Grace, peace and forgiveness to us all through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Every Christmas I am astounded at the variety of music that has been created to celebrate this season. I love hearing new songs as well as those old traditional carols. It’s been 16 Christmases since we were introduced to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” I don’t think for 16 years it has ever left my head. It’s been 40 years since Grandma got run over by a reindeer. And just this Christmas I have been introduced to a song that was written in 1990 but took 30 years to break into my consciousness. It’s called “Canticle of the Turning.” Rory Cooney takes the revolutionary words of Mary’s Magnificat and documents how having God with us turns the cosmic tables… how while walking our ordinary lives dictated by the “gods of our world” – Herod, Caesar, culture, politics, status quo – we come away from the experience of encountering God – through Jesus in Bethlehem having revolved or changed ourselves both on the interior (our hearts, our selves are changed) and on the exterior (we find a new way to live with others). And the world is about to turn!
My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn!
The remarkable reversal that our Hebrew scripture speaks of and this song foretells is also embodied in our Gospel today. Zoroastrian priests carefully look for signs of an encounter with God. King Herod fears that this babe will take his throne. These gentile magi find a child who will indeed become a king and present him with incongruous gifts for a baby: gold to honor his royalty, myrrh, a burial spice, as to one who is mortal and incense as to one who is divine. They have their encounter with God – and leave for their own country “by another road.”
And so I picture the Magi returning home with a new hope for themselves and the world, one that changed their daily living from searching and striving to gratitude and direction. They took a different route home so as not to be detected. But it was a different road for them at a metaphorical level, too. At home in Persia they had regular access to the king, and often advised him. In not returning to Herod as commanded, however, they were disobeying authority. In these new circumstances, they chose to honor a higher power and practice civil disobedience. Bethlehem marked not only their arrival, but also a new beginning, a new journey. They returned home by another road with new understanding, new routes, and new tactics.
Perhaps after this Christmas, especially, we all need to go home again only via a different road. My theology today is very different than it was 30 years ago. Yours has probably evolved, too. I thank God for new paths I’ve tried, strange characters I’ve met. On most days I can even thank God for heartaches that I have endured. Like those “wise guys,” we dare not retrace our former steps but must return home by a different way. Searching and journeying and at the same time, changed by what we have seen and experienced— Jesus our Immanuel, God with us. May God continue to guide our Cathedral family by the light of Christ to send us out to share and be the Good News and to lead us as we journey together by another road. The world is about to turn!
And in the words of a poem from the Iona Community
That is the trouble with God.
He does not let you leave as you came.
He sends you back, stripped of your presumptions,
making for home by another way.