January 3, 2021 The Second Sunday After Christmas

The Second Sunday After Christmas
January 3, 2021
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings:   Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84:1-8; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a; Matthew 2:1-12

      From the Gospel according to Matthew, “Then (Herod) sent (the wise men) to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child.’” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     So, another New Calendar Year has begun. While the Christian New Year began on the First Sunday in Advent this past November (29th), the Calendar New Year began this past Friday on January 1st. Given Covid-19 concerns, the new year was greeted with less fanfare than in prior years. Nevertheless, a new year has begun and with that, many people throughout the world made plans on how they might live differently in this new year so that their hopes for peace, good will, health, and safety, might be more than a dream, might be a reality. Perhaps some of you have done the same. I know I have.

      And as is typical in my life, my choices, my “New Year’s resolutions” as they are commonly called include, eating less and exercising more, as well as worrying less and praying more. Oddly, that seems to be the same list of Resolutions as last year and, frankly, the year before that, too.

      So, let me ask you this morning, “How are your New Year resolutions working out for you?” Perhaps it is too soon to tell – after all it is only January 3rd. But I was encouraged to read a post from one of my friends on her Facebook page saying, “It’s time to start my annual January 1st through January 3rd diet.” She added, “You know, I have a feeling I’m going to be successful this year.” The truth is our intentions and hopes while genuine and steeped in goodwill do not always yield lasting results. We seem to be forever searching for health and happiness, peace and prosperity, wholeness and reconciliation.

     I find it providential that today’s scripture lessons have much to say about creating New Year’s Resolutions. And when tied into the readings heard throughout this Christmas Season, I find them rather timely.

On Christmas morning, our gospel reading was John 1:1-14 and more specifically, “The Word was made flesh and lived among us.” In my own journey of faith there were many times when the Word was made flesh to me in the most unlikely of persons. Someone, somewhere, would come into my life, sometimes only for a season, to help me see things from a new or different perspective, to help me get back on track and redirect my paths towards God. For me, those were moments when the Word truly was made flesh as God spoke through them. And what is truly fascinating for me is that more often than not, these folks were not people whom I would consider friends: just someone different, someone even strange to me. Our Christmas scripture lessons have urged us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to open our hearts and minds to the transforming power of God’s love, to carry forth Christ’s light wherever we are and wherever we go. And that message continues in today’s scripture lessons.

     In today’s reading from the gospel according to Matthew, we hear a New Year’s Resolution from the most unlikely of sources: King Herod. Let’s face it. Herod was an absolutely horrid leader and a conniving person. Having ordered the massacre of all male children under the age of two, Herod was guilty of one of the most heinous crimes against humanity – the senseless slaughter of innocents. And yet, in a meeting with a group of sojourners – wise men from the east, the “Magi” as we call them – Herod offers this incredible sage advice that each time I read it, leap off the page for me. Herod tells these men, “Go and search diligently for the child.” Not just search, but to search diligentlyfor Christ. What a wonderful New Year’s Resolution for all God’s people!

Matthew goes on to tell us that the Magi heeded Herod’s directive. They went forth and found the child and presented him with gifts and adoration. And then they went home again but, this time, by a different road – a reminder that when we encounter the Christ quite often we do walk a new or different path.

But, as wonderful as this story of the Magi is as it is filled with symbolism and meaning, and encourages us to offer our own selves to Christ, it is Herod’s directive that keeps echoing in my mind this morning. You know, we can do all sorts of things in our lives: belong to charitable organizations, work within our communities to effect change and improve the lives of others and, yet, as Christians, our first and foremost responsibility is to go and search for Christ and do so diligently. To seek him who offers eternal life. To seek and serve Christ in every person we meet. And do so diligently. For if we are not diligent in our searching for Christ, we risk missing him, we risk not seeing or recognizing his presence among us and within us.

     You see, I think it is very common, (perhaps even easy), to experience the presence of Christ here at this Altar even if we are worshipping from our homes, or in our mission work together, in our serving together as a community of faith. Yet, one of the blessings of the restrictions on gathering together, face-to-face, to worship and sing God’s praises, is that over this past year we have both learned and been challenged to realize that the Church is not a building, that as people of God we mush search diligently for Christ beyond these walls. To search for, and then respond to him while standing in the checkout line at Harris-Teeter, to search and respond to him in the words of a stranger, in the faces of those with whom we are estranged, even in the King Herods of our own day.

     St. Patrick of Ireland offered that we should see Christ above us, below us, behind us, and before us, and in the mouth, the words, of friend and stranger. “Go and seek diligently for the child.” We know Herod’s intentions were evil and yet his advice, his directive, is spot on for those of us who claim the name of Jesus Christ as our own.

     In our reading from his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul offers that our faith is a continuous journey of diligence – a pilgrim’s path of purposely and intentionally seeking and serving Christ, of coming to know Christ more deeply so that the “eyes of our hearts (are) enlightened,” so that our lives – every aspect of our lives – change for the better and, therein, make a difference in this world.

     The Prophet Jeremiah, in the midst of some of the darkest days of Israel’s history proclaimed to a desolate and divided people, words of hope, words of restoration and peace. Jeremiah proclaimed not only does God see what is going on in this world, but more importantly, God cares about it and is always willing to restore the penitent, those who will turn to him, those who will seek him diligently in every aspect of their lives. The Prophet speaks of a restored nation that this time is not an army of the powerful, but rather, resembles more of a community of the weak – the blind and lame outcasts of society – because they know what it means to search for and depend upon God’s grace. And so, with this new order and restoration in mind Jeremiah invites the people – all who will turn from their false idols – to come to a feast, a party, a homecoming party where all are fed and enjoy the Lord’s goodness. It is a party that begins when God’s people, “Go and search diligently for the child.”

     You know, the Psalmist writes, “Happy are the people whose strength is in (God)! Whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way.” As we continue to wrestle with our New Year’s Resolutions, with our answering to all that God may call us to embrace this year, I invite you to join with me in setting our hearts upon the pilgrim’s way – a way marked by searching diligently for the child, to be intentional in our seeking for Christ, and upon finding him, allow him to direct our paths, our hearts, and minds. For in so doing, we will not only find that health and happiness, peace and prosperity, wholeness and reconciliation so many long for, but offer it and embody it in our communities andthroughout the world.

     “Go and search diligently for the child.” May God grant us the grace so to do this year, and always. Amen.