January 6, 2013

Rev. David Boyd


There is an email that came across my computer purportedly from one of the justices of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is in response to the Idle No More 1st Nations movement that is raising concern about Bill C-45, the omnibus bill that will become law this year and that changed environmental law and circumvents the Indian Act. 1st Nations people are calling for discussion and dialogue about this bill and wider issues of concern to 1st Nations people; Chief Theresa Spence of Attiwapiskat is on a hunger strike to raise awareness.

The beginning of the email says this, "I have been watching with interest the groundswell movement known as Idle No More and the events going on around the country. Some believe it's a short term response to recent legislation, but, while such may have been a trigger, I think there is much more to it than that. It's about pride. In order for any society to function properly and to its full capacity, it must raise and educate its children so that they can answer what philosophers such as Socrates, and Plato, and our Elders, call 'the great questions of life'. Those questions are: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? Who am I?"1

The whole article is well written and articulate; it speaks of the abuses and legacy of the Residential Schools. But the article is also passionate that the history of this country and continent did not begin in 1492 with Columbus, or with the arrival of the Vikings, or perhaps the Chinese on the West Coast.

What struck me were the four questions at the beginning of this article:

Where do I come from?
Where am I going?
Why am I here?
Who am I?
These are good questions! They define our heart and our identity, and we should ask these questions from time and seek to answer them together, sharing our thoughts and perspectives.

One could argue that Matthew, in writing the story of the visit of the Magi, what we call Epiphany, was actually an attempt to answer these questions about Jesus. Matthew, knowing that many people in his congregation were Jews, tried to explain the story of Jesus' birth within the context of Judaism. That's the answer to the question, "Where do I come from?" As Matthew records the story, he uses images from the prophet Isaiah and even the story of the Jews wandering in the wilderness after escaping slavery in Egypt. After all, Jesus and his family were forced to flee Herod's wrath, and they went to Egypt before making their way eventually to Nazareth.

Matthew answers the question of where Jesus is going by suggesting that he is the Messiah, a new leader of peace and light, not just for the Jews but for the whole world. In fact, one might say that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to confront the powers that be. In this we hear something of why Jesus is here; Jesus is One to bring peace, a new shalom, a new Jubilee of radical reversal and love. And who is Jesus? Jesus, for Matthew and for us, is the Christ. He is the anointed of God, the Beloved who embodies God's love and compassion and who invites us to live into our humanity and thereby discover that we, too, embody God's love and compassion.

Christmas is really an expanded Epiphany. Epiphany literally means to make manifest. Matthew and Luke's stories make manifest the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Promised One who is to bring peace and love. But more than just inviting us to see Jesus as the Messiah, Matthew points back to Isaiah who said, "Rise; shine for your light has come." Matthew invites us to see ourselves in the Epiphany stories, perhaps even to see ourselves as epiphanies of God's light and love.

Walter Brueggemann, in an article he wrote in The Christian Century back in 2001, suggests that the story of Epiphany is the story of two human communities: mighty Jerusalem and its political and religious pretensions AND, lowly Bethlehem with its promise that a new leader will arise from within the town. Matthew's story of Epiphany invites us to order our lives around a baby with no credentials, around the radical gift of love and compassion. Bethlehem and Jerusalem, separated by nine miles, were separated by more than just distance. Bethlehem, in Jesus, was the beginning of a new valuing of the poor, the outcast, the dispossessed and the oppressed. Bethlehem was the beginning of a new community of equality and hope.

As epiphanies of God's light and love, we are called to embrace a new vulnerability, the vulnerability of a baby. But is a vulnerability that invites us more deeply into our humanity where we experience more fully God's presence. Our humanity is not Jerusalem-defined, shaped by power-over, intolerance, who's in and who's out. Our humanity is based on our openness to one another, to reconciliation, to forgiveness, to building community, to opening our hearts to love.

The Feast of Epiphany invites us to see our own epiphany and our own story, to define and answer for ourselves where we come from, where we are going, why we are here and who we are. We are embodiments of love and compassion; we are God's light and the light of the Christ shines in us.

For the writer of the article I mentioned at the beginning, the end was a call for mutual respect between 1st Nations and non-1st Nations people. Respect begins in knowing who we are and where we are going; it means valuing one another and embodying, as Matthew invites us to do, the light and love of God. Answering the four questions means opening ourselves to renewal, to commitment to community and the common welfare of all. This was who Jesus was and is, and it is part of what defines us as Christian followers and as human beings.

"Rise, shine, for your light has come." Amen.

1    See Mizana Gheezhik blogsite http://sincmurr.com/, December 21st, 2012.    return