Reflection for February 2, 2014

Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12 

     Someone once said, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another person said that the only thing that stays the same is that things are always changing.

     And probably both of those things are true. We live in a time of accelerated change. Many of us in this room have experienced so much change it is hard for us to remember what life was like.  And yet at the same time, through all of those changes, there have been some things that have remained the same.  And those things give us a sense of stability. But too much stability is not good for us either. This is Ground Hog Day. The great comic film for the day has as its theme the tiredness we feel as we spend over and over again the same winter day with no sense of relief.

    The readings today also speak to what is and what is changing. The readings   are from Micah, an ancient Hebrew prophet, Matthew, the gospel we are reading for this year, and once again another late winter reading from I Corinthians.

    In the passage from Corinthians, Paul writes about the folly of our minds as we go through life. We consider something as wise only to later on discover as time changes that it was pretty foolish. We put a lot of stock in something but as things evolved we begin to sense it was not all that wise after all. Almost every field of human endeavor from science to theology, from economics to politics, from relationships to values, all of that has been guided by wisdoms that have exhausted their usefulness and run into their limitations as we find ourselves over and over again living in a different world. Wisdom gradually becomes tarnished and then discarded in the face of new realities. And conversely what was once seen as foolish, something we may have thought outlandish is now the cornerstone for living.  

     As things swirl for Paul in a first century that was also a time of great change, he points to something that may seem strangely foolish but in the end is important. He points to Jesus, whose humiliating death reveals the suffering of a God of love in our broken world.  In Paul’s world, gods were seen as powerful, almighty forces that needed to be appeased and whose demands needed to be satisfied. Paul, however, stands that wisdom on its head. In the swirling first century, he offers a Jesus humiliated on a cross, revealing the depth of God’s love for a broken world.  What a strange new idea. What a change.

    Change is swirling in the time of Micah the prophet. The wisdom of the day is that the God of Israel is worshipped in a temple with the sacrifice of animals to atone for sin. The correct worship of God brought the favor of God. And a great religion had been built around this central wisdom.  But the wisdom of the wise becomes foolishness in the hands of the poet Micah.

     For Micah points to something else about God. Does God really care about how many bulls are sacrificed in a temple? Is that really a good thing? And if it is what God is all about, then maybe we should sacrifice humans, too? What would God really want? The blood animals or children? No, it’s not that, Micah says. Then Micah writes a few lines that are almost three thousand years old, but somehow have never changed, lines around which even we, in our own swirling times, can build our lives:

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

If you want to boil everything down to the basics, Micah is your poet. What is good?Justice.  Compassion.  Humility.  Walking with God.  These speak of a goodness that has not changed. A goodness that draws close to God. And according to Paul, this God has taken his own advice. For Paul’s God is a god of justice, a god of compassion, and a god who walks in humility with us, even suffering as we suffer for the sake of love.

     And I just love the grammar of Micah’s poem. It’s phrased as a question. How we do justice, compassion, humility and walking with God is not predetermined by the poet. We are asked to do that in a question that requires each of us to find our own answer.

     In their swirling centuries, Micah and Paul challenge the wisdoms of the day, and as things change through the centuries, we have their stabilizing words to help us navigate our own changing seas.

     In the beatitudes, the teaching Rabbi Jesus does something similar. He takes the conventional wisdom of the good life, and turns it on its head. The beatitudes also make the wise foolish and the foolish wise.
     For those who are humble in spirit are walking with God, and the slings and arrows of others do not matter.
     For those who mourn, find in their deep loss a hope that you don’t really know until you have suffered the loss of the one you love.
     For those who sit quietly in the corner are generally listening carefully and will in the end have the insight we all need to make it through. Leadership is really a quiet thing.    
For those who seek God will find God. It may come to you in surprising ways, but if you look for God, God will be there. And if you are not looking for God, you won’t find God anywhere.
     For those who offer justice and mercy, will find themselves receiving it sometime down the road.
     For those who work for peace, work for the salvation of the whole world, as they lead us beyond the destructive cycles of violence that consume us.
      For those who are bullied will someday lead all of us to understand how important it is to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

     The wisdom of this world becomes folly in the hands of this Rabbi Jesus, and those who suffer in the end will be precisely the ones who lead us through suffering into new hope. And that is why we still to this day, in spite of all the changes in our world, look to the wisdom in the folly of such teachers as Jesus, and Paul, and Micah with their new ideas.

     And those ideas remind us if you are hurting, there will come a time when God will use you to accomplish some wisdom not yet seen. And in the meantime, do justice, show compassion, and walk humbly with God. 

Reflection for January 26, 2014

     I am not all that sure that the readings today fit together all that well. The reading from Isaiah is here because the third reading from Matthew quotes it. Matthew likes to press into service pieces of the Hebrew tradition to say that Jesus “fulfills” the scripture. For the poet Isaiah, however, this passage was probably a political poem, indicating that in a time of national despair, a new wind of hope was blowing. It may have been an inaugural poem read at the crowning of a new king. Isaiah of Jerusalem probably did not have Jesus in mind when these words were written. The light to the nations was probably the emerging nation of Judah.

 

     But Matthew’s use of the Hebrew tradition to understand Jesus is helpful to us sometimes. Humans use our past to interpret our present. We often find our past is what shapes and molds what is happening to us now and how we understand things. In this sense Jesus is grounded in this tradition which calls all humans to hope when times are dark, which calls people to joy in depths of sorrow, and which calls for lifting up that which has been forgotten or forsaken.

 

    The second reading continues our reading from last week from I Corinthians. This is one of Paul’s letters to a church he helped found, one of the oldest pieces of writing in the New Testament. It’s clear from the passage today that Christians from the very beginning had controversies and arguments. Essentially, Paul calls to us through the centuries to work it out and get over our disagreements so that together we can be and build the church we need.

 

     But for me the most interesting thing about these readings is the fishing industry in the third lesson. Much research and work has been done recently on the sociology of the first century Galilean fishing industry. And that work shifts how we might view this passage.

 

     The Sea of Galilee was renowned for its fish, just as some areas are known for orchards or dairy or corn or hog production. The Sea of Galilee was renowned for its fish. There were 18 different species found in the lake. The most important were probably Sardines.

 

     Massive quantities of Sardines were fished. But larger fish also were found in the lake. Net fishing was especially successful because at different times of the year fish would swarm in certain parts of the lake. With the swarming, fishing could be done with nets and also with bare hands or wicker baskets, or harpoons.

 

      The dragnet is the oldest type of net. The netting was shaped like a long wall 300 feet long and 12 feet high. The bottom of the net had weights with sinkers, and the top rope had cork floats. The net was folded. A team of up to 16 men held the strong rope attached to the dragnet. Then the boat sailed out with another team until the net was fully stretched and then circled around and back to shore. Here the second team held the ropes. Both teams then dragged the net and its contents back to the shore. The fish were then handed over to the authorities to be sorted. Then the operation performed again, as many as eight times in one day.

 

     Sometimes a circular cast net circular, about 20 feet in diameter with weights of lead attached to the border, was used. One person usually flung the net in a round circle from the shore but it is also done from boats. It required great skill since it had to open completely when it landed on the water trapping the fish underneath it. The weights come together as the nets sink and encircle the fish.

 

     The third net was a trammel net, which was actually composed of three nets, two large mesh walls about five feet high with a finer net in between. The boat went out into deep waters usually at night. One end of the net was let down into the sea, then the boat made a circle creating a tub in the water. The net gathered in every kind of fish, as they were unable to escape through the three layers of netting.

 

     When the fish were brought to shore, they had to be extricated from the nets and this took time and skill. The nets were spread out on the rocks to dry and be mended.

 

     All of these methods indicate that fishing was a complicated business and involved organizing labor and capital so that the work could be done. So the fishermen that Jesus called were probably more like business people than we might think.

 

     And the business side of fishing in Galilee was also complex. Rules for fishing were stringent, set by the empire and local authorities. The extent of regulation was much higher than it is today. When the haul was brought ashore, the fish first had to be sorted. Counting was necessary for tax purposes and in order to ensure that each party received his due.

 

     Much of the catch was taken to Magdala for salting or preservation where the fish were dried and exported to various parts of the Roman Empire. Magdala in Greek is Tarichaea, which means literally dried fish. The fish would be packed in baskets for export and the fishermen would take it on wagons pulled by mules to shops in Jerusalem, or to a seaport where they would be loaded on ships and taken to Rome. Dried fish from Galilee was considered a delicacy. We know, too, that fish from Galilee were also popular in Damascus.

 

      Fishing in Galilee was a thriving industry. Fish was the main source of protein, and the market for fish extensive. The population of Palestine at the time of Jesus was about 500,000. The ordinary masses depended on fish along with bread as a staple food. Satisfying the appetites of the upper classes at home and abroad with dried fish was a profitable business.

 

     Bethsaida, frequently mentioned in the story of Jesus, may have been a factory community that developed the nets and equipment needed for the industry. Peter, Andrew, James, John and Philip came from Bethsaida. At Bethsaida the government sold fishing rights to wealthy individuals with the means of underwriting the business. They then sublet the rights to fishermen. The fishers paid a hefty tax to the investors and little love was lost between them.

 

     The fishers oversaw all aspects of the business. They furnished the boats and equipment. They paid their help and paid the quota to the tax collector. They attended to the business of sale, were accountable for the preserving of the fish and shipment, and did their own bargaining. These business people hired sailors and laborers to do the work, care for the boats, mend the nets, sort and count fish. They operated in legal partnership with others, and may have belonged to guilds much like trade unions.

 

     Zebedee, the father of James and John, owned his boats and hired laborers. They may have had a sizeable business, which would have required travel. Peter and Andrew were partners with them.

 

     It is possible that Jesus went to Jerusalem and to other places with a delegation of fishermen. The places Jesus traveled were towns where fishermen took their fish. It may be the case that the fishers in the gospel took Jesus along on their business trips rather than following him as we often think.  In Mark, Jesus makes a journey to Tyre for no particular reason. The fishing business would have taken the fishermen there. Jesus may have gone there with his friends to export their fish.

 

     James and John traveled frequently to Jerusalem where fish was required for the pilgrim feasts. It has been suggested that they supplied fish for the high priestly family. Was it on these trips that Jesus went to Jerusalem? In John’s Gospel we find him there for many feasts, which would have been the times when fishermen went with their fish.

 

     Jesus entrusted fishermen from Bethsaida with the spreading of his message. They were the ones he commissioned to be fishers of people. He may have done this for practical reasons. These were the best business people of the day. They were multilingual. Their native tongue was Aramaic. They would also have known Hebrew. Knowledge of Greek would have been essential for people like Peter and his co-workers who were involved in the fishing industry. The gospels themselves suggest that they were able to carry on conversations with Greek speakers: the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:26), people in the Decapolis where the curing of the deaf man took place (Mk 7:31), and the incident of Philip and Andrew conversing with the Greeks (Jn 12:20-23). They may also have had a smattering of Latin. Peter converses with the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:25).

 

     Fishers had to develop attributes that others may not have. They had to be skilled at their trade, knowing the when, where and why of fishing, but they also had to be patient, not easily discouraged, strong, hard-working and community focused. As business people they had to be judges of character, savvy about the market, conscientious about their civic and religious responsibility. They had to have respect for the law and learn to operate within its limitations, and they probably felt the burden of high taxation and would have wanted an end to the layers of people who needed to be paid or a reduction in the oppressive regulation they faced.

 

     So the complexity and business side of fishing point to a particular kind of person who became connected to Jesus. These are highly sophisticated people, able to navigate complicated political systems, different cultures, and economic markets, involving several different languages. Working with those in the fishing industry would have been a shrewd thing for Jesus to do. It makes sense.

 

     Today, we stand in the shadows of this fishing industry. The church still fishes for people. It seems like a simple thing, but sometimes it still gets complicated and requires as much sophistication as ever. As we recall our 158th anniversary as a congregation, we know how life together sometimes requires a great deal of insight and wisdom.  Emergency assistance to those in need, work in the shelters, learning ministries, worship, hospitality to all, caring for those in need among us, all require our best business practices and careful thought as we continue to be as open as we can to all the fish in the lake. Today we recall not only the anniversary of our own fishing business, but our openness to all as we lift up this 4th Sunday in January as national Reconciling in Christ Sunday.

 

     For the fishing still needs to be done. There are still arguments among Christian that call for resolution. We have a destiny to fill. And we still are called to offer hope where there is darkness, lifting up those who are forgotten. 

 

Reflection for January 19, 2014

Isaiah 49:1-7, I Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

     Epiphany means to see. In Epiphany, the readings draw our attention to seeing something or insight. In this third reading from John today, we sense how the early church was beginning to see Jesus. The story speaks of Jesus, John the Baptist, and the disciples. All of these characters in the story see things about Jesus. They describe their perception of Jesus by giving him titles. The people in the story see Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, a Rabbi, and a Messiah or Anointed One. Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Anointed Messiah: these are four ancient ways to see Jesus in the early church. 

     Lamb of God. At the close of the first century and the dawn of the second, the ancient system of sacrifice to appease the gods fades away and dies. The ancient mind was no longer finding God in sacrificial temples, but in the hearts of believers.  In this time of transition, early Christians described Jesus as the final sacrifice, the one who ends sacrifice once and for all. God is the one who provides the sacrificial lamb. The Lamb of God brings final reconciliation between God and humanity.  Sacrifice is no longer needed. As the sacrificial system dies in the early second century, Jesus is seen as one who accomplishes the reconciliation of humans with God.  

     Son of God. It was common in the first century to ascribe divinity to people.  Rulers capitalized on this tendency by having themselves declared to be gods. Son of God is a phrase that indicates the early Christians saw Jesus as deeply grounded in the divine, a window into the divine, and an expression of the deeply sacred present in the world.  The term Son of God emphasizes Jesus’ connection with the sacred.

     Rabbi. A Rabbi was one who taught the Torah or law of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means one who teaches or wise one. The title applied to Jesus means that early Christians saw Jesus as one who taught and imparted teachings. 

     Anointed Messiah. The Messiah was one who was to come to liberate the people from foreign powers, or one who delivers or saves.  Christians used the Jewish concept of the Messiah to describe Jesus as one who does something, accomplishes something, liberates, redeems or frees, changing things for the better. 

     Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Anointed Messiah: these are the four visions or insights used by the Christians of the John community to help people see Jesus in the reading this morning.  

     If however, we were to describe Jesus in our own time, we probably would not use these phrases. We might talk about Jesus in different ways. But the first century intent of these titles would be helpful to us.

     First, in our own century we would probably want to say that Jesus is one who teaches. We would probably start with the wisdom of the teachings of Jesus. We would say his teachings are important to us as we attempt to live our lives. We would see Jesus as a teacher. 

     But I think we also would say that Jesus is somehow deeply connected to the spirit or the divine. This teacher would be one who connects us to the sacred, we might say. We might not even think of Son of God to describe Jesus, but we would want to somehow see Jesus as grounded in the divinely sacred.

     But we would also say that this teacher, who is deeply grounded in the divine, also gives us insight that helps us get through this life and then next. We would not only speak of a Jesus who was a deeply spiritual teacher, but we would also say that following the teachings and example of Jesus shows us how love transforms our lives, delivering us from all the pettiness and brokenness that seems to consume us. We would say that following the teachings of Jesus does something to us, accomplishes something, liberates, redeems or frees, changing our lives and the lives of others for the better. In this way Jesus saves or delivers us, even if we don’t use the phrase Anointed Messiah in our own time. And we would say that this deliverance is important in our lives here and now and also through death.

     Finally this spiritual teacher, whose teachings and example of loving compassion give us what we need to move beyond our problems; this same teacher also brings reconciliation with God and with others. Reconciliation and forgiveness are essential to our happiness as we lead our often broken lives. 

      So as we describe how we see Jesus today, our words about Jesus would be different perhaps, but we would still see Jesus as a teacher grounded in the divinely spiritual, whose teachings assist us in getting through life, and who in the end helps us find the reconciliation we need with God, others, and our own loose ends. 

     We are still grounded in this vision of Jesus as we work together with others to accomplish God’s compassionate love in our own time and place. And whenever we do that, no matter what our vision of Jesus, we are disciples following the one who long ago inspired those around him to look upward and around at what needs to be done to make this corner of the world a better place.

     Tomorrow our nation honors the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights activist. His vision and work call us to remember that these teachings of Jesus, grounded in the divine, leading us into reconciliation with one another, with all creation and with God, involve not only our personal lives but also the communities, state, and nation in which we live. We are called to be people of compassionate justice and to strive for that peace in the world. The sacred teachings of Jesus, like the insights of Isaiah in the first lesson, call us as a nation and community to stir up the compassionate justice that is still needed to bring opportunity for all. Jesus, grounded in Isaiah, points to the work that still needs to be done.

     And that reading from Paul’s correspondence with the church of Corinth this morning reminds us that since the very beginning of the church, we do not do this work alone. From the beginning the church formed as communities. And from the beginning, these Christian communities began corresponding with each other. In this week of Christian unity, bound with other Christians in our own time and place, we join hands also with those of other faith traditions to accomplish the common good to which we have been called by that one named by John as the sacred teacher who changes things and reconciles us with God and each other.

 

Reflection for Januay 12, 2014

Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17 

     This has been a difficult week for all of us. In fact, a research firm studying the content of posts and tweets on social media has discovered that the Monday after the first of January is the unhappiest day of the entire year. A combination of holiday let down, difficulties in travel, bad weather, the need to get back to work, finally facing those bills and resolutions, as well as the lack of sunshine all make the first Monday after New Years the unhappiest day of all. On top of the usual darkness of mood that is part of this week, we’ve had historic cold which compounds the misery. The cold has caused us to slow down our lives and to limit our schedules. For all of us this week, Monday was not a good day.

    It was a difficult week for me in another way as well. This is my fifth sermon or reflection this week. Monday was the funeral for Calvin Ziegler at Ryan Funeral Home. Tuesday was the funeral for Irv Napstad at Oakwood Prairie Ridge. Thursday was the funeral for Thelma Schwenn. Friday was the communion worship service at Oakwood Prairie Ridge. It was actually a more challenging week for me than Christmas, since funerals always involve a great deal of very quick planning, and each one takes up most of a day. And then when we receive memorials, I generally start writing thank you notes. Further, I think with my father’s death in December, working with death is a bit more difficult these days. Along with the general human misery, the cold, the big Christmas festival and this past week, I think I’m so far behind I don’t know how far behind I am.  

     I’m afraid that some things got put on the back burner. I did not get a grant written for the window replacement. The Connections is late. The 2014 commitment forms are coming out next week. I am behind on the shut-in visits. Usually by mid-January I am into planning for Lent, which is not that far away.  Lent is not something I’ve had a chance to think about. But I did finish a Connections article and was able to write something about these readings today that come out of the experience of my week.

     For these Epiphany readings this morning, like all Epiphany readings, call us to examine what is going on in our lives so that we see things in a new way.

Isaiah, Acts, and Matthew are about something new, a fresh idea, a different vision, direction, approach, or initiative.

     Isaiah speaks about something new. The servant in these poems was not really a person, but a people, a nation. The new purpose of Isaiah’s nation is not self-preservation nor prosperity nor military might nor cultural superiority not anything like that. The purpose of the servant nation of Isaiah is to be an example to other nations and peoples of what justice is and how it is accomplished.  This is a radical new idea in its own time, and it still is. The most fundamental purpose of a nation, the reason for its existence, is to be a beacon of justice and fairness so that all are attracted to it. This is the opposite of the exploitative, expansive, conquest orientated politics of Isaiah’s day.  And in some ways it remains a new vision. We, who follow in Isaiah’s footsteps, are called to be a nation of justice and peace, so much so, that we are not seen as an empire, nor as a super-power, but as a place where people are treated fairly and with compassion. Wow!

     The second reading involves a second Wow Insight. Peter, the leader of the conservative Jewish wing of the early church has an experience that leads him to believe that the church is not only for Jews but also for Gentiles. Jesus is for everybody. God shows no partiality.  The church should be inclusive. What an amazing first century insight. Wow!

     The third reading is the baptism of Jesus in Matthew. Jesus, the king of the universe, wants to be simply baptized as an ordinary person coming to John for spiritual healing and wholeness. Wow! John thinks it should be the other way around, but Jesus needs to be cared for by John, and that’s how it plays out. And then embedded in this most ordinary baptism is the extraordinary: the heavens open, voices are heard, and a mission for life is set. The amazing is embedded in the everyday human experience. Wow!

     A people are to be known for their justice. God has no favorites, but includes everyone.  Jesus is baptized like everybody else. And ordinary life includes amazing insights. What Epiphany revelations. Wow!

     I’m not sure I had insights as deep as are found in these readings, but this week in light of these readings, did deepen my life.

     With so many funerals this week, I wondered about my emotions since my Dad died only a month ago. How would I do? That was my worry. But my wow was this: almost every day this week in the lives of the families of this church and in the words of the funeral liturgy, I saw and heard the comforting grace at the edge of the grave that I too needed to hear. And God gave me a week when I heard that grace over and over, drumming it back into my head and my consciousness. Wow!

     With this week, I wondered how we would do with the shelters and the building. We can close down our church activities in times like this and that is a good thing. But open shelters are so especially important now. Somehow, especially now we needed to keeps this good old building going. For in the eyes of Isaiah, the people who mattered most this week were those in need of shelter, in need of warmth and a place to stay, as the family of Jesus once needed those things.  We seemed to do all right with only one pipe leaking and a few minor heating issues. The most important thing this week, no matter what happened to you and to me was that we were a place where people warmed themselves. Lives were saved here this week. Wow! And Isaiah would expect no less of us.

     And this week I faced the cold weather myself, spending time on the coldest of days in the coldest of places: cemeteries. Like all of us I confronted again, the fragile nature of my own flesh, the limitations of being human, and the importance of just plain surviving sometimes. So much of our lives are preoccupied with other things. We forget how vulnerable we all can be, and how important it is to survive. We just assume that we have the right to go on and on and on.  Somewhere in those sub zero temperatures, I encountered first my own limitations and then the presence of God’s grace reminding me that this too shall pass. It will get warmer. The days will get longer. Spring will come. Wow!

      So take a look at these lessons and your own week. What insights do you have about the divine in the ordinary, or justice for ordinary people, or including everybody? What insight has this epiphany week given you? What is God calling you to do as we all rise up out of these frozen waters we call Wisconsin winter and actually begin to think about Lent together?

Reflection for January 5 on Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12  

     It’s hard for us to imagine, with our emphasis on Christmas, but for many centuries, in fact most of the Christian era, Epiphany on January 6, was more important than Christmas. Epiphany is the older of the two festivals, and may have originally been a Christian adaptation of winter solstice celebrations which lift up the growing light during the dark days of winter. Epiphany has always been a festival of light: the light of the stars, the light of our candles, and the light by which we see. Epiphany means “to see.” And Epiphany was the festival by which the new and growing light allows us to see something new and fresh. Sometimes we use the word “epiphany” in our conversation. If we say someone had an epiphany, we are saying that they have a new insight or suddenly see things differently, or new light dawns on them.

     And so Epiphany comes to us again in our winter solstice at the dawn of a new year. In the growing light, we sense something may be renewing just as our most ancient ancestors did. There is a growing light. And the question for people at the dawn of a new year, in light of the solstice and Christian festival, whether we are modern or ancient, is simply: what new insight is coming to you at this time in your life? What new thing is dawning? What light is growing in your heart? What do you see? What new insight is about to come? What new wisdom shines on your horizon?

     With such an emphasis on seeing new things, having new insights, and finding new wisdom, it is no wonder that the story of the sages from the east traveling to Bethlehem is associated with this festival. The traditional number is three, but from Matthew’s story we do not know the actual number of sages. No matter the number, we do sense how they follow the growing light of a star to find a new wisdom, a new vision and a new hope.

     So this festival with its light and sages calls each one of us to focus not on what we already know, but on what we yet need to see, what we yet need to learn, what we yet need to understand in order to continue to grow as the people of God. It is important especially today at the dawn of growing light and a fresh year to spend some time thinking about our lives, the way of life we have, and to ask ourselves: what new thing need I learn. This is not a day to be comfortably smug about how much we know and the rightness of our belief and convictions. This is a day to be challenged to see something different, and no matter what our age, to change and grow, to follow where a new star leads. Each one of us will have different new insights that we need to embrace. But the festival itself is about growing, deepening, and quickening the presence of God in the growing light. It’s time to have and embrace a new idea in the growing light of the day.

     Now there are three new insights that have been deeply associated with the Christian Epiphany. Three things to keep us open to fresh possibilities and growing light. One is openness to others. The sages in the story in Matthew are Gentiles. Jesus was Jewish and his ministry was first shaped as a mission to the Jewish nation. Quickly, especially with the work of St. Paul, Christian communities first accepted Gentiles and then focused on sharing the good news with everyone, especially Gentiles.  The sages of Epiphany are the reminder that the faith is open to all. Sometimes we forget that the church is not for those already inside the doors but is called to be for those who are outside. Hospitality and inclusivity were new insights in the first century, and they still are. If you are wondering about what new insight you are called to this Epiphany, think about those people who are on the margins of our lives, who are the children of God along with us, and envision how we might be church together. One of the insights we see is openness to others.

     Second, gifts have always been associated with Epiphany. The Christmas gifts we now give were originally epiphany gifts given in honor and memory of the gifts of the sages to the Christ child.  Gift is an important concept and leads us into new insights regarding our own gifts and how they might be used. Too often we focus on our weaknesses and problems. The gift reminds us that each of us has been given special strengths and possibilities: gifts. We are called to see, to focus on, the importance of the gift we have been given and to use it wisely. What is your gift? And how shall you use it?  That too is an insight, something to see this season in the growing light.

     And finally, Epiphany involves “seeing” the birth of Jesus, the real presence of the compassion and love of God in our broken world. As you think about new insights for yourself this season, focus on the love of God, the compassion of God born anew. How might we increase this sense of God’s love and compassion in this season of growing light?

      The birth of compassion, renewed attention to the gift you have been given by God, and openness to all. These are the insights of the season. May their light grow in our hearts as a New Year dawns and the light grows.