It is 9:30 am and I see this little green shoot sticking out ahead of me as I drive down the back alley. Its boxing day, and I am on my way to celebrate Christmas with my family, but there is this now larger green shrub where the green shoot used to be catching my attention. It can't be, I thought, can it? Closer and closer I get, before I see not one but three Christmas Trees next to the garbage cans ready for collection. Christmas is barely even 24 hours old, and the symbols of our festival are already being torn down and turned into wood chip. The long and protracted season of cultural christmas askes some important questions of us, when the spiritual festival of Christmas only begins on December 25. What are we celebrating, why do we mark it, and why call it Christmas- because there doesn't seem to be much of Christ present in the long lines of our stores or the endless piles of wrapping paper we throw away for a season that starts in October. Or is there? We bring in tree’s and greens to remind us of the beauty which is all around us, symbols of God's abundant care and creativity all around us. Around the heaving tree laden with gifts and good wishes is often a simple creche scene- almost like the two worlds of culture and faith collide in one place. Yet at the heart of both our tree’s, greens, gifts, and creches, we are called to encounter God made Manifest before our eyes, which is a revolutionary statement. These three Kings, we celebrate today, have something to tell us about that.
The title of Kings is a bit misleading, in that these wise persons were actually zoroastrian priests- seers and people of great wisdom who worshiped in places like Iran and the middle east, and still do today. Like us, and the Jews, they were waiting for the promised messiah and having read the signs in the heavens found themselves before this new baby in a feed stall in bethlehem. We have no way of knowing if these wise folks were just three, or three hundred, and the number is less important than what they were doing by coming to this manger. Matthew, at this very early state in his Gospel, is already setting up for us an alternate kingdom to that of Rome. This child, barely two weeks old, is already becoming a symbol of resistance and change. King Herod was expecting us to pay him homage, as for Rome, there was no higher authority than their control and rule. Yet the Wise Men didn’t, they basically used Herod as a waystation on their quest to feed their camels and water their attendants. They knew this man before them was not the messiah, he was barely a king. Herod, and his family had converted to Judaism, and in doing so lived in constant fear that his power and identity would be gone in a flash if he let go of his control for even an instant. Herod got were he was by force, not by birth. Jesus got were he was by birth and not force. The homage that the wise men pay to this child, in a stable, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the poor and outcasts of the world- terrifies the powers of our world, and it should terrify us too because its asking something of us.
The power of the moment when these wise men knelt down to look into the babies eyes in the manger, full of wonder and hope, to give him their precious gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, is far more than a cute christmas card or a lavish birthday gift- its a foreshadowing of a world turned upside down. In recognizing this child, born to relative no bodies in a stable, as a king and messiah, we are saying much more than a throw away statement because we know the outcome from hearing the story before. When we crawl up to that crib and peer in, offering these gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, we are saying that we recognize God in our midst- that God has moved into our neighbourhood, and no matter how hard we try to throw out our trees and decorations moving onto the next celebration- we can never ever be the same again. God literally took on the same flesh, the same circulatory, the same breath as you and me, not because he had to- but because he wanted to. He wanted to be so incredibly close to us, in order to feel our joy, our pain, our heartache and our dancing that he opened his eyes in the tiny human Jesus. In the midst of a world born of fear and control, the kingdom of God is revealed to us in the dependant and vulnerable state of a newborn. God made manifest in this season of light and life is as vulnerable and dependant as the world we live in, as our bodies we occupy, as our friendships, loves, and losses. You see, my friends, that's the greatest gift of this season, to know that the manifestation of God in our lives is both a point to arrive at and depart from. God's Manifestation in the manger is about coming into our everyday, and announcing a new way of life. It's about seeing things differently because of what we believe. It's about acting differently because of what we profess. And this is the scary stuff, it's about following who we are, because of what we are. No matter where God calls us to go, today is about going to find him in our lives.
This is the relationship of God made manifest in the infant child Jesus, that God calls you and I into a way of life so powerful that it changes the world because of our life in it. God is calling you, from the manger floor morning to move into the world and change it, because of the light made manifest before our eyes. How will you respond ?