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Those Who Dream… persevere

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Those Who Dream…persevere, HERE.

This past Wednesday, January 6, was… Epiphany.

There is something in the story of the magi, which only the author of Matthew writes about for us, that has always connected deeply with me.

Maybe it is the appearance of a celestial body. The star which caught everyone’s attention. When I was a child, my dad frequently took us outside at night to look up at the sky and name constellations. In last Sunday’s sermon I shared with you 8 faith practices which are ways we can each lean into and embrace our relationship with God in ordinary—and in difficult—days. One of the practices is to “commit to cultivating awareness of (our) kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning our use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.” The relationship of Jesus, God-With-Us, in the cosmos and natural world around us, shouts of great hope everywhere we look.

And this hope urges us to ask—where is the star leading now?

Or, maybe the date resonates simply because our son was born on January 6. As the story goes, when our daughter was 4 she loudly proclaimed, “I’m special because I was born on New Year’s Eve… right?” While yes, it is wonderful Nicole felt extraordinary each year as parties, music, and fireworks exploded on her birthday, we tried to balance out the special-ness with her brother. This led to our family lifting up Christmas, and the 12 Days of Christmas which follow—as Nicole’s birthday falls 6 days after Christmas and Joshua’s 6 days after that… on Epiphany.

The simple joys around us urge us to ask—what is the star revealing now?

This past Wednesday, January 6, was… a day which deeply challenged the constitutional structures of our nation. Shook us to the core of who we believe ourselves to be as Americans.

In my mind, the Save America rally this week morphed with Herod’s Save Judea. If we were to keep reading the verses in Matthew, chapter 2, we learn “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children (Matthew 2:14)…” These are scary, horrifying images triggered by the fear of losing power. Blood on the hands of rulers and their advisors due to what Herod perceived as a potential overthrow of his Make Judea Great Again policies.

Personally, as someone who follows Jesus, the Christian symbolism, anti-Semitism, and hate I saw in photos and video clips was particularly unsettling. There were flags with a red cross, others read “Jesus 2020.” In the news and on social media I saw people in sweatshirts which said “Independence Day, January 6, 2021.” One man brought a Confederate flag into the U.S. Capitol building. THAT flag didn’t even cross the thresholds of the seat of democracy during the Civil War. Another sweatshirt stated, “Camp Auschwitz.” We are learning gallows were even erected outside[1].

This past Wednesday, January 6, was the deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic in our country to date. Each day since has continued at a similarly high virus death count.[2] Some of you had dear friends who died. Into that sacred space of grief, we lift prayers to God.  

With all of these alarming images swirling about in our reality, Herod… fear… a constitutional crisis… the magi arrive. Persistent. Undeterred. Knowing God had been born on earth. I couldn’t help but envision a star shining over the state of Georgia as the television showed us lines of people waiting to vote.

And then there was the hope rising in the body of every person… people over the age of 70… sitting in cold cars overnight in Florida, waiting for a chance to get the coronavirus vaccine.

I also saw the cosmic events transpiring in every hospital across the country. Not heralding the birth of a messiah, but nurses and doctors, respiratory therapists, housekeeping, health unit coordinators, social workers, chaplains, everyone working endlessly to save lives.

Beloved, we have just lived through… in one way or another… a historic week.

God urgently asks us—what happens now?

For the story of God-With-Us must be told. NOW. Rev. Maren Tirabassi writes, The Star proceeded, dripping hope across the landscape not just of Bethlehem, but of every place of need and loss that would ever be, including the over-filled hospitals, of our times, the newly hungry and before-hungry, now hungrier, the grieving and the fearful, those struggling with zoom-ducation (teaching and learning online), job loss, the endless detention of immigration status, isolation, depression, and long lines to vaccination…”[3]

It is here magi arrive with gifts. Extravagant gifts to change lives: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They gave the things dearest to them. They did not give leftovers… those gently used, extra-to-us, household items which are easy to give away. No, the gifts they gave… and which God waits for… can… and will… transform the world.

Think: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his last Christmas sermon in 1967 King said, “This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night… It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”[4]

This interrelatedness transcends time and place. One day it is a toddler Jesus with his parents, unexpectedly encountering people (magi) from a faraway place, full of new ideas, and a star which inspires unlimited hope. Another day it is King sharing a sermon on world peace and humanity’s interconnectedness at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.[5]

And the star shines on. Ebenezer Baptist Church. This is the same church at which John Lewis worshiped, and the same congregation the newly elected U.S. senator, the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock has been the senior pastor of since 2005.

In turn, John Lewis mentored Jon Ossloff[6]. This week Ossloff won his bid to the U.S. Senate, representing Georgia. At 33, he will be the youngest senator and the first who is Jewish from the deep south.

These interconnections, the sacred “star” which has shined over Ebenezer Baptist Church for decades extend into the future. The extravagant gifts of the people, leaders, and prophets within it persevere way beyond the walls of the church.

And God asks, “What happens now?”

What. Happens. Now.

Tirabassi ends her poem with, “Words are heard in star language, which is understood by everyone who searches the nighttime sky for guidance – “This would be a good place for you to leave your gifts.”[7]

2021 continues to unfurl. There are gifts to be delivered. Our full story has not yet been told. Yet this is a wonderfully good time and place for us respond to God’s hoped for new birth—and for us to share our gifts. Those things most dear to us which can transform the world.

God asks again—People of God, what do you have to leave here now?

For it is our turn to bring our gifts. To be persistent. Undeterred. We know God had been born on earth! We have work to do and stories to tell. Let us persevere in bringing the abundant gift of God’s Love to all.

~ Pastor Kris


Reflection on Matthew 2:1-12 offered January 10, 2021


[1] “Highlights and Analysis: Trump Commits to ‘Orderly Transition’ after Mob Storms Capitol,” NBCNews.com (NBCUniversal News Group, January 7, 2021), https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/live-blog/electoral-college-certification-updates-n1252864/ncrd1253129#blogHeader.

[2] Jacqueline Dupree Paulina Firozi, “U.S. Records Its Deadliest Day of the Pandemic While Eyes Are Fixed on Mob Storming Capitol,” The Washington Post (WP Company, January 8, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/01/07/covid-coronavirus-updates/.

[3] Maren C Tirabassi, “The Day Before Epiphany 2021,” Gifts in Open Hands, January 5, 2021, https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2021/01/05/the-day-before-epiphany-2021/.

[4] Contributors, Trent T. Gilliss was the founding executive editor of On Being Studios. He joined Speaking of Faith at American Public Media in 2003 as a web producer and later online editor, and Trent T. Gilliss, “Martin Luther King’s Last Christmas Sermon,” The On Being Project, December 25, 2015, https://onbeing.org/blog/martin-luther-kings-last-christmas-sermon/.

[5] Martin Luther King, Jr, “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘A Christmas Sermon on Peace’ Still Prophetic 50 Years Later,” Beacon Broadside: A Project of Beacon Press, December 24, 2017, https://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2017/12/martin-luther-king-jrs-christmas-sermon-peace-still-prophetic-50-years-later.html#:~:text=Fifty%20years%20ago%E2%80%94on%20December,Baptist%20Church%20at%20Atlanta%2C%20Georgia.

[6] Sudhin Thanawala and Associated Press, “Ossoff Seals Democrats’ Sweep; Will Be Youngest US Senator,” Star Tribune (Star Tribune, January 6, 2021), https://www.startribune.com/ossoff-seals-democrats-sweep-will-be-youngest-us-senator/600007479/.

[7] Maren C Tirabassi, “The Day Before Epiphany 2021,” Gifts in Open Hands, January 5, 2021, https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2021/01/05/the-day-before-epiphany-2021/.