Saturday, January 26, 2019

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The eighth chapter of Nehemiah recalls a pivotal moment in the history of God’s Word. After several generations of captivity in Babylon, Ezra has led some of the captive back home to a Jerusalem that lies in ruins. Nehemiah leads the rebuilding of the city walls and the Temple. They gather the community before the Water Gate as Ezra opens a scroll of The Law of Moses. For six hours he reads and others interpret the text “so that the people understood the reading.” [Nehemiah 8:8]

It is perhaps the first recorded instance of the birth of the Sermon. The text tells us the people who stood there and listened for six hours wept. Perhaps just the sound of the words in the air evoked such deep emotion. Perhaps it was for the first time in generations that they were standing back in their home, newly rebuilt after years of devastation, years of captivity, years of yearning, years of hoping for release. Perhaps they weep as they hear a renewed rendering of what it means to be God’s people – that just as Cyrus of Persia, a gentile, a righteous gentile, had secured their freedom to return, so they too were to dedicate their lives to serving and securing release for all others who have suffered as they had.

Ezra and the priests urge them to stop their weeping and to, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

“Send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared.” This is the essence of the Law of Moses they heard that day. That, and that “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And what makes the Lord joyful is when we reach out beyond our little community and take care of those for whom “nothing is prepared.”

There can be little doubt that Jesus in Luke chapter 4 has similar things in mind as he visits his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. Synagogues had been born six hundred years before while his ancestors were in captivity in Babylon, having been separated from the central location of their worship, the Jerusalem temple. Since there was no place to present the appointed sacrifices, they would gather in synagogue communities to reflect on other aspects of the Law of Moses – such as the commandment to love God and love your neighbor – neighbor understood to include widows, orphans, the poor, those aliens traveling in and through the land; i.e those for whom nothing is prepared.

Jesus stands to read from a scroll handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 

This text he reads comes from portions of Isaiah 58 and 61, and seems also to refer to The Jubilee Year (the year of the Lord’s favor) as outlined in Leviticus 25. To people who have been held captive in their own homeland first by the Greeks and now by Rome, this no doubt not only sounded like good news, but astoundingly amazing good news. And to those first reading or listening to Luke being read, there may be some sense of irony given the fact that just before this episode, the word is out that John the Baptist has been imprisoned – for announcing similar “good news.”

The year of the Lord’s Favor, or Jubilee Year, was prescribed to occur every fifty years. All debts were to be forgiven. So it is that Jesus would teach them to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” [Matthew 6:12] It is all to be part of God’s shrewd economic plan for God’s people, a kind of hard reset for the nation’s economy. It was to be one way to take care of those for whom nothing has been prepared.

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Really? Rome will decamp and leave the land today? Taking their tax collectors with them? John will be released along with thousands of others Herod and Pilate and others have imprisoned across the land? Today?

Like the moment in front of the Water Gate in Nehemiah, hearing all of this ought to have made them weep. Hearing it just now ought to make us weep – at first, weep with joy that our hopes and prayers may actually come to pass. Or, weep as we realize just what is being asked of us to forgive debts and release captives, and help those whose vision is poor to non-existent to see, to really truly see what God’s Word means for us to be doing.

As a dear friend used to teach, the Good News often sounds like Bad News because of the very real demands God’s Good News makes upon us all. But that Bad News becomes Good News to those who try it; those who live into it; those who forgive others, those who prepare portions for those who have no one to provide for them. Good News/Bad News/Good News.

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In your hearing. In our hearing. Do we hear it at all? Or, do we piously mouth, “The Word of the Lord…Thanks be to God,” and move on to the next thing? Do we hear it at all?

Where is Ezra and all the priests and Jesus to interpret this for us today, here and now, so that in our hearing this Good News for all people begins to be fulfilled? “Send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared.” It’s not that complicated. As Bob Dylan once sang, “And remember when you're out there / Tryin' to heal the sick / That you must always first forgive them.” Not much need for interpretation there.

This whole religion thing is not about belief. A core dimension of all religion, as Huston Smith outlined it years ago, is to discern what, if anything, we ought to be doing. It is about hearing and doing. Forgive, heal, and send help to those in need. It shouldn’t take six hours to get that across, let alone some 2,600 hundred years. “Do you hear what I hear? / A song, a song/High above the trees / With a voice as big as the sea – With a voice as big as the sea.”

Saturday, January 19, 2019

So shall your God rejoice over you!

John relates the story of Jesus and his mother at a wedding in Cana of Galilee [John 2: 1-11]. Cana is in the mountains just north of their hometown of Nazareth, and west of the Sea of Galilee. It’s an odd story which demands a lot from our imagination. Imagine, like Jesus and his mother, you are invited to a wedding feast – a wedding reception – that lasts for several days. Despite being a story about a wedding, it is really about God – and God’s future for all people – a God who Isaiah declares, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” [Isaiah 62:5]

Imagine you are Jesus’s mother. Curiously she is never named in John’s Gospel, perhaps to focus on the relationship between Jesus, the Word, and his Father, capital “F.” If you’re invited it most likely involves your clan. You notice that they are running out of wine. This will reflect poorly on the entire family if this happens. Nothing in the Gospel of John so far suggests that Jesus can do anything about this. Yet, his mother says to Jesus, “They have no wine.”

Or, imagine you are Jesus. He seems annoyed by his mother’s insistence and addresses her in a tone that I would have never imagined using with my own mother! "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." Why is he so curt with his mother? Why does he seem so annoyed? His mother, however, still seems to think he can remedy the situation. She turns to the servants and says: “Do whatever he tells you.”

In the end, however, Jesus obeys his mother, despite always saying he is to be about “his father’s business.” After all, his next action, his second sign, occurs only a few days later in the Jerusalem Temple. He moves rather quickly from Cana to Capernaum, which is North of the Sea of Galilee, and then suddenly way down south to Jerusalem where he is tossing over tables and driving animals out of the Temple precinct, so concerned is he about the house where “his father’s business” takes place – which is all about sacrificing said animals. Back in Cana, Jesus suddenly reverses himself and seems to think it is time after all. His hour has come.

Suddenly, he instructs the servants to haul 180 gallons of water to fill six 30-gallon jars. These jars are for “purification,” which means washing their hands before the wedding feast. There must be a lot of guests to need 180 gallons of water to wash their hands! Then he instructs them to take a cup of water to the Chief Steward, who declares to the bridegroom, “Wow! This is really, really good wine! Usually after everyone is drunk you serve cheap wine, but this stuff is great!” Not to mention there is lots of it! Something like 888 bottles of good wine!

Now imagine you are the bridegroom and hear the Chief Steward praising your really, really good wine and you wonder, “Just what he is talking about!” You have no idea. Where did this come from? And why does he think I have anything to do with its sudden appearance? The narrator concludes, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

It’s the first thing Jesus does, the first sign, and no one even sees it happen. No one knows how it happened! But happen it did! Leaving at least a few questions. Among them: What is the take-away from this extraordinary “sign”? And in a storyline which includes signs like healing people, raising the dead Lazarus, welcoming strangers, feeding thousands of people on a few loaves of bread and a few fish, appearing to people after he is dead, why is this the first sign?

Maybe, suggests my friend, colleague and now missionary, The Reverend Amy Richter, Jesus recalls a vision the prophet Isaiah had some seven hundred years earlier in a similar situation. Then, Israel was in Exile in Babylon. Now, they are in Exile at home under Roman occupation – home was no longer home. Isaiah who says that one day God will intervene, and “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” [Isaiah 25:6-9]

“So, when Jesus makes gallons and gallons of wine at a wedding reception [in the mountains],” writes Amy, “it is a sign, pointing to the scriptural promises that God will bring all people to God’s own self, that God will pour down God’s love and the abundance of God’s joy on all people, that the perfection that lies in God’s great future is real. But more – that the future abundance and grace and joy has begun in Jesus Christ. The future is now, the glory and grace of God are available now.” For all people.  [The First Sign, The Reverend Dr. Amy Richter]

Amy goes on to suggest that Jesus’s sign announces that God’s future is breaking in now. God’s future is available in the present. In this life. We don’t have to wait to experience it. And we can participate in this future that is here in Christ Jesus right now. How? By following his mother’s instructions to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” What does he tell us to do? Love God. Love neighbors, even strangers and enemies. Share what you have with others. Share your money, your time, your compassion, your care. Heal people. Raise the dead. Help those who are blind to see. Give thanks to my Father for all good things. And at his Last Supper he says to us, “You will do the things that I do, and greater things than these… Rise up, let us be on our way!” [John 14:12]

Oh yes, and he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The very last sign Jesus leaves his disciples, and that would be us, is a loaf of bread and a cup of - wine. At his Last Supper he passes around a cup of wine – “for all peoples.” It’s the first sign he gives us. It is the last sign he leaves us. The community which gathers around him calls this Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. As we look into the cup of wine week in and week out, we are to remember that first sign, and all his signs, and give thanks – thanks for the signs that say the future is now for those of us, who like his mother, reply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

His first word to those he calls to be his disciples is always, “Follow me… Rise up, let us be on our way.” We are those people who, like Jesus and Isaiah before him, know what God’s future looks like! We have heard the vision of how God plans to wrap this all up; we have seen the sign of 180 gallons of wine that announces: Yes, God’s future is now for those who look into that cup that shimmers with his life blood; who do remember and say, Yes, yes, I will rise up and follow!

Whenever any one of us looks into that cup and says, “Yes!” the words of Isaiah are fulfilled in our hearing: “…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I Am Loved, Therefore I Am

Ego amari, ergo sum
Jesus’ Baptism. This occurs within the context of the occupation of Israel by Rome (Luke 3: 15-22). Israel is unique among its ancient neighbors in often concluding that the bad things that happen to them, like the Babylonian Exile and this occupation, must be their fault. This is why John is down by the river inviting one-and-all to repent of whatever they have done to have lost their way and to be washed clean by baptism. Some there think John is the promised Messiah who will one way or another drive the Romans off. He insists he is not. There is one coming after him who will take an axe to the root of all their problems, their own sins and the Romans. The one who is to come will not baptize them with water like John does, but with Fire and the Holy Spirit. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” That some people will end up burning in unquenchable fire just does not sound like such good news. Luke also reports that John has been shut up in prison for rebuking and chastising Herod, the King of the Jews.

This seems to suggest, in Luke’s telling of the tale, that John is probably not there to baptize Jesus. Some of John’s disciples no doubt continue his prophetic ministry of cleansing the people to restore them to the way of God. The effect of this narration is for John to recede from the story as three remarkable things take place. First, while Jesus prays after he is baptized the heavens are torn open. Next, from this opening into the great beyond appears the Holy Spirit “in bodily form like a dove” to land upon Jesus. Followed, finally, by “a voice.” This voice declares, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and God the Beloved Son are all on stage in one place, at one time. God announces his love for his Son. Later others will recall that at the beginning of the story, the very beginning all the way back in the wilderness, this same God declares that he has rescued the people from Egypt not because of anything they had done, not because there were so many of them, rather “it was because the Lord loved you.” [Deuteronomy 7:8] And long after Jesus ascended back to where he came from, and from where we all come from, people declared that God is love. Love is God. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s Love for all people, all creatures, and all creation. The Spirit, the Breath, of the Lord is upon him and within him.

From that moment on, Jesus embodies God’s love, not with a winnowing fork nor with fire, but  through feeding, healing, and accepting into his presence all persons of all kinds and all possible afflictions and sinfulness. Being God’s Beloved is to have compassion on all persons, all creatures and all of creation. It means being good stewards of all people, all creatures and all of creation. This is how God’s Spirit of Love is given away to one and all. Given away. Absolutely free! And what Jesus gives away is the good news that we, all of us, are God’s Beloved, and that God is well pleased with us.

A Baptism in Samaria. In Acts chapter 8 this last point is driven home. Philip is visiting the Samaritans and proclaiming the good news. Samaria is where the first temple had been. The Samaritans were traditionalists and did not go to the new-fangled temple in Jerusalem, but rather continued to worship the God of the Exodus in Samaria. Philip is casting out spirits and healing Samaritans left and right. One Simon, called The Great, a magus, a magician, is impressed. This Simon the Great says to the people, “ ‘This man, Philip, is the power of the God that is called Great.’ And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time Simon had amazed them with his magic. But when they saw Philip showing compassion on all who were afflicted, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself was baptized, and he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.” [Acts 8:11-13]

The disciples in Jerusalem hear of what’s happening in Samaria and send Peter and John to baptize the Samaritans with the Holy Spirit. The text is rather funny about this saying: “for as yet the Spirit had not come upon them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus!” Only! When Simon the magician sees what happens when Peter and John lay hands on the Samaritans, “he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter and John have been through this before. Indignant, Peter says, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God.” Poor Simon. Simon’s magic attracted attention to himself and earned him money. With therese powers he could earn even more! Whereas the power of the Spirit demonstrated by Philip, Peter and John points only to God and God’s reign over all. The message of the text: God’s Spirit of Love is not for sale. You cannot buy this Belovedness. God’s Spirit and God’s Love are not commodities that can be bought and sold. It is to be given away. Absolutely free.

Our Baptism. It’s easy for us to laugh at Simon the Great Magician. Yet, we live in a time in which the commodification of everything is possible. Just the other day I was just speaking with a woman who works in a Natural Foods Market about our willingness to participate in this commodification of everything, including ourselves, as we allow ourselves to become walking-talking billboards wearing logoed clothing wherever we go! Old Navy, Givenchy, Columbia, Nike, Coach, Prada, you name it, we wear it emblazoned on every part of our bodies! Like Simon the Great, it is near impossible for us to believe that there is anything that cannot be bought and sold; that cannot become a commodity. We belong to those who manufacture our identity through all that we buy. Someone has coined, “Walmart, ergo sum” – “I shop, therefore I am!”

Whereas, our Baptism tells us, and all who know us, that we belong not to those who would like to manufacture our identities, but to the One Who Is To Come – Jesus Christ, God’s Beloved Son. Through water AND the Holy Spirit, we believe we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, his Church. We are Christ’s Body in this world. As such, we too are God’s Beloved. In and through Christ, we become those who proclaim this good news in all that we say and all that we do. Our identity has been forged through the life, death and resurrection of the One Who Is To Come. This identity is sealed upon our foreheads with a cross, traced with oil – not a corporate logo, but the very cross that says we have been forgiven; we are God’s Beloved; our God is well pleased with us. This is meant to make all the difference in the world. We are to be the embodiment of God’s love for all people, all creatures and all of creation itself.

As I ponder this each year as the Feast of our Lord’s Baptism rolls around, along comes, from stage left, an article from The New Yorker magazine, dated January 20, 1975:  Remembering W.H. Auden by Hannah Arendt. In this remembrance, Arendt recalls Auden’s close friend, Stephen Spender, remarking that the main theme of Auden’s poetry is love. Indeed, the most remarkable expression of this theme of love is stated in the opening verses of Auden’s poem, Winds
Deep below our violences,
Quite still, like our First Dad,   [God the Father]
  his watch and many little maids,
But the boneless winds that blow
Round law-court and temple
Recall to Metropolis
That Pliocene Friday when,     [the era in which homo sapiens arrives on the scene]
At His holy insufflation           [ God breathes into the first man on a Friday]
(Had He picked a teleost          [ray-finned fishes]
Or an arthropod to inspire,       [insects, spiders, crustaceans]
Would our death also have come?),
Our bubble-brained creature said—
“I am loved, therefore I am”—  [a refutation of Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum”]
And well by now might the lion
Be lying down with the kid,
Had he stuck to that logic.       [Isaiah 11:6]

Brilliant! “I am loved, therefore I am.” Descartes had missed it altogether. Descartes who believed the one statement that cannot be doubted would be, “Cogito, ergo sum – I think, therefore I am.” Thinking is not our essence. The essence of who we are created to be is not a thought, an idea, a doctrine or a belief. It is our being loved by the One who creates us, in whom we live and move and have our being. If only we would see this. If only we would accept this gift of our belovedness, suggests Auden, then Isaiah’s vision of a world in which the lion lies down with the lamb, The Peaceable Kingdom of God, would be here by now. Oh, says Auden, if God had only given this gift of love to a fish, or an insect, or a spider, or a crab, perhaps then we would be closer to Isaiah’s vision!

But no, God picked us, we the “bubble-brained” ones. We who are to know deep within ourselves that before we ever can conceive of what it means to Love God and Love our Neighbor we need to know that first and foremost that God loves us.

“I am loved, therefore I am.”

This love cannot be bought and sold. It is given. Absolutely free. If only we would accept the gift in the deepest recesses of our souls, in the darkest moments of our imperfect existence, we will once and for all fulfill the deepest desire of humankind, expressed, perhaps best, by one Socarates: Know thyself. Even Socrates, like Descartes, misses it. Love thyself? No. Know thyself to be loved – loved by a love like no other. For it is in this love that we are. You are. I am. Baptism means to be this, means to say this, means to express this in all that we say and all that we do – to know thyself to be God’s Beloved makes all the difference in the world. In the world. The world God loves filled with creatures God loves – even teleosts and arthropods! Great God, it is good! This news is good news for all the people. Sisters and brothers, repeat the refrain: I am loved, therefore I am! I am loved, therefore I am! I am loved, therefore I am! If only we would stick with this logic! If only…

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Camel's Story

Epiphany: The Camel’s Story [Matthew 2:1-12]

Ships of the desert, my eye! Being a beast of burden is not all it is cracked up to be when old nothing but dust for brains Adam named us camels, and when Isaiah proclaimed that a multitude of us would cover the land of promise bearing peoples and gifts from all corners of the earth to come and see the brightness of the light of God's people shining through the thick darkness covering all the earth. But still, without the bunch of us lugging all the supplies and tents, and yes, those precious if not somewhat odd gifts for a baby shower, the Magi, or the Wise Ones as I like to call them, would never have made it by the twelfth day. Besides, I consider myself one of the lucky ones who only had to carry one of the Wise One's himself, Melchior.

As it was, by the time we got there, Bethlehem, after being a town bustling and bursting with people and commerce for those few days of the census, had returned to its sleepy, tired City of David after everyone had been counted and had gone home. Which is to say, when we got there, the place was empty. Just a man, a woman, and between them the baby who was to be King. But there I go getting ahead of myself.

Thank goodness for Omar and Zepho and the other camel boys who actually saw to it that we were fed and watered and rubbed down now and then, while the Wise Ones could hardly if ever keep their heads out of the stars. If they were not gazing at the stars they were talking about them, charting them, interpreting them, and searching for just the one that would relieve them of their endlessly restless, inquiring and yearning spirits. While they searched the heavens and earth for something they kept calling "the truth," the rest of us in their not so little caravan saw to it that life was lived and everyone was taken care of. They often missed the most interesting and exciting parts of the journey, so absorbed and preoccupied were they with their own concerns and interests. Like the mouse who smuggled herself into the saddlebag of Gaspar's camel, Bella. She was a teenage mouse who had had a terrible fight with her parents and run away. But there I go again. I'm getting off the point.

So, where were we? Certainly not at that dreadful King Herod's palace. That’s Herod, King of the Jews. Oh, there was plenty of company for all of us camels amidst his livestock and barns, and plenty of water and grain and other good things to eat, but even we could sense the terrible cloak of darkness and death that surrounded his entire little piece of the great Roman Empire. And who was this Caesar he kept talking about? He seemed troubled to hear all the Wise Ones talking about the stars and a new King of the Jews and could he give directions to the place where the child lay. Well, no, blustered Herod, but surely you will return to tell me where the little one is so I can go there myself to worship him. It wasn't what he said but how he said it that made even the fleas on my humps crawl with uneasiness. There was a rattling in his throat, and his hands trembled, and the air was as still as death. It doesn’t take a Wise One to know that no king has ever yet bowed down to another king. We all thought, Surely there must be another way out of here. And as it turned out, we never did return to Herod as we headed off in a new direction afterwards, which was too bad since there was something compelling about that child.

On the outskirts of Bethlehem, we decided to make our camp where we ran across the happiest and wildest bunch of Bedouin shepherds you ever did see. All of them talking at once about angels and a baby and Good News for everyone. The Wise Ones smiled. The first time any of us had ever seen them smile! Just then we took the Wise One’s and all the gifts and headed into town to see if it was just as the shepherds had told us.

When we found the young family it was night. It was very cold. The odor of the hay was very sweet, and the cattle's breath, like ours, came out in little puffs of mist hanging in the air. Of course, I wasn't supposed to come into the place where they were. In fact, it was such a tiny little cave of a place there wasn't much room. But we had come so far, traveling for so many years to find something, someone, somewhere, that it seemed possible that we really might have to search no further. I figured it couldn't hurt if I just stuck my head in for a peek.

So, while Omar and Zepho and the others were unloading the gifts off the back of my cousin, and the Wise Ones were still consulting their charts and graphs to make certain that this truly was the one they were searching for, I stuck my head in. Well, it was a bit surprising to find the scene so ordinary. I don't know what I had expected, but after years of schlepping these Wise Ones and all their gear and supplies all over every-possible-where place, I guess I thought there would be crowds, and family, and all kinds of hoopla. I mean, even when a new camel is born amongst the herd, there is more attention and excitement: camel boys doing the midwifery, the rest of us clomping around to get a peek, shouts, cheers, everyone watching the new one try to stand up for the first time.

There was none of that in this little tiny place in Bethlehem. The man, the woman, between them the child. But no, just from the glance I caught, even I would have to say "between them, the King." Even I could see that this little child was true light itself, but it is really curious how little babies like this one cannot even get up on their legs the way we do. They just lie there, so, well, still and vulnerable. Even I could see that even the stars might bow down before this one. Even I could see that he could teach creepy old Herod a thing or two about being a king. Even I could see that the heavens and earth and all creation were somehow about to be made new by the presence of this one baby in the hay.

It's just too bad the Wise Ones did not seem to see all that. I mean they put their gifts in there, and bowed down on bended knee and all. But then it was back out the door, and up looking into the heavens again, and soon we were being loaded up and herded down the road and out of town. All of us except Bella, that is. Our little mouse companion stayed behind. She just could not bring herself to leave those people alone. She was not going back. Or going anywhere. She was staying right there with him, the one born to be King. She wanted to live the rest of his story!

Of course, we missed her. Gaspar's camel had come to like the little one. It was some years later that another mouse joined our caravan and started telling some fantastic and wonderful stories she had heard from her great-great-grandmother Bella! Seems that throughout the years many people came to see the child born to be King. Some went running through the streets and all over the world telling others the good things they had seen and heard about this child. Others came to offer whatever gifts they had so that he might bring abundant life to all the world. All came seeking to receive something from him. But once you see him, really see him, you long to give whatever you have to further his life in the world.

Sometime or another, everyone comes to take a look in that manger. Whenever your time comes to be with him, stop and spend more time than we did. The Wise Ones kept us wandering all over the place, looking for whatever they called "the truth." Somehow they just could not see that the “truth” is not an idea or a belief, but rather truth and salvation are a person – that child we once saw in Bethlehem. They kept vowing that one day they would return to Bethlehem, but every year they spent more and more time doing everything else but spending time with him before whom even the stars are said to bow down. I don't know what they saw, but I know what I saw. Just that glance, a peek in the door was enough to know that this Jesus reveals to you how much God watches over you and loves you. Even I could see that this Jesus calls us to follow him so we might do something beautiful with our lives and bear much fruit. Even us camels!

That’s the one thing I saw that night: that the World needs you. God needs you. Jesus needs you. They need your gifts, your light and your love. Isn't that the funny part of it all? The Wise Ones are off all the time looking at the light in the stars, when the light that is the light of the world is right here in the midst of us. He shows us that. Any camel with eyes could see that! Know, my sister, my brother, that there is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives and his light shines! This is a deep secret that even the Wisest Ones overlook most of the time. Let Jesus live in you. Go forward with him into all the world. Let your little light shine, for the light that is the life of the world is still coming into the world through that child we saw that night long ago.

By the way, did I fail to mention the seemingly little-known fact that Melchior's name was really "Salome," and that it was changed not merely because of the patriarchy, but because of the seemingly strange gift of Myrrh that she brought to the Christ child? Myrrh. A burial spice. Of course, the Wood of the Crib is the Hard Wood of the Cross. I will ask you a terrible question. Is the Truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this – that to live without him is real death, that to die with him is the only life? But, that’s an altogether different story. Or, is it?  Keep looking at the babe in the manger. Offer him your gifts, and you will see all that there is to know and see! And then some. And then some. And who knows, maybe if we all offer of ourselves as much as we receive from him, we just might one day make it through the eye of a needle!
[Thanks and apologies to Ted Loder, Frederick Buechner, John Shea, and Jean Vanier whose writings and reflections inspired this telling of The Camel’s Story.]