New Year, New You. Happy New Year! This was the greeting I read online this week, which got me kinda confused since I am still the same human I was last week, last year. Just the date has changed. New year, new you, is about us moving past the problems and challenges of last year and showing up to the hope and possibility of a year yet to be explored. Billions of dollars in yoga mats, water bottles, meal plans, and gym memberships are sold to us every year to help us show up differently in the year ahead. Yet, despite all the money we spend on these items, the yoga mats stay in their corners, the water bottles get lost in the back of our cupboard, and our gym memberships go unused because life takes over. Before we know it, our lives go from fresh start to chaos with meetings, events, trips, renovations, health… life just kind of takes over. Which then, in 12 short months, we once again take stock of our year and try and show up differently, to live differently in 2021. This new year, this season of Epiphany is all about showing up, as God shows up for us, and seeing God's presence within everything we have and are.
In the gospel of Matthew that we just heard, we once again welcome the Magi among us at the manger. Our translations have ascribed these people to be kings and men, neither of which is verifiable. It is unlikely that they were kings- in the way we know kings today, but were people of incredible wisdom. Being from the East, most likely from the area of modern day Iran, these wise people were most likely a mix of male and female priests of the Zoroastrian religion- a religion which is still practiced today. Their wisdom, their scriptures, brought them to look for their saviour- which they found in following a star. What is a challenge, however, is the time it took for them to arrive. Christmas was a week and a half ago, and already we are welcoming the magi. How? According to genealogies, Christ would have been at least 2 by the time the Magi came into the picture, because King Herod ordered the murder of all those under 2 in the very next section of Matthew's gospel. Coming from the East was also not an overnight trip- they had no Air Canada, or VIA Rail to get them there. They had to walk, by the leading of a star- and that took a lot of work, and a lot of time. I often wondered if in that time they were asking questions of themselves, wondering how they should act or what they would find, so much so that by the time they did arrive they were awed in silent witness to what they say. They knew immediately that what they were seeing was the Saviour. They knew this because of the journey they undertook in showing up for Jesus, a journey which was full of worship and discernment.
What led the Magi to the manger was a star which represented the indication of God’s presence here among them. While King Herod was in his palace, surrounded by the tensions and strains of government, in the fake opulence of anxiety and suspicion, the Magi slowly walked the way of their heart, the way of discernment which God was leading them in their lives, trusting their chosen path, to meet God made flesh in Christ. Sounds kinda familiar, doesn't it? The discernment of our own lives often feels the same- How are we to follow God's call in our lives? How are we to meet God in our everyday lives? The Magi could have paid attention to the show and power of Roman occupation, to the comfort of a known way, to go with the flow and make friends with King Herod, but instead, they put God first, in a way that nothing could shake them from encountering God in their lives- not even Herod, time, distance, or place.
In the joys of a new year, with fresh starts, and infinite possibilities, as we continue to celebrate the presence of God’s irremovable nature in our neighbourhoods, I want to challenge us- you and I together- to put God first in our lives, just as the Magi did. In our everyday actions which are often ruled by the voices of our Roman occupiers that tell us we aren't enough, that we need to work harder, save more, be more, in order to be successful. Here are a few of the many ways I think we can continue to do that work together this year.
Pray. Pray with your life. Find the balance that works best for you. Maybe it's the walk at night with the dog, or the sunset, or the quiet patio after a busy day, or the moments before you sleep, whatever it is, make a choice about where you feel most aware of God's presence and honour that time with prayer. There is no need for elaborate prayers, or liturgy- although if that helps, go with it- rather carve out space in your life and day and make that as unshakable a need for you as it is to breath or drink water in order to stay alive. Prayer is a fundamental need of our bodies, we are built for communication and conversation. Prayer is both communication and conversation. You might start with “Hi God, it's me.” and continue with a retelling of your day, or focusing on things which need help in your day. Maybe it's anger or frustration. Bring it to God, and share your life in prayer. Sit with God, as God sits with you every single day.
When you sit down to make your budget for the year let the way you spend your money reflect the kind of relationship you have with God. When I was younger, I used to put God in my discretionary spending- the money I had left over after I had paid for all my clothing, food, and shelter costs. That always meant that God and my relationship with God was something I would pay attention too when I had the money- it was always tomorrow. Yet, God was never a God of Tomorrow- God was and is a person who not only moved into my neighbourhood, God kept ringing my doorbell and inviting me to parties and events, and I kept telling God I was too busy trying to survive to go. What changed was a realization that without God, I can’t survive at all. The fallacy that any of us are able to do life without God is one of the greatest lies ever told to humanity. How can we survive without breath, water, or a heart beat- all of which is God. Putting God first in our finances, by supporting what we see and know as God's Ministry of inclusion, justice, peace, and community, is about accepting God's invitation to a deeper relationship that enables us to use the gifts we have been given to transform the world by our presence and God's power working through us. We can’t take our money with us when we die, so why not make it work for God’s kingdom now, and be apart of the change we long to see?
The gift of the Magi is their choice to show up, and walk with God in the pilgrimage of their lives. They made choices to journey away from home, to follow the star into unsafe and strange places, to give of themselves and their riches, to encounter the promise of a relationship that would change their world. God showed up for us at Christmas, and invited us into the most profound relationship we will ever have as we peered over the edge of the crib and laid eyes on Christ. In the noise of a new year, Epiphany asks us to show up with God as God shows up to us- as a first priority. We are, by the Magi this morning, asked to make God the first priority in our relationship of prayer and with our money this year. So Church, how will you show up for God in 2020, as God showed up for you at Christmas?