Reflection: January 8

Published on Jan 9th, 2017 by Webminister | 0

         We are little out of sequence in terms of reading Matthew’s Gospel. Last week we read the story just after the Magi went to Bethlehem to see the baby; the visit of the Magi and the subsequent jealousy of Herod prompted Mary, Joseph and Jesus to flee as refugees to Egypt. This week, we are reading the traditional scripture for Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi or astrologers.

         I remember Walter Brueggemann, the great scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, retired now but still writing and helping us figure out how to live more authentically in the present. Brueggemann wrote that the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem marked the convergence of many factors that highlighted God’s welcoming intention and love for the world. The Magi’s visit represented a re-introduction of God’s intention that the world’s people be a healing people, a loving people, a people of equity and justice.

         So, it was timely when I received an email Thursday morning—the day I write my sermons—from the Center for Courage & Renewal. This is a center started by Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher, writer, peace activist, ethicist, and spiritual mentor to many of us. I first read Parker Palmer’s books more than 30 years ago; he’s now semi-retired, but still conducts workshops and helps us all live more authentically even in the midst of tragedy and struggle. Terry Chadsey is the Executive Director of the Center and he wrote in Thursday’s e-newsletter:

How is your heart in this first week of 2017? Is it feeling open to what’s new or guarded with uncertainty? I want to open a new place in my heart to welcome all that this year will bring.

This calls me to redefine the word Welcome. I feel the tensions in welcoming change, welcoming difference, welcoming conflict, welcoming challenge, welcoming retirement, welcoming new leadership, welcoming fresh ideas. From the global to the local and the personal, 2017 will be a year of welcome – and growth! 

Since I began facilitating Courage & Renewal retreats 14 years ago, I’ve experienced the power of our first Touchstone: Give and receive welcome.

This poem by fellow facilitator Estrus Tucker reminds me that it’s an act of courage to give and receive authentic welcome:

There are invitations that can’t be written,
and a welcoming that is deeper than words.
Hospitality abides in the familiarity of a face,
in the embedded trust of shared customs and histories,
and in identities often formed and deformed
by unity and exclusion, 
hope and humiliation,
love and lies.

Welcome is not always easy. When we feel others are out to change or challenge us, it’s only human to guard ourselves. But what happens when we experience true welcome and invitation?[1]

         I would suggest that the Magi, in their trip to Bethlehem via Jerusalem, experienced two kinds of welcome, one from Herod—a frightened and manipulative fear-mongerer—and one from Mary and Joseph—an open invitation to believe in the mystery of love and the vulnerability of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

         I welcomed the words of Terry Chadsey. He ended his little introduction with “I’m looking forward to welcoming all that 2017 brings, with as much courage and openness as I can muster.”[2] I say, “Hear! Hear!” The new year always represents a moment of definition for us; how we will live this year? The Magi followed a star, a new light in the heavens, as an expression of their desire to welcome a new gift into the world. Mary and Joseph, and indeed, God through Jesus, welcomed the Magi to come into their space to share words and actions of love. We read the story to be renewed in our quest to start the year with renewed courage and hope, to welcome this new year, whatever may occur, with as much love and purpose as we can muster.

         To go back to Estrus Tucker’s poem and the last lines. I don’t want to let this year, for me and for us, be defined by exclusion, humiliation and lies; we can learn from these and live into unity, hope and love more fully. We can influence the world by living authentically human lives and by welcoming lovingly and openly. Indeed, this is the only way the world will change… through the vulnerability of love, and it begins with us.

         So, bring on this New Year. Bring it on! Here we make our stand: healing, love, compassion, community, justice with peace, and radical welcome will be our watchwords for this year.

         May God bless us all as we begin this new year. Amen.

 


[1] See http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1101569497569&ca=6ffa28cf-fa75-4aa3-bdd2-e79c704ed0c9.

[2] Ibid.

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