Last week, I read in the Christian Century about:
- Christians being imprisoned and beaten in the Mosul region of Iraq.
- Muslim sheikhs, imams and preachers disappearing at the Kenya-Somalia border.
- Protestant pastors who had lived in Turkey for years forced out of the country.
- Members of the B’hai faith being imprisoned and threatened in Yemen.
- Angela Merkel’s move to ban burqas in Germany.
And, of course, I already knew about Brexit. About the U.S. election and the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and hate crimes in its wake.
It seems that people around the world are drawing harder lines, taking harsher measures to separate people into groups; to establish who is “us” and who is “them”–and to claim security and power for “us” by putting “them” in their place.
So it seems a good time for Epiphany. A good time for this familiar story of the wise men from the East. Because beyond the adventure of the journey and the intrigue of the star and the preciousness of the baby gifts and the drama of Herod’s plotting—beyond everything that makes this such a great story—this text brings us into the heart of the Gospel. It demonstrates what God has been saying to God’s people throughout scripture.
The Hebrew scriptures make it clear that God wants us to include the “alien”–foreigners, immigrants, those who are different from us. People from different places, people with different customs and beliefs—we are to include them, to seek justice for them, to love them.
And that’s the precedent that is set from the beginning of the Gospel texts as well. At the center of this Epiphany story is God’s insistence that everyone is invited into the Divine story; no one is foreign to the grace of God.
The magi were foreigners who paid better attention to the signs of the Messiah than the Jewish scribes and scholars. Foreigners who were willing to travel hundreds of miles to worship the Jewish savior when the Jewish leaders just nine miles away in Jerusalem couldn’t be bothered. Foreigners to whom God came in a dream.
On Epiphany, we celebrate the full revelation of God. The story of the magi reminds us that this revelation often comes to—and through—those who are other. People who wear strange clothes and eat odd food and come from places that are not home to us.
As the world seems to be sliding dangerously away from this holy spirit of inclusion, we must stay grounded in this core teaching of scripture. We must remind each other of our calling and assure ourselves that we are not alone in this walk. In this work.
For all the bad news of the world, I have also read, this week, about Halima Aden, a Muslim who finished among the top 15 contestants in the Miss Minnesota contest wearing a hijab throughout the competition and a burkini for the swimsuit portion.
I have seen many of my friends on Facebook putting signs in their yards—in the yards of their churches—reading: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”–in English, Spanish, and Arabic. And we just put one up at Peace Mennonite.
San Antonio Mennonite Church, with financial support from other congregations, is working to assist immigrant women and children who have been released from detention centers.
For all the Herods of the world, fearful that their power will be threatened by people who are different and unfamiliar; for all of the chief priests and teachers of the law, too involved in their own narrow world to realize the miracles so close at hand—For all of the forces that insist we close ranks and beef up security, there are those watching the heavens, those traveling to distant lands, those welcoming foreigners, those following stars and listening to dreams and living out the word of God.
Thankfully, there are more than three of us. Many, many more.
[This post is adapted from a sermon I preached at Peace Mennonite on January 8, 2017.]