Almost Missing the Messiah
By Dr. Heather Entrekin
We seem to start a lot of sentences with the word, “Where?” around our house. Where’s the paper? Where’s the salt? Where’s the dog? The other day a video camera disappeared into thin air. It’s not a large house. There are only two of us plus dogs living in it. No one can find it. We are always missing something we need. We want to know – where.
It is a question of the ages. In Matthew magi come looking for the “child born king of the Jews” and the first word they speak is, “Where?” It is the first word of any human character in the book of Matthew. It is also King Herod’s first question. Where? Where is God showing up in that world and in this?
And as Matthew tells it, it’s easy to look in the wrong places, to miss. If Isaiah 60, the words of our Call to Worship, were all we had to go by, we’d never budge from Jerusalem, waiting for some grand and glorious royal event, God revealed in a powerful place through powerful people.
It’s easy to miss because God tiptoes in at the most unlikely times and surprising places with the most unpredictable people.
Those magi, for example, had a star to follow but they almost missed it, by about nine miles – the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They didn’t expect to find a king in small town, in a manger. They asked for directions in a more logical place – in Jerusalem, at the king’s palace.
Herod, and the political and religious establishment, almost missed it. They didn’t take kindly to magi from the east pointing the way to God. They thought Herod’s throne was in the center of the universe.
And if you were looking for the messiah, the magi themselves would be the least likely ones to show you. Who could be more foreign, unbiblical, even anti-biblical, than a bunch of astrologers who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Who did not know the stories and genealogy and promises of God? Who had neither Torah nor tradition to go by, only an erratic star?
Who expected God to work so ambiguously and unobtrusively and behind the scenes in that time and that place through those people? We prefer to be in control and to keep our world just as it is, with us on top and everything the way we expect it to be, so it is still possible to miss God by nine miles or more. We still ask, Where?
Rick Warren has pointed an unlikely way to God through a coalition as surprising as those astrologers must have seemed to the ancients. On World AIDS Day last December, this evangelical, megachurch pastor and author of the Purpose Driven Life, brought together rock star Bono and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and Senators Barack Obama and our own Sam Brownback, to show the love and the revelation of God in the fight against AIDS.
But another coalition, a religious coalition, stood up and said, God can’t be in this. These people send the wrong moral message. “This kind of conference is just going to lead people astray” (Wiley Drake, in “False choices plague anti-AIDS fight,” Christian Century, 12/26/06, p. 12).
Where is the one who came to redeem the world, to save us from our sins?
You could look where miracles happen. According to Mary Rose O’Reilley, it is “on the edges of time zones, on the border of the woods, in the void between perch and free fall.” They happen in small towns and small churches and even outside them. They happen when people who are apart, come together: clueless but obedient and hopeful magi, and even a scheming and violent king under a star, and perhaps Barack Obama and Rick Warren and Sam Brownback.
With the likes of these, God tiptoes in and takes the future out of our hands and our control, to reveal God – thank God.
The beautiful, fancy word for this space is liminal, the Latin word for `threshold.’ (The Love of Impermanent Things, 154). The wise ones stepped across the threshold of a stable and came into the presence of God.
Could God do it, does God do it, with the likes of us?
Last month at Prairie, a big group of youth, led by Kyle, came on a Saturday morning to the Prairie Seniors meeting. They went around to the tables where the elders were sifting, in small groups, three times answering and asking questions. Near the end, the table topic was, “What is it you want to know about the other generation?” And I heard an elder ask a youth, “Why do boys wear those pants way down around their knees?” And I heard a youth ask an elder, “What is it like to lose so much of what you love and care about when you get older?”
There was nobody famous or powerful in that room in this church. But there was listening and laughter and respect, and people together who usually are apart…and it seemed like stepping across the threshold into the presence of God.
It’s so close and so unobtrusive and simple…you could almost miss it.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Dr. Heather Entrekin. Used by permission.