Followers of the Way Worship Series
Epiphany Sunday: January 3, 2021 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Isaiah 60:1-6 & Matthew 2:1-12
The Give-Away: A Christmas Story in the Native American Tradition by Ray Buckley
“They do not know who they are…” “They do not know who they are…” That is the summary of the heartbreaking verdict shared by the animal council in our children’s time story today, a summary offered by a gathering of forest and field animals, the oldest and wisest of their kind. Deer mouse offers the summary first, “They do not know who they are.” Bear repeats it and adds, “They have lost their names.” The list of concerns and descriptions from the animal council is stunningly accurate and should cause all of us to pause for some deep introspection.
Crane begins, “They have lost their way…”
“There is no pattern to their journey…”
Deer mouse adds, “They have lost their purpose…”
Tuhtahnkah, the bull-buffalo laments, “They take more than they need and give nothing back.
“They do not give-away!”
“They do not see long distance.”
“They keep more than they can eat while some are hungry.”
“They no longer know that they are connected.”
Fox adds a heart wrenching statement, “They do not know that they are beautiful.”
“They hide their spirits.”
“They think power is what they can hold onto…
This is mine!
They build lodges too large to appear big.”
“They make others small so they will look big.”
“They do not know who they are…They…we have lost our names.”
This sobering list is a mirror to hold before the ancient Israelites from our Isaiah reading today. It certainly reflects King Herod and too much of Jerusalem and Judah in our Matthew reading. This list has been a repeated commentary on humanity across the ages. Humanity needs a new route, a new way.
The Israelites Isaiah speaks to in chapter 60 have been in exile in Babylon for generations. You see, the people had forgotten who they were. They forgot their pattern and purpose gifted to them by God. Some took more than they needed and left so many hungry. The leaders trusted in their own power and might and turned away from God, their Creator and Great Mystery. They desire to appear big, ironically, left them small and vulnerable and exposed. The mighty empire of Babylon swept in and carried them away after slaughtering so many. Now, in our reading today, descendants of those carried away have returned to Jerusalem…and found the holy city in ruins. Times are extremely hard, a struggle to get through each day. And yet, those old broken patterns are returning and the people seeking to make a living in Jerusalem are divided. Returnees from Babylon and fighting against the remnant that had been left behind in the ruins. Who will show the Israelites another way?
The same behaviors are true generations later in the time of King Herod, the time of the Roman occupation. Rome has set up Herod to oversee Judah and its capital, Jerusalem. However, Herod is not of the line of King David and doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about scripture and tradition. Herod is a tyrant. He is violent and paranoid, killing anyone who seems to threaten his power, including his own family. Herod’s poison has seeped out and infected many in the city and territory. He and other elite work to make others small so they may appear big. They think power is whatever they can hold onto, and they certainly do NOT give-away! Won’t someone come to show them another way?
In the children’s time story, Grandmother Turtle convinces the others of the animal council that they need to give-away of themselves, make significant sacrifices, in order to help the two-leggeds to see another way. They hope their giving will show a new patter for living, a renewed purpose, the one for which they were created. The animal council hopes if they give-away the most costly portion of themselves, they can guide humans to reclaiming who they are. They can demonstrate another way.
However, it is not creation or her creatures who ultimately can outline pattern and purpose for humanity. It is the Creator, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Great Mystery of life, who gives everything away in order to not only illuminate the path, but the embody the way and model how to live this way. The Creator proclaims in the story;
“I must give-away my protection and be vulnerable to them.”
“I must choose to become small so that they can choose to know me Large!”
“I must give-away my name so that they can know their names.”
Emmanuel! This is what Matthew has already proclaimed in chapter 1 of the gospel. Emmanuel! God-with-us!
Matthew displays a little humor in chapter two as, irony of ironies, a caravan of astrologers from easter pagan lands recognize God-with-us now arrived before the residents of Jerusalem, and journey across great distances and face danger in order to lay, not only precious gifts before Jesus, but to bow themselves in worship before Emmanuel. All the while the Roman puppet ‘king of the Jews,’ Herod, fumes and the biblical experts remain comfortably behind their palace walls. These Magi, priest-scientists from foreign lands give-away time, energy, resources and their very selves while Herod plots a massacre. The end of our reading today launches the rest of Matthew’s gospel. Warned against Herod’s patterns and purpose, the Magi leave the presence of the Christ, Emmanuel, traveling into the world by another way. “Route,” the popular translation for the passage, is translating the Greek word, “hodos.” In most of the New Testament, however, “hodos” is translated as ‘the way.” This is most commonly speaking of those who have chosen to follow the way modeled by Jesus, ‘followers of the way.’ These magi have encountered the Creator, the Great Mystery, in the small and vulnerable baby in Mary’s arms. They heard a whisper of who they are; child of God, precious, beloved, Imago Dei—God’s image. They are beginning to know their names. They leave by another way; ancient and new!
Oh Arise, dear ones! Shine! Your Light—Creator, Great Mystery—is come! I know we often feel covered in darkness, like a great cloud weighs down upon us. This heaviness caused by broken patterns and loss of purpose and halted journeys. Too often we’ve forgotten how beautiful we are! Yet even now, God rises and God’s glory pierces the cloud! Lift your eyes! Behold! The way, ancient and new, is laid before us. Look at it and be radiant! Let your heart thrill and rejoice! God is with us, leading the way, embodying the way!
Let us reclaim who we are by remembering whose we are: children of the Creator, the Great Mystery—precious and beautiful and beloved. We HAVE found our way, our purpose, the pattern for our journey! We shall be givers and not takers. We will share with those who hunger and not keep more than we need for ourselves. We won’t strive after power and being big. We will be blessed peacemakers, blessed pure of heart, blessedly merciful. We will be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice. We will be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the lamp on the stand (all from Matthew 5). We will enter 2021 as followers of the way, Jesus’ way.
We will NOT be who Tuhtahnkah, the bull-buffalo feared we would be, we WILL be those who GIVE-AWAY, and we will begin right now. As the music flows out to remind us that we ARE connected, let us remember who we are, reclaim our names, commit to living Jesus’ way, and practice giving-away. Let us give.