Sunday, 6 January 2013

Lord, let me see

An  epiphany moment is when scales fall from our eyes and the truth suddenly becomes clear to us.
But what truth? In vastly different ways of saying it, Paul and Matthew point in exactly the same direction, though Paul puts it much more explicitly that Matthew who wraps the revelation up in a rather beautifully told story.
The epiphany – the “mystery that has been revealed to him” might seem a little tame to us because it is now such a commonplace thing... is that the Gentiles – that’s you and me – non Jews – are incorporated into the same body.  As Paul writes in verse 6.....
“that is, the gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body  and sharers in the promise in Jesus Christ in the gospel”
That is the good news that Paul has become a servant of is the breaking down of the barriers that exist between people. There is no more “chosen people” and the rest – we are all of us chosen people.
Paul’s job he writes is to bring this great news to all the people of the known world. This he asserts was always the eternal will of God but it had been veiled, hidden until this mystery was fully revealed to him through Christ. This is Paul’s epiphany.
My own personal epiphany came when I realised that God’s Grace was indiscriminate – there were no chosen ones – no insiders and outsiders – just one humanity loved equally by the divine. That humanity if we can perceive it is “one body” but not only that but this one body has access to the divine.  So the breaking down of the barriers is both vertical and horizontal – a cross if you will.
All humanity is one and we are all at one with God – a cosmic healing – a mystery revealed in Jesus to Paul, but as we also read today – revealed also to Matthew.
The Magi – who were holy men of the Zoroastrian religion  - which still exists today as a small minority faith in Iran – were gentiles – foreigners – non Jews who are used here to represent the opening up of Judaism to the world.
The Magi represent all non Jews who find themselves on their journey arriving at the revelation in Jesus Christ. The Magi were noted astrologers so the fact that they were being guided by the stars is perfect symmetry – though of course the motif of being born under a star was a well known way of conferring a special status in the ancient world also.
The distinctiveness of the special revelation in Christ is revealed in the gifts they brought. The gold denotes a certain kind of kingship – though not one immediately recognizable to the world at large and of course in Jesus’ active ministry he preached almost exclusively on the “Kingdom of God”. A kingdom centred on the divine mystery we call God. To enter this kingdom is to become theocentric rather than egocentric. It is to discover that we are not after all the centre of the universe.
A gift of Incense can denote a priestly revelation. A priest in the classical understanding of the word denotes a go-between, an intermediary between humankind and God. An integral part of the Christian revelation is that a go between is not necessary – we all have direct access to God in the Jesus revelation so we all possess the priestly role innately within us. We are indwellt by the Spirit of the God Jesus taught us to call Father. We meet God in our own hearts. That was the significance of the curtain in the temple that shut humanity out from the presence of God in the Holy of Holies being torn from top to bottom in Matthew’s gospel.
We are all our own priests. In my theology  I am no more or less a priest than anyone else in this church. I was not ordained to become a priest, I was a priest already just like all of us. But I am a priest that got ordained. Ordination as the name shouts loud and clear is more about order than achieving a special status in the kingdom.
Myrrh is used in the embalming process so refers to the significance of Jesus’ death, which using the Jewish cultural motif of the atoning sacrifice carried out in the temple came to mean an atoning sacrifice for all of humanity, not that I believe in the efficacy of bloody sacrifice myself any more than most of you do.   I, like most modern people find that primeval notion rather baffling and pagan and grotesque. It was rather that his  at-one-ment with God that led him inevitably into a direct confrontation with the authorities that  led to his execution as a deadly enemy of brutal and unjust worldly power  - his determination not to compromise or shut up – that was his sacrifice that is an example to us all. Giving without counting the cost, in a lived example and reflection of God’s grace
The Jewish cultural motif of the atoning sacrifice to make them one with God was something they could understand because it spoke out of their culture but it doesn’t speak out of ours.  In our culture, talk of a bloody human sacrifice to make things right with God just makes us sound ridiculous, but it is what we have inherited and of course it still deeply permeates our official prayers, hymns and liturgies. 
Matthew and Paul are at one here, using vastly different literary ways of communicating the same shift in thinking to their respective audiences. The barriers have been torn down.
In Christ there is no east or west or north and south, no Jew or Greek, no male or female. There is one finite humanity enmeshed with one infinite God.

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