December 26, 2022 (The First Day toward Epiphany)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” (Psalm 118.24)
Most of us have seen the arduous scenario of opening a gift that was presented as a box within a box. Of course, the search can only go deeper bearing in mind that that box within a box generally starts with a big box and ends up with a smaller box. The experience of frustration is generally heightened because there have to be an end to it all. We hope that something great will be in the final box…if we ever get to it!
I invite you to think with me on the proposition of Advent having been such a search. We started with the grand idea of finding for ourselves a savior. Far too many attempt to shortcut the search by believing a savior was more like a ‘genie in a bottle.’ Once found and released, our wishes would be granted. Dare I suggest that many see “Santa Claus” as such a genie and relate it to their concept of “I will believe in God if He is like this…give me anything I want!” But, those who are on the journey of discovering God are finding that God gives to us what we truly need. I believe it is this way because in the scope of authentic love God wants us to want only one thing. Wanting “that one thing” leads to the receiving of what we truly need. Jesus spoke of this when He urged those who had gathered on a hill across the bay from Caesarea Philippi to hear Him teach “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and what is needed will be provided.” So, is what we are truly seeking in our desire to find the Savior the righteousness of God’s Kingdom? We could do far less and many have. Yet, somehow that just doesn’t seem satisfying to our fleshly understanding. We want tangible. In education, the use of a learning tool call “foldable” is successful because it puts that “hands on approach” into our very hands. But, when it comes to our spiritual lives, handling God like a foldable can be much like believing God is a “genie in a bottle.” You know what I am saying, right. We bring out God when we have a need that has become a want. The needs of our lives are somehow seen as personally attainable. Yet, what I want seems to be just beyond our grasp. Thus, we “need” someone more adept at getting things to procure what we believe we “want.” The challenge becomes what it is that we want is probably nothing more or less than just another something we think we “need.” What we want is just a different or better version of what is needed: food, shelter, transportation, clothing, influence and identity. But, when we finally consider all those things there is an awareness inside of us of that “something more” which we ache for. We want to be free from the “need and want” world. We search the world over for what gives true meaning and purpose. What it is that cannot be taken away from us by the thief of rust, moth, age and covetousness?
So, where did our search for a savior take us but to Bethlehem in Judea. It was a very small town southeast of Jerusalem. It was on a road that had the potential of being named “the road to nowhere.” Beyond Bethlehem to the south were fields of grain that faded over the horizon into the vast desert of the Arabah. In the days of Moses that place was called literally “The Wilderness of Sin.” In it was held the things that made for myths, legends, folklore and fairy tales such as The Arabian Nights. The thought of vast treasures and riches beyond imagination were cultivated to lure people into the wilderness with the singular hope of finding just that. No such treasure existed. At least not in the way most people had believed them. Ultimately, there was more lost than found. But, in Bethlehem the “treasure map” of God’s word revealed a treasure that was not buried but uncovered. Well, okay, it was covered in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. At least it was for a while. In truth, the treasure was conceived in Jerusalem and taken to Nazareth for a time. Then it was transported to Bethlehem to be put in a cave. What is it that the apostle Paul said, “So we have this treasure in an earthen vessel so that its surpassing greatness will known as being from God and not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4.7). Now Paul was speaking of the treasure existing within each of us. The human body was that earthen vessel, a jar of clay. He was thinking back to when the story of creation included forming man and woman from the dust of the earth and then God breathed into them His holy breath. That treasure was the Holy Spirit. It was so powerful that at God’s command chaos became order, dark became light, lifelessness became life and hope replaced ordinary. For us, in this moment of the story, the Spirit became flesh, as the Word of God Incarnate, and was “buried in a cave” waiting to be discovered by those who were looking for it. They had a want to find it. It wasn’t a tangible want. It was something that rose up out of their heart, mind and soul. And with the nudge of the angels, those shepherds lead us, as if we were their flock, to the place where that treasure of salvation could and would be found. It wasn’t buried. They didn’t have to dig for it. They may have had to push through a crowd of people who, like Mary and Joseph, found lodging in the barnyard and stable of the “Inn With No Room.” But, the light was still on. It was the light of glory and life. It shone as more radiant than the sun which was rising just over the horizon in the east. It was a treasure whose simplicity defied the complexity which others had sought to make it out to be with the Law and all its addendums to define what is righteous, what is good and what is acceptable. It was a baby. And for those shepherds who led us to the place where the Savior was born the word of the prophet Isaiah rang true (11.6) “All the animals will lie down with each other and a little child will lead them.” Ah, this treasure in earthen vessel. Nothing can define us more explicitly than the life that was born in Bethlehem. It becomes a treasure in our earthen vessel. It is not meant to be buried or hidden in heart and mind and soul and kept out of sight of the world. Mary tried to do this and it failed. Instead, it is like a seed to be planted in the fertile ground of our lives. It will take root, deep root, and it will reach for the heavens, the glorious heavens. And it will make of us a new vessel, a new creature, a new creation in which the treasure can be transported into all the world. And suddenly, the world will be turned inside out and all will be made visible and all will be known. Nothing will be secret and nothing will be hidden. The treasure is the truth that will set us free. That is, after all, what we truly want…isn’t it?
Father, open our eyes that we might see. Open our ears that we might hear. Open our lives that we might reveal the only truth that can set us all free from the sin that so easily entangles and snares us to a dark destiny. AMEN.