s sure to be recent. I’m an old push-over for weeping at movies. Oddly, I didn’t cry at King Kong.
Main Course: What would you do if you had 3 months off from your job?
Work on the books I need to be writing.
Dessert: What kind of shoes are you wearing today?
Black church shoes.
There’s something else I’m thinking about, but I don’t remember what it was. Oh, wait, now I remember: Micah pointed me to Jeff’s observations on the new TV series, Daniel, and to Sherry Turkle’s observations on “authenticity.”
Oh, here’s the sermon:
Isa 60:1-6, 9/Ps 72/Eph 3:1-12/Matt 2:1-12
The Epiphany, January 6, 2006
In the name of God Almighty, the Holy Trinity on high — Amen.
Some of us cannot bear to be late, ever, to any event. Some of us will leave a half hour sooner than necessary, in order to be certain to arrive in plenty of time. Some of us develop nervous tremors if we fall even the slightest bit behind schedule. Some of us never get there late.
And then there were the magi.
Innumerable Christmas pageants to the contrary notwithstanding, Matthew’s Gospel acknowledges that the magi got to Bethlehem after Jesus had already been born. Indeed, it seems they didn’t even get to Jerusalem till after the nativity. Though Scripture gives us no indication of how long it took these travelers to make their way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the traditional interval of twelve days makes a decent guess; even with the miraculous first-century equivalent of a Global Positioning Satellite guidance gadget, checking house by house for a radiant baby takes time. By the time Gentiles got on the scene, baby Jesus was old news to his neighbors in Judea.
Our Gentile tardiness doesn’t involve only one particular incident, only one wrong turn on the way to Bethlehem. What role do Gentiles play in Joseph’s slavery in Egypt? We were the oppressors, the enslavers. Where were the Gentiles when Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai? How many Gentiles rushed to the defense of Israel when the Assyrians threatened, when the Rabshakeh besieged Jerusalem? You can find sympathetic Gentiles throughout Israel’s story – Ruth, Bathsheba, Ebed-melech – but we’re strictly bit players in the drama of salvation history. When it comes to the promises, the blessings, the covenants, Gentiles arrive late.
Coming to the gospel late doesn’t make Gentiles second-rate children of God. Matthew teaches clearly that the workers who arrive at evening receive the same blessing as those who’ve been out in the sun all day. Paul reminds his congregations time after time that in Christ, God makes no distinction of status between Israel and the Gentiles, between men and women. The Letter to the Ephesians assures us that we have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Jesus Christ, through the gospel.
Our Gentile problem arises not from our belatedness, but from our obnoxious propensity for showing up after the party has already begun, and plopping ourselves down in the seat reserved for the guests of honor. Gentiles have for centuries presumed that because God has mysteriously honored us with gifts that enlist us among the enumerated heirs of the covenant, we must therefore be the real reason God jump-started this whole scene in the first place. Unable to hear the message that being least in the kingdom of heaven is plenty good enough for anyone, Gentiles proudly cut themselves off from the tree whose roots give us spiritual life. We tend to congratulate ourselves for being inclusive, and to overlook the fact that we’re the ones crashing somebody else’s feast. We didn’t draw up the guest list. At the Feast of the Epiphany, though, we arrive late at the banquet and God includes us by grace, God reveals that our late arrival has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning.
God planned to welcome us from the beginning as a sign and vehicle of the grace that uniquely expresses God’s way with us Gentiles. For grace to remain grace, though, we need to receive it gracefully. We need all the more to learn patience and humility, generosity, gentleness and forbearance – for those qualities of God come to expression in God’s accepting us, and in practicing those qualities we in turn show the world what God’s like. That rules out the presumption by which we start remaking the gospel to suit ourselves, writing off the people whom God chose millennia before we latecomers showed up at the side of Jesus’ cradle.
It’s the thirteenth day since Judea saw the birth of the Anointed One. The shepherds have gone back to their fields, the angels are catching a well-deserved nap, the curious neighbors have resumed their winter work, but we Gentiles have only just arrived. “Don’t worry,” says God; “Late is good enough. Thanks for the gifts.”