January 3, 2015 – 2 Christmas A
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Trivial Pursuit is a game that has been with us for about 35 years now, a game I find fairly frustrating and rarely play anymore. Maybe you have the same problem with that game that I do. I hear the obscure question and I have an inkling of what the answer could be. But instead of paying attention to that inkling I talk myself into some other answer. Of course the answer I say out loud is wrong and when the correct answer is read to me, it is often the one that I had thought of first but had somehow convinced myself couldn’t be right. As Alice said, in her journey through Wonderland, I almost always give myself good advice but I so rarely follow it.
Robert Bly, an American poet of some note, says that the senses of modern man have been dulled. Primitive people were much more alive in their senses than we are, he writes. We have inklings but we don’t pay attention to them well enough. Kramer tells George, in a Seinfeld episode: Listen to the little man inside you. George responds: My little man is an idiot. We convince ourselves that what we have inside naturally is not right and we discount this voice within. That mistake is not too terrible in playing a game but in life it can bring about much unnecessary pain and even devastation.
As our gospel lesson begins, the wise men have just completed their visit to the infant Jesus. King Herod had sent them and instructed them to come back and tell him where Jesus was. During their stay, however, the wise men have a dream warning them about Herod’s intentions toward this child Jesus. So instead of going back to Herod, they go home another way. They paid attention to that inkling within, discerned that the dream was from God, and acted on the dream.
After they leave, Joseph has a dream or maybe it’s an inkling or an instinct or an intuition. This dream also warns him about Herod so Joseph packs up his young family and flees to Egypt. Joseph obeyed the dream, paid attention to his inkling. After Herod died, Joseph had another dream telling him to come back to Israel, so back they all come. But just before he gets back, he has yet another dream. In this dream he sees that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was also out to harm Jesus so Joseph went to Galilee, to a small town called Nazareth. There Jesus grew and later began his ministry, the one that guides us today.
Dreams play an important part in this whole section of Matthew’s gospel. What’s striking to me is not that the wise men and Joseph have these dreams but that they have the ability to trust the dreams and follow their instincts. They don’t talk themselves out of their inklings. They seem to have their ears and hearts tuned to the guiding voice of God and know that the message is not just from their imagination. They hear and they follow. And had they not, what would have happened to this child that is the Son of God?
I have learned that it is valuable to ask people who seek spiritual direction to pay attention to their dreams. Often people seeking a new way find answers deep within themselves. They have doubted their own instincts, convinced themselves that their answer will always be wrong, and have looked somewhere else for help. The help they find actually is from somewhere else, from God, but it wells up as a clear voice from within. An important teaching of Jesus Christ is that we have enough grace in our lives to cope and find healing. Always we have enough. Dreams in themselves are no magic key and sometimes aren’t even worth remembering. But we do need to pay attention to the many inklings we have. Those inklings can be ways in which God calls us into action.
Each of us is called and when we heed those calls, life comes together for the good. We can trust that God will guide us in consistent themes of teaching rather than giving us complicated riddles that we must solve alone. There is comfort here in that each of the wise men received the same dream and that each of Joseph’s dreams builds on the last. There is clarity, consistency, peace. God does not speak to us in unnerving flashes and then sit back in heaven to see if we will learn on our own. When our prayers regularly include significant time for quiet listening, we hear a clear and consistent message. But are you listening regularly? Are you trusting God to guide?
The creation narratives in Genesis tell of the time when people were first made. The narratives express the truth that, when we were first created, we were closer to God and trusted our God-given instincts. Over time we came to question that created goodness, resented being asked to follow a voice at all, and decided to follow our own voices. Our own voice led us only to be lost and we came to see that we were under the power of sin. We even came to believe that we were ruled more by Satan than by God. Jesus comes to show us that we are created by God and forgiven by God and that this earthly world is not ultimately the realm of Satan but the realm of the Almighty. We are not called only to see that we are powerless; we are called to acknowledge our powerlessness and to trust that a power greater than us can restore us.
The supreme intervention has already been made in Christ Jesus. God has acted to restore us; he has come to forgive and make us fit for the kingdom of God. He has promised to guide us and direct us to his kingdom; he has given us his own voice to lead so that we may find the kingdom here and now. The voice is not just given to wise men and Joseph; the voice is given to us, every day. It is no riddle to be solved but a life’s listening to be learned. It comes as a clear and consistent message, a peaceful partner in your life. By now many have thrown away all vestiges of Christmas, packing away all the signs of celebration. Do not pack away the eternal truth of the season. Do not relegate it to the past. Do not dismiss it as a riddle or a trivial pursuit. In Christ, our God comes to guide us and lead us to his kingdom.