“Good News?”–Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 27, 2019

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Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Luke 4:14-21

Children’s Message:

Why do you think we come to church—come to worship? (to thank God, to help each other, to pray, to sing together).

Have you ever been to a sports game? Why do you go to watch a sports game? (entertainment, to cheer on a team, to support players, to be a part of something).

What do you think makes worship and sports different?

What do you think makes them the same? (liturgy—cheers & anthems; hymns—songs & band; prayer—prayer).

Do you get emotional at a game? Excited or sad? Do you get excited or sad in worship? Why (not)? Maybe, if we pay attention to what’s happening and the things we say, we might find reasons to be excited or sad.

In today’s readings, people got sad and excited and mad and happy—lots of emotions during worship. Because it’s not just something boring that we do. It means important things for us—like giving us something to look forward to or giving us courage when things get tough or an opportunity to share our lives and milestones with people who love us just because we’re us. And the good news is, we don’t even have to win!

Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for creating your Church as a people with whom we can share our lives. Let us never take it for granted. Amen.

Message:

Today’s scriptures tell us about two worship services. The first takes place after Israel’s return from exile in Babylon. The Temple and city walls have been rebuilt, thanks to Nehemiah. He invites Ezra, the prophet and priest, to gather the people. And from the Water Gate of the city, Ezra reads the Torah—the Books of Moses. The whole thing. It’s probably the first time most of the people had heard it. And along the way, various people help to interpret what is proclaimed. And they realize how far they’ve come from God’s intentions for them.

They hear about God’s beloved creation. They hear about Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, about God’s promise to Abraham, about Isaac and Jacob and Esau, about Joseph and his brothers, about the time in Egypt, about Moses and the Exodus. They hear God’s law. They hear God’s gospel. And they weep in response. They weep for all the ways in which they had forgotten—all the ways in which God had been with them and they hadn’t noticed. In their humility over having been in exiled, in a gracious return, and the hard work of rebuilding the city, they are now faced with God’s abundant grace. They look into the face of hope and weep.

Several hundred years later, the little town of Nazareth has a famous hometown boy. They welcome Jesus back into their midst. Their hometown boy is going to preach. He reads from the prophet Isaiah and gives the shortest sermon anyone has ever heard: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And what we’ll hear next week is that the people don’t weep with relief or sorrow—they get angry. They get angry at his audacity. They get angry at his familiarity. It’s a very different response than what Ezra got.

It’s interesting. You see, they would have expected Jesus to say something like, “Isaiah was an amazing prophet. He gave the people hope.” He might have talked about that long-ago exile or even about their own struggles in occupied territory. Or, he might have told them of hope for the future—that someday things would be different. But he did neither. He said, “Today, the scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. Not back then. Not someday. Today.

And the people, much like today, looked around and probably thought, “What are you talking about? Nothing has changed. Our situation is still bad. Injustice lurks in every shadow. People are being crucified for no reason at all. Taxes are heaped on the poor. And we have no control at all. Again, not unlike today. Perhaps we, too, should feel more than an academic interest at what Jesus was saying.

I read a post recently that said something to the effect (because I can’t find it now), “I wish it were 9/12. While I never would want 9/11 to happen, I wish we were the people of 9/12. We didn’t worry about whether we were Republican or Democrat, immigrant or citizen, black or white. We gathered in churches and synagogues and mosques; we wept together and we prayed together. We hoped together and we hurt together.”

Why does it take something massive and scary to bring people together? Why does it take exile and terrorism to draw us into prayer and humility? To inspire us to worship and challenge us to be one people for the sake of one another? Why is it that when we are managing along just fine that we turn against one another? That we refuse to hear the truth of our lives and turn in anger to the one who speaks it?

I have some thoughts on that, as you might imagine. That we are only one together when we have a common enemy—someone to be against. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. It’s a short-lived friendship. When we are struggling to make sense of grief and pain and upheaval, we grope and grasp at anything that might give us a sense of hope.

But when we are comfortable—even if we are comfortable in our discomfort—we don’t want to hear about changes. We don’t want to hear about being set free if it means we lose our connections on the inside. We don’t want to hear about good news for the poor if we aren’t ‘the poor’ or about release to the captives if we have benefited from their captivity. And heaven forbid that we hear about the year of the Lord’s favor.

You see, that refers to the Jubilee year. In the Torah, God instructed Israel to make every 50th year one in which all things were reset. Indentured servants were released. Slaves were set free. Debts were forgiven. Land was returned. Imagine what that would mean for us here. Whether this is good news or not sort of depends on where you are in the system. Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it—the Jubilee Year was never actually enacted. There may have been a few debts forgiven and people released, but as a whole, there is no evidence that Israel practiced it as a nation. I can’t imagine why. 😉

A study was done not too long ago by Public Religion Research that discovered that the majority of churchgoers in the US experience high amounts of nostalgia and anxiety. There is the sentiment that the best years of the Church are long gone and that the future of society is bleak. That sounds about right. But in between the valor of days gone by and the fear of what is to come, we miss the promise of today.

Diana Butler Bass says, “Today is a deeply dangerous spiritual reality—because today insists that we lay aside both our memories and our dreams to embrace fully the moment of now…Today places us in the midst of the sacred drama, reminding us that we are actors and agents in God’s desire for the world. ‘Today’ is the most radical thing Jesus ever said.”

I’m reminded of a John Mayer song, “Waiting on the World to Change.” He talks about how his generation will someday rule the population, but for now, they’re waiting on the world to change. I don’t like that song. I don’t like it because it seems to reflect a powerlessness of his generation—a sense of lack of responsibility. The world won’t change if you wait for other generations to do it. We do it. Today.

The scary thing—the thing that probably sent Nazareth into a rage over Jesus’ proclamation—was that doing something about the situation leads to consequences. But that’s the thing about the Word of God. When we read the Word, when we proclaim the Word, when we invite the Word into our lives, there are consequences. Whether we weep for all the ways in which we realize we have failed or fear what is to come, the Word insists that things begin to change—from the inside out.

I’ve seen a cartoon going around that shows a church call committee identifying the kind of pastor they want. The chairperson says, “Basically, we’re looking for an innovative pastor with a fresh vision who will inspire our church to remain exactly the same.”

Friends, if the Word is preached and lived, then we are in for a ride. We’re in for a ride that invites us to let go of who we were once, who we think we are, even who we want to be or are afraid we’ll become. God is inviting us into the Living Word—one that, upon hearing, begins a process of transformation for which we cannot plan and yet can take immense joy in. Because when God starts working in us and in our community, we can trust that the world gets muddier and challenging and complicated—and absolutely beautiful in the midst of it all.

This is the good news—that life is complex, but love is simple. That is the Word Jesus preached and lived and died for. It’s the Word that he WAS as he met surprised disciples in a locked room and sent them out to proclaim that word to the world.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

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“A Glass of Wine”—Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 20, 2019

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Isaiah 62:1-5
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Children’s Message:
I have a gallon of water here. Does anyone want to see how much it weighs? It’s kind of heavy. Who wants to guess how many glasses of water we can get from this gallon? You can get 16 cups out of a gallon.

Today we heard about a wedding feast that Jesus was at. Wedding parties would go on for several days, and they always had wine. It was a big deal if the hosts ran out of food or wine. And that’s what happened at the party Jesus was at. Jesus told the servants to fill up several large jugs with water. The jugs would be made of clay, and they could hold 20-30 of these gallons! Can you imagine trying to carry a jug that big?

They filled six of them all the way to the top. When they took it to the head servant, it had become wine. That’s a lot of wine. And because Jesus made it, it was the best wine anyone had ever had—ever! So, 6 jugs, 20-30 gallons each. Can you figure how many gallons that would be? 120-180 gallons. And 16 cups per gallon—2-3 thousand cups of wine!

God just doesn’t do things small. And each one of you is a creation of God—a miracle—a sign. Each one of you is what God has made for the world. And if God doesn’t do small things with wine, God’s going to do some amazing things with you.

Let’s pray. Thank you God for your amazing and wonderful creations. Help us show your wonder to the whole world. Amen.

Message:
It can be awkward being the family’s ‘resident pastor.’ I’m usually the one everyone looks to for prayers. And though I’m over 40 years old, my mom still goes around bragging about me as if I’m 12. Any clerk in this city that she has encountered knows that I’m a pastor. They know where I serve. They probably know who my high school boyfriends were and that one of them is now her dentist. She can’t help but overshare.

So, I feel a little for Jesus at the wedding party. The wine is running out, and his mom just can’t help herself. I don’t know if she knew what to expect, but she turned to him anticipating something. “They have no more wine.” “Ah, mom. Can’t we just be guests? What do you want me to do about it? Why is this my problem?”

But moms being moms, she turns to the servants and says, “You just follow his lead.” And then she probably whispered, “That’s my son, you know.” And Jesus, stuck with the problem, did something. Actually, he did something big. He did something powerful. And if it weren’t for John, nobody would have known.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The servants knew. But that’s the thing with Jesus. First, his power isn’t a matter of showing off. He could have made a huge show of the wine—putting himself on display for the whole party. In fact, he tries not to exercise power. He tries to get out of it. “My hour has not yet come,” he says. This isn’t about me.

That says a lot about this man who could literally do anything he wanted with the power he had. And yet, he resists. When he does finally respond to his mother’s request, he does it quietly. He doesn’t take credit for it. For all anyone knew, the servants could have been responsible for it. But everyone assumes it’s the host of the party saving the best wine for last. It begins with a glass of wine, and only the servants know.

It’s similar to the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke. It’s only the lowly and the outsiders who know what’s going on—shepherds and people from another country and another faith. God’s displays of power are not for God’s benefit. A similar situation happens later, in chapter 9, when Jesus heals the man born blind. He heals him and then walks away. It’s the blind man who recognizes and points to Jesus’ power and authority. Jesus doesn’t need to hear it or be there for the accolades. It’s not about him.

Second, God’s power is always and only for the good of the community—the whole community. We’ll see this again as John tells us of other signs that point to God’s abundant grace. When Jesus feeds the 5,000, it isn’t because he is hungry but because the people are. Again, he uses what he has available and does something unbelievable with it.

Right now, our country is in a logger jam of values as the president and congress face off over the issue of a border wall. And while everyone sits in a stalemate, so many people in this country are stretching paychecks and struggling to make ends meet, wondering when this fight over power will end. Jesus knew that power used for building one’s self up is not power at all. It’s only true power when it is used to build up a community—when abundance and grace overflow. Maybe, if those in Washington put politics aside and had a glass of wine together and just talked, just maybe they’d make some headway for the sake of all of us.

Third, Jesus isn’t afraid to go outside of the system in order to benefit the world. In fact, his very birth and resurrection are evidence of working outside the systems of sin and death and punishment to give us abundant life. In the case of the wedding feast, Jesus uses jars that were supposed to be for ritual and purification. He saw jars set aside for one purpose and imagined them for a whole new purpose. He saw what was there and believed that there could be something new happening in them.

How often do we use our power to maintain the systems that support our power? How often do we say, “We’ve always done it that way” or “It has to be done this way” and limit the possibilities of something new in our midst? Consider all the ways that we are complacent and complicit with the systems in this world that let us keep things as they are for ourselves, knowing full well that it means things won’t change for anyone else? This is what Jesus works against as he reimagines what is possible—and what it might mean for the systems in place.

Raising Lazarus from the dead is not part of the system. Rolling away the stone, even though the dead man ‘stinketh,’ is not how things are done. And it’s the very act that puts the final nail in his own coffin because he has upset the system far too much. The wine at the wedding is only the beginning. Within the next three years, Jesus will have completely thrown the whole world into a tailspin—upending systems, challenging those in power, and showing the world abundance like it has never seen.

The final sign of God’s abundant glory and grace will be displayed on a cross. Once again, Jesus will resist the use of power for his own gain. He will not flaunt it so that everyone will notice how great he is. He will not use it to save his life. He will not wield it in order for his believers to be comforted by a false god—one who chooses not to die.

Instead, he will see it through. His power will be displayed to only a few—to the women who discover an empty tomb—to Mary who will meet him in the garden—to the gathered in Galilee after his resurrection. His power will be used to build up the community of God, the Body of Christ, the life of the world—not to tear it down, to demean, or to get his own way. And finally, his power will defy all of the traditions, expectations, and imaginations of the people. The God of the Universe will die. And the dead will live. And Jesus will have undone the status quo of sin and death and replaced it with abundant life.

All of this, Jesus will do and has done for the sake of you and me and this whole broken creation. And it all begins with a glass of wine.

Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

“Washing Away Boundaries”—Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord, January 13, 2019

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Isaiah 43:1-7
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Children’s Message:
“The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.
In Isaiah, God says that God loves us very much, and our baptism is kind of like the kissing hand—a reminder of how much God loves us—something that we can take with us no matter where we go.

As I mark the sign of the cross on your hand to keep you remembering, we’ll pray. Gracious God, thank you for your love and willingness to be one of us. Help us pass your love on to others. Amen.

And now, you get to pass that love on to others and make the sign of the cross on the hands of those here. And they can pass it on to those sitting next to them. And you all can pass it on to those you meet this week.

Message:
I love the passage from Isaiah 43. It has found its way into many funerals. I know that Elsa reads it frequently to those she visits and shares communion with. It is a beautiful poem of God’s provision. Isaiah wrote it when Israel was in the midst of exile. It describes God’s intentions. Everything in it is God’s actions. God redeems, God calls, God is present, God loves, God brings, God creates, God forms. Our part in this relationship? Do not fear.

Do not fear. Because God is with us. Verse 2 especially invokes images of baptism—‘when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’ Water and fire. Apparently, they’re inevitable. And yet…and yet, what?

I always hope that these words will bring comfort to those who are struggling—those who are within sight of the end of their life, those who are on the brink of challenging changes, those who find themselves in significant danger. And yet…life ends, anyway. And, one might think, the waters have indeed overwhelmed, and the fire has succeeded in consuming. And there is nothing left.

And that would be true—except for hope in the Christ, the Messiah, the risen one.

The question has often been posed—why did Jesus need to be baptized? If he was sinless, he didn’t need forgiveness. He didn’t need to be washed clean. He didn’t need to be claimed—he was literally God’s Son. And there are lots of answers to that question: it was his commissioning; he needed to hear God’s claim on him before entering the wilderness; the crowds needed to hear God’s claim on him before following him. And, as theologically grounded as they are, those answers only scratch the intellectual surface of an emotional and spiritual yearning. Because our question remains—does this really change anything?

It changes everything. First, Jesus got into the water so that we would know God is with us. In his baptism, Jesus allied himself with humanity. He chose us, against all odds. He chose us, though it meant being ostracized by family and friends and even his church. In his baptism, he stands with the broken, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the hurting, the oppressed, the victimized, the outsiders. Jesus stands with humanity and claims us as his family. In defiance of what the world wanted/wants of God—victory, strength, and might—Jesus chooses humility, weakness and death. Jesus chooses this broken and hurting world as home and refuses to abandon us. He gets in the water with us.

God says in Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” I will be with you. God gets in the water with us—into the muddy, swirling waters of our worst days and poor decisions; into the clear, sparkling waters of our most blessed moments; into the trickling waters of uncertainty; into the roaring waves of excitement.

God gets in the water with us, come what may. Jesus gets in the water, and is overwhelmed by humanity’s brokenness. He gets in the water, and his life is consumed by humanity’s sin and arrogance. He gets in the water of life—and he dies.

4bf46110-2e65-4665-975f-1c5e3cdc5992Yes, baptism changes everything. One commentary I read somewhere called baptism a boundary-crossing. And I thought about that. This is the first time I’ve gotten really hung up on the part in Isaiah that says, “Because…I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.” And in the context of Israel’s exile, I’m sure that the promise brought great comfort to them—the idea that no one else was as valuable as these insignificant people who always seemed to be at the mercy of other nations. Imagine what it would mean for God to say that these powerful nations are nothing compared to the love God has for God’s people.

That was a fine sentiment when those who considered themselves ‘God’s people’ were always and ever under the thumb of someone else. It becomes dangerous when those who identify themselves as ‘God’s people’ are the ones holding all the cards.

And so I come back to the idea of Jesus’ baptism as a boundary-crossing. And on level, I agree. What he does—entering into our sin and our death and our humanity for the sake of pulling us out of it—is a crazy crossing of boundaries for a God who could have abandoned it all and walked away. It is absolutely what we need to hear in those vulnerable and scary moments of our lives.

We need to know that God is in it with us. We need to know that, though life ends in death, it is not without meaning. We need to know that, though we walk through the fire, God still protects us from fire that only consumes and does not purify. We need to know that, overwhelmed as we might be from the struggles and horrors and unimaginable stupidity of humanity sometimes, our lives are not overwhelmed by doubt and fear over a God who does not care.

God crosses every boundary between the created and the divine so that life is more than simply survival—that we have hope in boundless love. And then, we are invited to cross boundaries as the water is poured over us and we acknowledge in our bodies an unbreakable bond between our hearts and God’s. In baptism, God draws us across the boundary between the impossible and the possible, between death and life, between sinner and saint.

But I think baptism is more than boundary-crossing. That’s only the first step. The second step is boundary-breaking. Luke is too systematic and logical to use Mark’s dramatic description of what happened at Jesus’ baptism. Mark says that the heavens were torn apart. The boundary between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, was not only crossed; it was torn apart.

3e89ccaa-58e8-4fd0-b4fd-e1de18595093I often hear good theologians say, “When humans draw boundaries or lines, God inevitably ends up on the other side.” But God doesn’t stop there. From the other side, God destroys those boundaries—boundaries that let us believe that one group is better or more civilized or more moral or more educated than another; boundaries that keep people under the thumb of those who hold the cards; boundaries that give way to oppression, sexism, racism, and every other form of bigotry; boundaries that led missionaries to places where ‘savages’ lived. All of these boundaries between people are eliminated by the God who loves people too much to allow us to keep hurting each other like this.

That’s what baptism is about—it changes everything. God dies in order to show us the way to life. God crosses and destroys boundaries. It is both comforting and frightening. But at all times, it is what God has promised.

Look again at the passage in Isaiah: “I give nations in exchange for your life.” I wonder, could the Living Word be speaking to us in a new way? Could this promise mean that the boundaries we have set up mean nothing to God—that God moves past the boundaries of nations and our tribes and our denominations so that, no matter who we are or where we come from—as God calls us from the east and the west and the north and the south, we might actually see each other as children of God?

Today, we lift up the baptism of our Lord—who got into the water with us so that we no longer see what divides us but what makes us all one.

Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

“Response to the Light”—Sermon for Epiphany Sunday, January 6, 2019

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

Children’s Message:
I have this star lamp from Seth’s room. It’s been there since before he was born. It shines light when the room feels too dark. Today, we read about a star that showed the way for people from another country to find a new king born in Israel. Who did they end up finding? And where did they find him?

Now, Bethlehem is a long way from here, but I bet that this star might be able to lead us to places where we can recognize Jesus.

Pulpit: So, what happens here? We read from the Bible—the Word of God. Did you know that Jesus is even more the Word of God than the Bible? The Bible tells us about him—what he did, what he said, why he came to live with us, and how much he loves us. We meet the Word of God, Jesus, in the Bible.

Altar: What happens here? This is where communion begins. How do we meet Jesus in communion? The bread is his body—he said so. And the wine is his blood—he said that too. And when we celebrate his love for us together, he makes us all one massive, enormous Body of Christ sent to spread love and grace in the world.

Baptism: And what happens here? Do we meet Jesus here? Yes, in baptism we are specifically named a beloved child of God—just like Jesus. And he welcomes us into his family.

I have one more for you. (Middle of the Sanctuary.) How do we meet Jesus here? Each and every one of these people—including you—are born to show the light of Christ Jesus to others. We want to see Jesus in the faces of those who worship him. And we’re also the star—the ones who show the way for others to meet Jesus. So, I’m going to pass out a star to each of you, and then I want you to pass out stars to every one of the people here while we listen to the sermon.

These stickers will remind you that your job is to show the way to Jesus. Let’s pray. Gracious God, help us be a reflection of your love and point the way to your heart. Amen.

Message:
Before I go any further, it’s important that we keep reading the Scripture passage—to hear what follows the magi returning home a different way. Joseph is informed in a dream that Herod wants to destroy Jesus, so they flee to Egypt and stay there until he gets word that Herod dies. In the meantime, Matthew 2:16 continues:
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

This is no sentimental Christmas story. It’s a statement regarding the powers that Jesus would bump up against all the way to the cross. It’s a reality check on allegiance—both then and now. It’s a mirror placed in front of all of us when our way of life is challenged. Will we be like the magi—recognizing and celebrating the light of a new way? Or will we be like Herod—doing everything we can to make sure no one takes away what we’ve rightfully grabbed for ourselves?

You see, that’s essentially what Herod the Great had done. He colluded with the Roman powers in order to have this ‘throne’ in Jerusalem. He was a puppet king. A fraud. He grabbed the seat that rightfully belonged to the heir of David and held on with all his might. He held on so tight that over the course of time, it is said that he killed over 300 public officials, 2 of his own sons, and 1 wife—all because he believed that they were plotting against his throne. So, a few toddlers were nothing to him if it meant that he would eradicate the rightful heir to the throne.

Then there are the magi—practitioners of astrology and Zoroastrianism. Foreigners—but not just any foreigners. They came from the areas of Persia and Babylon—the very nations that had forced Israel into exile. They represent the ‘bad guys’ in terms of their nation’s history. They represent terrorists. Ironically, it is the area where Iran and Iraq are now found.

So, the foreigner terrorists make their long journey to Israel and end up where any logical person would expect to find a king—Jerusalem. And they naively ask the current king where they can find the new king that was born recently. Wouldn’t you want to be a fly on the wall for that conversation?

But even if the magi don’t know the score, Herod does. He’s the first one who makes the leap from child-king to Messiah. He recognizes this very real threat to his power and calls on the religious authorities to look in the books and find out what the prophecy says—specifically. And then he sends the magi off with the understanding that they would return to him like spies and tell him what he wants to know.

When they finally find Jesus and his family in their home, they present him with gifts literally fit for a king. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh would have been appropriate gifts for a king—though they seem a bit heavy-handed for this toddler who would prefer building blocks. But the gifts hold a deeper meaning, as well. The gold signifies his authority on earth. The frankincense signifies his spiritual authority.

And the myrrh—the myrrh signifies his death. It’s the resin used to wrap dead bodies at their burial. It was what the women would have been bringing to his tomb on the day of his resurrection to prepare his body. And, in some way, it also symbolizes the many lives that the powers of this world will take in an effort to maintain their false authority—toddlers in Bethlehem, girls in Nigeria, boys taught to make war in the Congo, children and families seeking asylum, men and women and children taught to hate based on everything from skin color to gender orientation to political leanings.

Will we be like the magi—honoring Jesus with our generosity of wealth, hospitality, and love? Will we be like Herod—striving to maintain our way of life at any cost? Truth be told, we’re both. Wars in this world simply signify the war we wage inside ourselves—battles between what we want and what we think we want; battles between who we are and who we want to be; battles between life, light, and hope and the ugliness of sin, death, and despair.

But it is for all of us—our whole selves—that Christ was born and that he died. He came to show us a new way, and we felt—we feel—threatened by it. Because this new way means letting go of how we have learned to live—dog-eat-dog, wealthiest and most powerful wins. Even toddlers get it. A meme I saw recently pointed out the toddler’s rules of possession—and I think it’s true for adults and nations, as well:
1. If I like it, it’s mine.
2. If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
3. If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
4. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
5. If it’s mine, it must NEVER appear to be yours in any way.
6. If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
7. If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.
8. If I saw it first, it’s mine.
9. If you are playing with something and you put it down, it’s automatically mine.
10. If it’s broken, it’s yours.

That’s what Jesus came to transform in us, and we are less than ready to accept it. Unless, of course, we have already lost everything and have nothing left to lose. Then, the gospel of hope and transformation is actually good news. Until then, we hesitate to embrace it in its fullness. We’re afraid of what it will cost. It sounds like a good enough idea in abstract, but when the gospel becomes real, our inner Herod breaks out and we fight tooth and nail to make sure we find a way to keep the life we’ve come to know and love.

But Jesus came for the Herods of this world—not to threaten or kill them but to redeem them. To redeem us in all of our forms of Herod. To redeem us and transform us and liberate us from the fear that we have clung to for so long. Jesus came for the magi of this world—to receive the gifts we offer, whether they be gold and myrrh or hearts filled with gladness or financial abundance or food for the hungry. Jesus came for the lost and hurt children of this world—to comfort them in times of fear and death, to be companions for them on their journeys, to offer hope that this isn’t the end. Jesus came for Marys and Josephs and shepherds and innkeepers and tax collectors and prostitutes and religious leaders, for the wealthy and the homeless and hopeless.

Jesus came for us in all the ways that we honor him and threaten him—in the ways we provide for his children and deny his children. He came for our whole selves and stops at nothing less than complete transformation. Whether we meet his arrival with gifts or fear, he has come to redeem you and intends to set you free.

So, as Isaiah says to the people returning from exile:
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE