January 20, 2014
Greetings in this new year.
On the first Sunday of the new year, the man who was to read the scripture got up at the beginning of the service and talked about how important this congregation has been to him. He explained that not too long after he had started attending, a serious car accident had left his two young children with severe injuries. He said he didn’t know what he would have done through that time, and the days and months that followed, without the support of the ministers and the people of the congregation.
It was deeply touching, and at the same time not at all surprising to anyone rooted in church life. We treasure, and yet somehow expect, that a congregation will embrace those in need and accompany them through the sorrows and joys of life. It isn’t just about community either; as people of faith, we are offered a greater context for experiencing the things in life that we simply can’t make sense of. We accept that there are mysteries beyond human understanding, and we trust that God’s love surrounds us in our times of need.
The richness of a life in faith is something too precious ever to be taken for granted.
Hearing this brief testimony during worship, I wondered how we could do better at sharing with those outside congregations and outside church life the strength and comfort that is offered to followers of Christ.
Sometimes, I get the impression that people who aren’t part of church think our lives are all about following commandments and seeing the world through a lens of great certainty. For me, it is much more about being part of a community that equips me to live with mystery and paradox.
Yesterday’s online discussion forum on www.UnitedFuture.ca was about what evangelism means in the United Church. I appreciated the wonderful comments about the opportunities we have to share the good news of Jesus Christ. (For any who missed taking part in the live discussion, you can view it here.)
I’ve been thinking about these things this week, through Epiphany, as I have thought, too, about the magi, those wise men, those strangers who travelled from afar, following a star. They didn’t know where the star would lead them, and yet surely as they journeyed they must have speculated about it. We know they went first to King Herod’s palace – surely that is some indication of what they thought they were heading towards. I wonder what they made of it all when they got to that stable (or whatever humble setting the family had found its way to by then) and delivered their princely gifts to an infant in such improbable circumstances.
They must have been amazed: the star was so clearly showing them the place, and yet the scene must have required quite an adjustment in their expectations. From what we know of the story, though, they approached the baby Jesus with reverence. Perhaps their awe was even greater because the setting was so unexpected.
Think of the conversations they must have had as they journeyed home along their different route. Or were there things they left unsaid because they were just too puzzling to talk about?
If the story happened these days, maybe they would have continued to follow the life of the Prince of Peace on Twitter, but I wonder if those three visitors ever knew much about the man who Jesus grew up to be. Maybe it was enough to have that encounter with the infant Jesus in the manger. That moment, at the very beginning of Jesus’ life, was the life-changing one for them.
Can you tell this is one of my favourite stories? I think that is because so much is left to wonder about.
May you be blessed in your lives and your ministries as we embark on this new year.