Sermon: Christmas 2 RCL A – “Job Requirements”

There roofers banging away, so there will be no podcast this week.

In order to get the job, you need to meet the requirements, although, some requirements may at times seem questionable:

“Piano Player Wanted. Must have knowledge of opening clams.”

“Wanted: Grape Stompers. Must Have Good Balance and Large Feet. Skinny Folk need not apply.”

“Now hiring: cemetery superintendent. The ideal candidate must be able to supervise in a fast-paced environment.”

“Nemesis Wanted: into kayaking, books and conversation (by day), justice, honor and vengeance (by night).  Seeking arch-enemy, possibly crime lord or deformed megalomaniac.”

If one of the job requirements for becoming a priest was understanding quantum physics, I would not be standing here; however, Arthur Zajonc is a brilliant quantum physicist.  If that is not enough, he is also a noted anthropologist and in Catching the Light, discusses the requirements for sight.  He says, “From both the animal and human studies, we know there are critical developmental ‘windows’ in the first years of life. Sensory and motor skills are formed, and if this early opportunity is lost, trying to play catch up is hugely frustrating and mostly unsuccessful.”

Professor Zajonc writes of studies which investigated recovery from congenital blindness. Thanks to cornea transplants, people who had been blind from birth would suddenly have functional use of their eyes. Nevertheless, success was rare. Referring to one young boy, “The world does not appear to the patient as filled with the gifts of intelligible light, color, and shape upon awakening from surgery,” Zajonc observes. Light and eyes were not enough to grant the patient sight. “The light of day beckoned, but no light of mind replied within the boy’s anxious, open eyes.”

He concludes, “The sober truth remains that vision requires far more than a functioning physical organ. Without an inner light, without a formative visual imagination, we are blind.”  That “inner light”—the light of the mind—“must flow into and marry with the light of nature to bring forth a world.” (Source)  My translation of that boils down to, “Just because you can see, does not mean you can see.”

In our gospel reading today we are told, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’”   We only know that these wise men/Magi/kings came from the East, but it is widely held that they traveled from the area of Babylon, at least five hundred miles away.  From that great distance, they had seen this star and it was bright enough and of such a nature and duration, that they were able to follow it to the manger in Bethlehem. 

Why would they have followed this star in the first place?  The Magi were astronomers and scholars.  Although they were not Jewish scholars, they must have had access to Jewish writings especially since—centuries before—the Jews had been held in captivity in Babylon.  These Magi scholars would have had access to the Jewish texts and understood the prophecies of the early writings.  They would have known that the rising of this particular star signified the birth of a Messiah King and in their souls they had no choice but to come and see.

Now, Herod and the boys were in Jerusalem and they had the same writings as the Magi.  They too are scholars, but not only that, they along with all of Israel are looking for the coming of a Messiah.  In addition, Jerusalem is less than five miles from Bethlehem.  So here is my question: “How come Herod and the boys couldn’t see that star?”  It is drawing people in from five hundred miles away, but the locals don’t see it.  Not just that, but even after the Magi told Herod that they had been following a star, don’t you think he could have just looked out the window and seen it for himself?  Couldn’t he have followed the star and also found Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger?

What did our friend Professor Zajonc say: “Vision requires far more than a functioning physical organ.  Without an inner light we are blind.”  Or my highly academic interpretation of that, “Just because you can see, does not mean you can see.”

Herod didn’t know it, but he was a very little fish in a little pond and the only thing that wouldn’t fit in his pond was his ego.  Herod was not looking for the Light of the World, instead, he was only looking for some outside threat to his pond, therefore he would never see any sign of God: star, lightning bolt, 2×4 to the back of the head, etc. that would point him to a child in a manger.

The Pharisees and the others may have been looking for a king, but not the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  They were looking for freedom from occupying armies, not freedom from sin and therefore they too were blind to God’s star and the coming of the Messiah.

In the words of Zajonc, both Herod and the Pharisees were missing an inner light, an ability to see God and the workings of God, because they were blinded by what they thought God should be and the requirements they had placed on his coming.  They were not looking for the One True God, but for a god in their own image, one who fit their requirements and purposes, therefore, they were not going to see Him or the signs of His coming.  Aren’t we fortunate to be so much more enlightened than them?

Like Herod and the boys, we often expect God to work according to our requirements and purposes.  And it is within that limited scope that we look for God.  When He doesn’t show up or operate within that scope, then we too are blinded to his work.

Maybe I’ve told you this already: after my dad had a stroke, I was desperate to get to him, but everyone said to wait: let’s see how he comes out of it, then let’s see how he does in physical therapy, and so on.  It was about two months from the time he had the stroke until the time I got to go down.  Finally the day arrived.  I was living in Montana at the time and it takes a day to get anywhere.  In some airport, I ordered a nice big Starbucks coffee.  About half way through the flight… well… its pit stop time, but because of turbulence, they weren’t letting anyone get up.  An hour later we land in Dallas and I have reached the point of pure desperation. 

I get off the plane and head down the concourse.  The only restroom I spot is closed for cleaning, so I head down to baggage claim and am frantically looking back and forth, when about two feet from me I hear somebody say, “Looking for someone?”  It was my Dad!  For several months I had been wanting to see him, to visit, to find out that he was OK, but I got so caught up in what I was doing and what I was looking for, that I literally nearly ran into him without even noticing he was there!  

Sad and stupid story, but it makes the point.  We can become so focused on our own lives, our plans, our goals, that in the midst of it all we can miss God!  His star can be shining directly in our faces, but like Herod and the others, even though we have eyes to see Him, these “goings on” in our lives can blind us and we will miss him.

Tomorrow is the Epiphany of our Lord to the gentiles, that is, God making himself known so that all the world might see Him.  The first Epiphany was the visitation of the Magi, but that was not the last, for we believe that God continues to make himself known to his people.

How is it that we might all have an epiphany of the Lord?  How might we “see” Him?  The example the Magi set is not a bad place to begin.  They said to Herod, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  They placed no requirements or purposes upon Jesus.  They brought no agenda.  They came to pay him homage.  They came to truly “see” him.  They came to worship him.  They came for no other reason than to love God and to be loved by Him.   In doing so, in simply coming before him, God revealed himself to them.  None of us has to understand Quantum physics in order to understand that!  Don’t go looking for the God according to your job requirements, instead allow God to reveal the fullness of his glory to you.

Let us pray: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth; lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

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