Saturday, January 4, 2014

How wise are you?

Epiphany of Our Lord
Isaiah 60:1–6; Ephesians 3:1–12; Matthew 2:1–12

How wise do you think you are? Not how smart, not how many educational degrees and certificates you have earned, or how many books you have read, but how wise are you?
Wisdom is one of the gifts we pray for at baptism and confirmation. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We all have it, in different proportions, but we don’t always use much of it.
On the night that Jesus was born, the shepherds were wise enough to leave their sheep and go to see the baby. They worshiped him, and left praising God for this gift.
Meanwhile, the magi were following a star. The magi were a group of scholars, astrologers from a distant land, probably either Ethiopia in East Africa, or from Persia, which is modern day Iran. They believed that special stars pointed to special events, often the birth of a king. It was only right that they should go to see the one the star pointed to.
Once they got to Israel, the magi stopped at the royal palace, believing that the baby would be there. However, he wasn’t there, and the king had no knowledge of such a birth.
We would have thought the priests and leaders would know from their deep knowledge of scripture about the birth of the messiah. They did know the passage that referred to him, they knew he would be born in Bethlehem, but they were not wise enough to think it was possible. They were not even wise enough to go with the magi to check out the child.
The magi did go to Bethlehem, where they worshiped the child. The Greek word is proskuneo – which means they prostrated themselves before him, lying flat on the floor before the baby Jesus. This action literally places themselves lower than the baby king, a true honor.
Think about the movie The King and I, where Yul Brynner as the king forces Deborah Kerr as Anna to keep her body lower than his. It’s a game, yet it still makes her understand that he sees himself as more powerful than she is.
The magi offered Jesus gifts, typical gifts for royalty of the time, gifts which have additional symbolic meaning. Gold has an obvious financial use – it helped Jesus and his family travel to Egypt for safety, avoiding Herod’s fear and fury, and the slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem.
Frankincense and myrrh are fragrant oils, expensive, and often used for anointing the dead. They could be saved for a future use or sold, also to provide funds for the family as they sought refuge in Egypt.  
The magi were wise to listen to the warning of the angels, advising them to not return to Herod. They returned to their homes, to continue watching the stars for another new king to honor.
And Joseph and Mary were wise enough to heed the message of the angels to leave town before Herod’s violent plan was carried out. They stayed in Egypt until Herod died, when they returned to Nazareth in Galilee.
… God’s wisdom comes to us through the words and actions of others. Later this month we celebrate the ministry and activity of Martin Luther King. We remember his non-violent resistance, which drew attention to the injustice of racism. We remember especially the words of his “I have a dream” speech, which envisioned a world in which all people are equal, in which all have enough.
A quote from Maya Angelou reminds us to put our priorities in proper order. “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same as ‘making a life.’”
The Dalai Lama said, if you are struggling in your life to overcome a painful past or a prejudice, “Keep working on it.”
A website article took quotes from Pope Francis and turned them into New Year’s resolutions, which include: don’t gossip, don’t judge others, make the humbler choice, and be happy. He also recommends making it a habit to ask the Lord.
… Wisdom for us is often listening to the little voice which tells us to avoid certain activities, and encourages us to participate in other activities. Wisdom tells us to do our homework and turn it in; wisdom tells us to not drink or drug and drive; wisdom tells us to pay attention to what we eat for the sake of our health; wisdom tells us to use a cane when we need it for balance. We don’t always do what wisdom tells us to do, but we still get the message.
God’s wisdom comes to us through the whispers of the Holy Spirit. God’s wisdom tells us to read the Bible daily, worship regularly, give our tithes and offerings to God, and share the good news of Jesus with others. Wisdom instructs us to reach out to others with God’s love in many ways: with food, household items, clothing, education, cash gifts where appropriate, Christmas gifts, and so forth.
… Hope’s annual congregational meeting occurs at the end of January. As we look ahead as a group to that date, it seems wise to take a little time to reflect on our mission statement, To know Christ and to make him known! While it is tempting to think that once we have been confirmed we know all there is to know about Jesus, in truth we never know all there is to know about him.
Wisdom teaches us that we should always remain open to new understandings about God, and the best way to do that is to study Scripture with an open mind and heart. As we read scripture, we can look for words or ideas we never noticed before. We can listen to the thoughts and beliefs of others, and never believe that our own beliefs are the last word in who God is or what God wants for us.
The more we open our hearts and minds to what God wants us to know, the more we are able to make God known to others. Lutheran essentials about God are pretty simple: Jesus lived, died and was raised to prove the extent of God’s love for us. The commandments help us know what we have done or not done in our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. God’s grace assures us of God’s love in spite of what we have done or not done. So, what we know about God is that God loves and forgives us in spite of our failures to love and forgive others. We have confidence in knowing that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
Claiming God’s grace is wise; sharing it with others is also wise. This week, think about times when have you experienced God’s grace. Look for an opportunity to tell someone you know the story. Let’s put our mission statement into action: Let’s know Christ and make him known to someone else.

Please pray with me. Gracious God, you make us wise when we listen to you. Encourage us through your Holy Spirit to heed what we hear you say. Help us know you better so we can share your love and grace with others. Amen