An Epiphany Story

 

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Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Adoration of the Kings, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=29420 [retrieved January 6, 2016].

This was my sermon on Epiphany Sunday 2016, a fictional story of the magi.

Centuries ago, many say after the return from exile in Babylon, Jewish teachers and rabbis developed a method of teaching and preaching Scripture called midrash. Midrash attempts to find the holes in the text, the little parts that don’t get as much attention, and see what we can learn from them. Midrash aggadah focused on the stories of the Scriptures and tried to see what we can glean from everything from a throw-away detail to an unnamed or underappreciated character.

Christians, too, centuries later developed traditions around the Bible to fill the gaps in the stories. These traditions gave us the names of the Gospels and their authors, they helped flesh out the fate of the apostles, and even name and number the magi we honor today. These stories don’t fall so neatly into the categories of fact and fiction – or fact and falsehood – that we typically rely on today. Instead, the stories of midrash aggadah and Christian tradition seek to find a truth in the story and then run with it. The stories, then, are not necessarily factual but they communicate core truths of the Scripture – they tell us what the Bible wants to tell us but in a new way. Plus, they make wonderful stories like many of the traditions we associate with Christmas and Easter.

So, instead of a traditional sermon, I thought we could just settle in together tonight and listen to a story – if only we had some hot chocolate and a warm fire. This is a story, a midrash, of the magi. We’ll call them Mel, Casper, and Bell. This is a story of how they met Jesus. It’s a tale of suspense and mystery, of struggle and temptation, and hopefully of a little bit of truth.

***

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, there was a small group of star-gazers who looked up at the night sky with all the wonder, fear, and curiosity that it deserves. Mel, Casper, and Bell were university students in Babylon who had all been drawn there by the stars.

Mel was from Babylon, a Persian, and he had never dreamed of traveling very far. He was too interested in the unreachable and unattainable heights of the stars to be bothered with earthly travel. Mel was enamored with the movements of the stars, how they seemed to predict changes in season or come before important events. Unsurprisingly, Mel dedicated his studies to the stars in astronomy.

Casper had come to study from much further away. He hailed from Pushkar, in distant India. Fascinated by all that he had seen under the stars, Casper had decided to study history. He hoped that by studying history, he would be able to help break the continual cycles of violence he had seen all over the world. Peace under the stars, he thought, was only possible if we learned our history.

Bell came from a closer, but still fairly distant, place called Sana’a in Arabia. Bell had lost her family and sought a new one in Babylon. She had known many people in her time and she had noticed that all seemed isolated from one another, a truth that bothered her deeply. She also longed for a family, a name, to call her own. When Bell looked at the stars, she noticed that everyone lived under the same points of light, so there must be something that connected them all. With such mystical questions, Bell chose to study the worlds’ religions.

Despite their different interests, Mel, Casper, and Bell became fast friends when they arrived at the university in Babylon. They ate their meals together, they went on weekend trips, and they studied together almost every night. They poured over the seemingly endless supply of books on the top floor of the university’s library, quite literally burning the midnight oil. Each night, they finished their day with the same ritual. As the oil for the lamps began to run out, they frantically shelved all their books and put away their work so that they didn’t leave behind a mess. Then, they shut the doors behind them and went out on the balcony of the top floor of the library. They had set out pillows and chairs, and every night they would sit together and look up at the stars.
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Why am I so tired of Matt Walsh?

This is Matt Walsh.
This is Matt Walsh. He has “absolute truth” and “radical thoughts.”

If you haven’t heard of Matt Walsh, bless your heart and don’t bother to read the rest of this post. Who is Matt Walsh? He bills himself as a purveyor of “absolute truths” and the “traditional family.”

This is also Matt Walsh, but not the one we're talking about. I hear this one's funny.
This is also Matt Walsh, but not the one we’re talking about. He’s an actor/comedian. I hear he’s funny.

He enjoys writing headlines for his blog that are senselessly provocative, such as “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice” right after the beloved actor’s death, “Barack Obama doesn’t care about black people,” “Just pretend this dead lion is a human baby and you won’t be so upset,” and the article I’d like to focus a bit on today: “Why is everyone so mad at Ray Rice for punching his fiancee?”

This is also Matt Walsh, but he's a basketball player. Don't be mad at him.
This is also Matt Walsh, but he’s a basketball player. Don’t be mad at him. #funwithgoogleimagesearch

When I read Walsh’s take on the Ray Rice situation, one paragraph in the middle really hit the nail on the head as to the question above: Why am I so tired of Matt Walsh? Read:

What if Rice and his fiancée switched sides in this? Unlikely, I realize, but follow the hypothetical. What if Janay spat on Rice and he smacked her in retaliation, and then, after some kind of altercation in the elevator, Janay leveled Rice and left him unconscious on the floor? Would we be equally as furious at the woman in that situation?
Not a chance. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it.
So if men and women are equal and everything is exactly the same, why would the reaction to this scenario be dramatically different if we changed the sexes of those involved?
There’s no use pretending that our reaction wouldn’t be different. You won’t fool yourself, or me, or anyone. There is a double standard. A different standard. Why?
We might as well just confront this question. It’s a scary thing to do, I realize. We don’t want to look any closer at this because know that the answer will devastate nearly all of our egalitarian leftwing feminist principles.
Why? Well, finally, I’ll propose an answer to the riddle: when we heap extra scorn on the abusers of women, we acknowledge that men and women are separate, distinct, and unique creatures. And we know that to acknowledge our separateness and distinctiveness is to contemplate the possibility that men and women have different roles in society, different duties, different responsibilities, and different purposes.

There are stronger words I would like to use to describe Matt Walsh’s contribution to humanity, but I have settled on the following: he is a unrepentant purveyor of white heterosexual male privilege over and against the rights, hearts, minds, and souls of oppressed people everywhere. Matt Walsh knows nothing of what it is to be oppressed and has chosen to make it seemingly his life’s mission to deny that such systemic oppression has any effect on anyone else’s life. Matt Walsh wants you other white heterosexuals to know that you do not need to feel in any way complicit in oppression or injustice anywhere. Continue reading “Why am I so tired of Matt Walsh?”

Ideology and Prayer

“When we are on the street and find ourselves in front of a closed Church,” [Pope Francis] said, “we feel that something is strange.” Sometimes, he said, “they give us reasons” as to why they are closed: They give “excuses, justifications, but the fact remains that the Church is closed and the people who pass by cannot enter.” “The faith passes, so to speak, through … Continue reading Ideology and Prayer