Matthew 2:1-12

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew tells a marvelous story about the fulfillment of messianic hopes laid out in the Old Testament (whether the authors knew they hoped for “Christ” or not). Today, he draws on the ideas from Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60 that “the Lord will arise” and foreigners will bring tribute to Israel’s God. We can see, of course, how this connects with the Magi’s response when Jesus was born. Matthew cares about the fulfillment of prophecy because he’s writing a deeply Jewish Gospel. In Jewish thought at Matthew’s time, the fulfillment of prophecy was the best indicator of God’s faithfulness. Yes, Matthew meant for foreigners to see God’s glory in the heavens, but it’s “his” religion’s glory that was predicted.

In that case, Matthew was probably surprised by the twist in his story even as he wrote it: these foreigners see a glory that “our people” don’t see. The king of Judea and his religious scholars miss it, and the pagans get the scoop. It’s as if something about this story was beyond the religious thinkers. Something was. The secret of Christ’s coming was hidden from those who were not truly open to it, those people with power to consolidate. If we read on in Matthew’s story, we find that those with power end up using their knowledge to kill infants, so they can hold onto their power. The Magi, by contrast, were open to new knowledge. Something in the stars led them to learn something new, to ask questions, to follow a hunch across the desert all the way to Bethlehem. Their openness leads them to yet another new take on this story. God’s truth grew that day.

We celebrate the expansiveness of Christ’s story today, a truth that just keeps growing. The truth grew when these visitors from the East found room in their knowledge for this new beginning. It grew when a devout Jew writing his Gospel found room in God’s story for some pagan scientists. It grew when Paul realized what a profound transformation was implied in God’s openness to the Gentiles. It grew when we opened our church to people with many different backgrounds, life experiences, and special needs. This congregation is especially good at making room for many forms of God’s wisdom.

God’s wisdom – the Good News we proclaim – hides in many forms. The “secret” (as Paul calls it) is that God makes room for all people in Jesus. That’s why the Magi worshiped him: they recognized a hidden mystery in this flesh. They saw God in this actual little baby, not just some great cosmic pattern. The mystery is clearest when it’s hidden in a specific person, as long as your eyes are open to see it. The secret is that God is not “out there” somewhere. The Gospels are about a God who chooses to live and be right here, wrapped in a bundle of skin.

Paul tells it like it’s some kind of secret, but the “secret” is not so hard to see. God is with us already; God is in us; God wears our bodies. The secret is that the incarnation didn’t begin in Bethlehem. God has been in the flesh – in creation – from the beginning. The secret is that nobody has ever been truly excluded from God’s community, because God is already with us. All this was a secret to Paul before his conversion. It tends to be hidden from us when we imagine that our religion is right and therefore yours must be wrong. However, even when we draw God’s love-circle too small, God doesn’t. There room in God’s church for all people.

It’s one thing, of course, to say that God’s love enfolds us all. It’s another thing to make that real, to put it in flesh like God did in Christ. That’s what the church is for. The church reveals God’s wisdom. It makes the good news real, proclaiming that God loves us all. It’s not that God’s wisdom isn’t elsewhere too. Wisdom is revealed in nature, at school, in your families – it takes on all kinds of flesh. You’re probably convinced that you’ve seen God’s reflection somewhere other than this church, and you’re probably right. That’s part of how the church (this church, especially) reveals God. It makes room for a God we don’t all see in the same way.

God reveals the eternal secret in the church, and our whole job as the church is to embody God for the world. Nothing else is needful. I love many other things about the church, of course. Theology, liturgy, and beautiful music deepen my image of God. But as fascinating as all that is, none of it really matters if we’re not revealing God to the rest of the world. Some churches will always be better or worse at reflecting my particular image of God, but this isn’t about me. I’m more than happy to have churches – or synagogues, mosques, or temples – where I don’t personally belong, if God is there.

So how do we know that God is there? Well, here’s a hint: it’s not necessarily in any of the ways that we might imagine God to be somewhere. God isn’t there because the prophecies have been fulfilled, there are supernatural lights in sky, or you find an eerie glow-in-the-dark baby. God’s not there because of the right music, theology, structure, or creed, even if that’s what feels like God to you. God’s not even there because people are as nice to you as you expect or wish, although that’s closer to the point.

God is there, where we honor God’s image in all people and all the world. God is there, where we’re drawn farther along that road of mercy and peace. Christians are people of the Way, following Jesus on the same self-giving road he walked in human flesh. If it sounds, smells, confesses, or feels like God, let it draw you into the living God’s love where you are. Very specifically for us, let it draw you into love here on our end of the Iron Range. Let it lead you to do good, to make room at God’s table right where we are. Let God’s presence make room in this church for people with non-traditional views of God, in a very theologically traditional place – that’s God in our flesh. Let there be room for Day Program consumers and college students at our Thanksgiving dinner – that’s God’s light shining in our flesh. Let there be room for our kids to learn more than just Bible stories – let them learn how to serve and share with others – that’s how we worship God in this flesh.

God is there, where you’re called to shine a light in the world. God is there very specifically in your life, and in this church that goes with you in service.

Amen.

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