Sunday, January 26, 2020

Out of the frying pan...

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested he withdrew to Galilee… Withdrew its such a gentle word. It sounds as if Jesus was going into a prayerful retreat.  To withdraw in prayer can be good and can help each of us grow spiritually. But this is not what is happening here.

Some people tell me they couldn’t do what I do especially when I was a hospice chaplain I heard it all the time.  When I was in training at children’s hospital Los Angeles. if there was a code, a scream, an emergency I automatically ran toward the pain, towards the trouble. I even had fellow chaplains that would comment how they couldn’t do that.

I think the same thing about our fire and police people. I couldn’t do what they do.  They put themselves in the line of fire everyday They run into burning buildings.  The go into hostage situations and fire fights without hesitating…that is what their calling is.

So now,Think of this…who arrested John the Baptist? Herod Antipas and where is Herod’s seat/house Located? Galilee…so Jesus is moving into the dangerous territory ruled by the puppet king Herod.

If that doesn’t make matters bad enough much of Jesus’ message is the same.  Repent for the kindom of heaven is at hand.  But there is a difference Jesus is not just using words but actions…he is healing, walking with, and dining with, the marginalized. He is speaking out against the ruling classes not only Rome but the Jewish leadership as well.  Jesus is a political controversy and dangerous to the status quo.

“Jesus’ message is identical to John’s: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17; cf. 3:2). Though the content is the same, the context is very different. John was the forerunner, who prepared the way. Jesus is the embodiment of the message. In his preaching and in his ministry, light has dawned and the reign of God has come.

Like John, Jesus calls people to repent. The Greek verb “repent” (metanoeo), like the Hebrew verb “repent” (shub), means “turn around.” Repentance in biblical thought involves not merely apology, but change: change direction, change your behavior, change your life.”[i]

Jesus is calling out for more than a mere apology or heartfelt recognition that something is wrong in our lives but that we must turn around, take a different path, we need to walk on a new way.  And the following passage demonstrate just that.

Jesus is walking along the coast of the sea of Galilee and he calls out... Simon who is called Peter and James They immediately dropped their nets and followed him. Imagine how lucky they must have felt to have an opportunity to stop fishing and follow Jesus instead. Wouldn’t you love the opportunity to just wander about the holy land listening to Jesus preach, teach and heal.

But not so fast, what does this really mean, what did it mean to be a fisherman at the time of Jesus.
The Sea of Galilee has been renowned for its fish from ancient times. There are 18 different species that are indigenous to the lake. They are classified locally into three main groups: sardines, biny and musht.

Sardines are endemic to the lake. Today at the height of the fishing season tens of tons of sardines are caught every night. Biny fish consist of three species of the carp family. Because they are “well fleshed” they are very popular at feasts and for Sabbath. Musht means “comb.” These are large fish, some of which are 16 inches long and weigh 2 pounds.

Fishing in Galilee was/ and is a thriving industry. Fish was the main source of protein, and the market for fish was extensive. The population of Palestine at the time of Jesus was about 500,000. The ordinary masses depended on fish along with bread as a staple food. Satisfying the epicurean appetites of the upper classes at home and abroad with dried fish was a profitable business.

The fishermen oversaw all aspects of the business. They furnished the boats and equipment for the actual fishing. They paid their help and paid the quota to the tax collector. They attended to the business of sale, were accountable for the preserving of the fish and shipment, and did their own bargaining.

The fishermen hired sailors and fishers (maybe day laborers) to do the work, care for the boats, mend the nets, sift and count the fish. These fishermen operated in legal partnership with others. They belonged to guilds (much like trade unions).

Zebedee, the father of James and John, owned his boats and hired day laborers. This leads to the presumption that he and his sons had a sizeable business, which would have required travel. Peter and Andrew were partners with them.

James and John, according to the gospels, traveled frequently to Jerusalem where fish was required for the pilgrim feasts. It has been suggested that they supplied fish for the high priestly family (the gospel says that John was known to the High Priest, Caiaphas). Was it on these trips that Jesus went to Jerusalem? In John’s Gospel we find him there for many of the feasts, which would have been the times when fishermen went with their fish.

Jesus Chose Fishermen

Jesus entrusted fishermen from Bethsaida with the spreading of his message. They were the ones he commissioned to be fishers of people and to teach all nations. He may have done this for practical reasons. These were savvy businessmen. They were multilingual. Their native tongue was Aramaic. They would also have known Hebrew. Knowledge of Greek would have been essential for people like Peter and his co-workers who were involved in the fishing business. The gospels themselves suggest that they were able to carry on conversations with Greek speakers the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:26), people in the Decapolis where the curing of the deaf man took place (Mk 7:31), and the incident of Philip and Andrew conversing with the Greeks (Jn 12:20-23). They may also have had a smattering of Latin. Peter converses with the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:25).

Fishermen had to develop attributes that others did not have. They had to be skilled at their trade, knowing the when, where and why of fishing, but they also had to be patient, not easily discouraged, strong, hard-working and community- oriented.

As businessmen they had to be judges of character, savvy about the market, conscientious about their civic and religious responsibility. They had to have respect for the law and learn to operate within its limitations. All of this was required in their new enterprise. And in bringing the skills of their trade to Jesus, these fishermen changed the world.

Knowing all this of the trade of fishing and their skill sets and most likely their income and lifestyle… Imagine what it means to drop their nets and follow Jesus. Jesus called and they answered without even thinking about it. God placed something on their hearts and when Jesus called they knew this was the time to answer.

There are other stories in the Gospels where people are feeling called for example the young well to do man in Mathew 19 who says to Jesus what must I do to enter heaven and Jesus explains to him to keep the commandments and the young man states I do all that then Jesus says “well if you want to be perfect sell all you have and give the money to the poor” to which the writer tells us the young man “went away grieving for he had many possessions.”

Here was a young man who too felt he had a calling that God had placed something upon his heart and yet when he decided to explore what that meant he wasn’t prepared to answer the call. Then there is the instance of the person who Jesus says follow me and his response is “allow me to bury my father first” and of course Jesus’ reply is “let the dead bury their dead”. Often we feel this response is harsh yet this is nature of Devine calling in Scripture. The characteristics are all the same; they require instant obedience, the caller is not aware of exactly what they are being called to; and the response is through faith alone.

In today’s time here and now we are constantly being called by God. We are not called once, to become people of faith, but many times. All through our lives Christ is calling us. God called us first into life at the moment of our creation. Christ calls us into relationship with God and the spirit. Whether we listen for that voice or not, it is there calling us to come ever closer. If we somehow feel we are less than or we hold ourselves accountable for something we have done or haven’t done, we are called into forgiveness; If we are struggling to fulfill our calling, Christ calls us on from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness. Calling is constantly inviting us to go further and deeper with God.

It is sad but all too often we think of Christ’s call as something that happened in the day of the Apostles along the Sea of Galilee or only for those entering the religious life and Yet Christ is among us calling us this very day often we do not believe it ,we do not hear it or feel it, we do not look for it in our own lives.
These sacred callings come to us suddenly and have obscure consequences just as in any account of calling. The accidents and events of life are one special way in which callings occur and they are, by definition, sudden and unexpected. You may be going about your daily routine and you come across a letter, or a note, or a person, and now you find yourself faced with something, which, if met prayerfully and whole-ly ( that is spelled Wholely) that is with full conciseness and intentionality there may be an opportunity to deepen your relationship with God.

Perhaps it may be the loss of someone dear to us which shows us the impermanence of things in this life and how unimportant the collecting of “things” are and calls us to turn and become more focused on God.

The little things which we do, or we respond to, that come to us as suddenly as a summer squall, may be just the answer to open us up to new possibilities and greater understanding of God callings here and now. It may open up our hearts and minds into a truer view of life and choices that we have not seen before.

Another way that the call may come and we answer is through daily devotion, perhaps you read scripture everyday and suddenly see something in a new way in which we never have before. A new light may seem to shine in Jesus and his Apostles and the way they lived their lives and responded to the world around them that suddenly you see you can now respond to life in a way that you have never responded before.

The Calling of Christ and God is constant, often referred to as the lure. God is ever luring us into a deeper relationship of prayer and awareness. Yet to answer the calls of God requires a prayerfull relationship.

There is an old story about a man sitting at a bar getting drunk in Alaska. He’s telling the bartender about how he recently lost his faith in God after his twin engine plane crashed in the tundra. "Yeah," he says bitterly, I lay there in the wreckage praying with all of my might and crying out to God to save me, and he didn’t raise a finger to help me. I'm through believing in a God who doesn’t care about what happens to me."

"But you’re here talking to me," says the bartender, "You were saved."

"Yeah, that's right," says the man, "because finally some Eskimo came along. . ."

God appears to us through many different people and speaks to us in many different ways. If we have a preconceived notion of what God looks like, or sounds like, we just might miss her when she calls! The voice of God does not always sound like Charleston Heston in Cecil B. Demille’s, "Ten Commandments." Even Samuel, from the Old Testament, confused the voice of God with the voice of his mentor, Eli. God calls each one of us, but we may not recognize God's voice.
When I say that God calls each one of us, I simply mean that the Holy Spirit has a desire to lead us and guide us throughout our lives. I don’t mean that God is like a great puppet-master sitting up in heaven pulling the strings and making us dance around. But the one who created us all gave us different gifts and desires, and we were given those gifts and desires for a reason.

When we dedicate our lives to following Christ, we are choosing to live as God would want us to live, and to use our gifts for the greater good. God calls us to be who we are and to live as authentically as we can. When we follow God's direction for our lives, we are being who we were created to be.

The word vocation is derived from the Latin word Vocare, which means, "to call." A vocation is a calling, which sets it apart from being merely a job. My professor Frank Rogers always taught us that; “Vocation is the place in the road where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest needs meet." God can and does call us at different stages in our lives. For some people, the call is very clear and there is no question about following it. Simon, Andrew, James and John did not hesitate to drop their nets and follow Jesus, leaving the lives and the work that they knew well. It doesn’t mean they were comfortable with the decision.  It was just something so strong on their heart that they had to go.

You see, sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone. Quoting Micah 6:8, South African United Methodist Bishop George Irvine has said, "If it’s loving, if it’s just, if it promotes right relationships, and if it scares the hell out of you, it just might be a call from God."

I was resistant to what God was calling me to do. It was summer 2008.   I was living in Palm Springs CA.  I was comfortable and didn’t need a new career. It meant giving up the life I knew, it meant going into debt, and it meant having the openness to say I am ready to go wherever you lead me. I struggled with it.

 When we follow God's call, we can be assured that God will guide us every step of the way. God often calls us to step into the unknown and do things that require courage and faith on our part. It may just feel like one is often moving  out of the frying pan and into the fire.

When we are open to the leading of the Spirit, and allow ourselves to, as Frederick Buechner, says in Listening to Your Life;

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Meditation Today –Tehra Cox
Meditation Tehra Cox
“When I moved from the noisy concrete and steel canyons of New York City to a small Hudson Valley village with its serenely-forested highlands, I was stunned by the radical change of scenery. As late summer turned into fall, my favorite season, nature’s magic began its work on me. From one of my first autumn walks along the wooded mountain path behind the old Victorian house that was my new home, I was introduced to the uncanny voices of the natural world.
My first encounter with what I call “Earth-Speak” was nothing less than phenomenal for its impact on my life and sensibility. As I came around a bend at the top of the mountain, the lush goldenness of maples along the trail nearly took my breath away. They colored the very air around them. As I stood transfixed, it seemed that all the flora of the woods began to sway toward me. The dramatic red-orange-gold hues in all shapes and sizes were pulsating with light, sounds and scents so intoxicating that I wasn’t sure if I was breathing or drinking. Suddenly, I “heard” a whispering of words that I will never forget: “Ah yes, the very things you humans love about us – our different colors and shapes and smells and languages – are the things you often hate about each other. Alas, you have lost touch with your beauties because you have lost touch with us.”
Having just moved out of a city teeming with the tensions that densely-populated diversities of culture, creed, economy – and yes, race – too often provoke, this message was stunning and timely for me. During that first year of “life in the country,” I became unusually acquainted with this sentient world. In my daily walks with pen and paper, the presences of nature enfolded me in their lushness while I chronicled their wisdom-teachings. As these “inner tuitions” invited me to consider some of life’s most paradoxical mysteries, they required only one thing of me – to be utterly present and receptive. I didn’t know to call it that at the time – I was only aware that I felt light and free, as if all the space around the trees and the flowers and blades of grass was also around, and even inside, me.”
Sermon Epiphany, Baptism and the Wilderness
Epiphany refers to the Twelfth Night of Christmas and the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. It is the end of Christmas and the beginning of the church season of Epiphany. Epiphany (epiphaneia in Greek) means appearance or manifestation. Epiphany means an experiential discovery or an illuminated realization. As a senior in high school, we read James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the main character Stephen Daedalus has a series of epiphanies to realize who he is and realize his vocation as artist/priest.
Epiphanies are a series of sudden manifestations. In religion, epiphanies are spiritual discoveries, manifestations, enlightenment, or revelations. Epiphanies resolve tensions and deep personal conflicts in life. More importantly, epiphanies are frequently gifts.
Before I address the baptism of Jesus and his wilderness retreat, I want to look at the prior life of Jesus. It requires that we imaginatively fill the historical gaps of knowledge that we know about Jesus. The Jesus Seminar of scholars have tried to do such an imaginative retrieval of the life of Jesus. There is the story of Jesus’ rejection in home village of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), where he recites from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, not a building but a square in the village for Sabbath prayer and sermons. The men of his hometown become so enraged at his teaching that they try to hurl over the cliff to his death. A biblical scholar friend and colleague, Ric Talbott, speculates that the rage was incited that he was a “disobedient son.” Talbott claims that Jesus’ conflict escalated as he helped other Galilean villages through his healing ministry. Jesus was unable to perform miracles for his own hometown. Thus, he had lost honor and shamed himself as the eldest son by failing to accept responsibility for his household after Joseph’s death.
I argue differently. Nazareth is a small village of 200-300 people. Everyone knows everyone’s business. They are aware that Joseph was not the father of Mary’s child, and therefore, Jesus is placed in the outsider category of mamzer, illegitimate or bastard. Illegitimate males and heir male heirs were not allowed in synagogue or Temple for ten generations. Jesus’ presence at the synagogue is serious offense against Jewish purity codes. This sparks a village rage that results in the attempt to kill him.
One of the issues about Jesus that I always wondered about was his extraordinary sensitivity to outcasts and outsiders. How did he become so sensitive to include outsiders?
If either Talbott’s or my own interpretation of the status of Jesus is correct then Jesus at certain age set out on his personal question to resolve father and family issues and how to become a child of Abraham, accepted as a Jew in good standing. He had heard of John the Baptist, and his message through itinerant rabbis, and he went to hear John preach for himself and seek membership in the Baptist community of disciples.
The Baptist prepared future disciples for baptism in Jewish meditation instruction, a stilling mental process and envisioning technique or transporting his spiritual body into God’s heavenly court. Jewish prophets and the monastic community at Qumran, several miles from John baptized people.
So our story this morning. With his shame as illegitimate, Jesus is baptized by a marginal figure John in the waters of the Jordan River. The geography is important. John baptized folks at the Jordan River, in the Judean wilderness and outside of Roman occupation.
Jesus has an epiphany as he emerges from the waters. Jesus has visual and auditory epiphany: The Spirit descends in the form of a Mother Dove. He hears a voice: “This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Then Jesus embarks a forty-day wilderness retreat. God is at work at the margins of the Empire with all those who are risk to live an alternative dream of society. God revealed Jesus’ identity to himself, outside the centers of Roman power and control. This is significant for Jesus will develop a vision of God’s kin-dom that will challenge Roman power and the coopted Temple priesthood.
Now let me stop here. All the founders of the major world religions experienced epiphanies: revelations or spiritual manifestations in the natural world: The Buddha under the Bodhi Tree at the edge of the jungle, Moses in the burning bush and on Mt. Sinai, the prophet Mohammed in a cave outside of Mecca, Lao-tzu in the wilderness, countless indigenous peoples on vision quests, and many nature mystics–John Muir—and nature lovers such as Tehra Cox who learned to Earthspeak. The natural world has the sacramental potential surprising us with the Spirit’s presence and communication.
Remember Tehra Cox’s Earthspeak from our opening meditation. We read similarly in Psalm 19:1-4,
The heavens are declaring the glory of God,
And the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech nor are there words,
Their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the word.
Earthspeak is really the Spirit speaking in a still quiet voice through the natural world. The Spirit is immanent in the natural world, sustaining, suffering, and influencing us through the natural world. The Spirit instructs Jesus through the natural world. Jesus’ vision of an alternative kin-dom to the Roman Empire is formed from his baptism and on-going transformation through the Spirit.
There are several things we learn:
1) At his baptism, Jesus was immersed in the waters of Jordan that opened him to an epiphany of the Spirit as Mother Dove and the self-discovery as God’s beloved child. God’s ruah or breath is the Spirit. For Jesus, God’s ruah became the amniotic fluid, the baptismal waters of earthen womb where incarnational interconnectedness was realized. Jesus became Spirit-born and a Spirit-led prophet.
The Spirit interbreathes in all the Earth’s processes and all life. The Spirit is the energy of all epiphanies. Jesus inhales the freshness of the Spirit’s breath, and he became a Spirit-led prophet, healer, and wisdom teacher. The life and the ministry of Jesus was the empowering work of the Spirit.
Wilderness is the geography of the Spirit and transformation. It has been traditionally the place of spiritual epiphanies and encounter. It symbolized a wildness and resilient energy of the Spirit. The natural world of trees, streams, wildlife, deserts, mountains and oceans are places where we can learn with Jesus Earthspeak and carefully listen to the Spirit speaking through the natural world.
2) Jesus sought to understand his relationship to Abba God and deepened an intimate and loving experience of Abba God. He was beloved child. He resolved unresolved issues about Joseph his adopted father and family issues. Remember the story when Mary and his brothers come to get him when they heard, “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mk. 3:21)
Jesus resolved his family conflicts and the shame as outsider with the disclosure that he was God’s beloved child. He realized God’s unconditional love for him—that grace supersedes the Temple sin management system of guilt and shame. He found himself included not only a child but e “beloved” child, in whom God was well pleased.
He broke the cultural- bondage of religious exclusivism and fundamentalism that some are God’s people and others are not. Jesus leaned that God has no favorites: all of us are God’s favorites and beloved children.
During his retreat in the Judean desert, he would learn that creation has an inclusivity. Biologist Christopher Uhl mindfully discovered inclusivity within the natural world. He writes,
Inclusivity is grounded in relationship whereas exclusivity stems from separation. A consciousness rooted in inclusivity generates trust, one moored in exclusivity foments fear—especially, the fear of the Other. When our goal is exclusivity, we silence those with whom we disagree; but when inclusivity becomes our goal, we seek to create a world that works for all.
Remarkably, Jesus’ notion of radical inclusiveness was forged in solitude of wilderness, separate from Jewish religious exclusiveness and the exclusive hierarchies of the Roman Empire. In the wilderness, Jesus discovered God’s inclusive love for all created life. On the Seventh Day, God rested and delighted in creation. All created life was beloved. God loved not only “pure” Jews but outcasts and Gentiles and creation. God’s beloved is inclusive of humanity and creation, both beloved. When you experience as beloved and extend that belovedness to others, we see the seeds of Jesus’ practice of radical inclusiveness in his kin-dom ministry.
3) In the wilderness, Jesus widened his heart with God’s inclusive compassion. Abba God was compassionate. In Luke 6:36, Jesus states, “Be compassionate as Abba God is compassionate.” This is the core of Jesus’ ministry of God’s kin-dom. The prayer he taught petitions Abba to give us this day our daily bread and release us from spiraling indebtedness.
The word “compassion” comes from the Hebrew word for “womb.” God’s womb-like love is expressed for the suffering. But Jesus was revolutionary in calling for disciples to imitate God’s compassion. “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.” Compassion means literally to “suffer with.” It is just not a feeling moved to care; it is that and more. Compassion is a spiritual practice, cultivated with Buddhists call mindfulness or Christian describing as centering prayer. Jesus promotes the social dynamics of compassion, and this message of compassion becomes a dangerous message to the religious establishment and the Roman Empire.
4) Jesus was reintroduced to Jewish creation-centered spirituality: It was grounded with the Abba God as a Household God– Creator, Protector, and Provider for the people. He tapped into the wilderness theology of the exodus grounded in God’s gift of the Earth and abundant generosity for the people.
The Temple religion was coopted by empire, and it provided justification that provided abundant blessings for the elite at the expense of the many poor. In God’s kin-dom, there would be no hunger. Empires then and today argue an ideology of scarcity. Income inequality and hunger plagued Jesus’ time as well as our own. Scarcity is an economy of greed and selfishness. The wilderness was where God demonstrated the abundance of creation. There is always enough for everyone shares with each other. Now what would Jesus do and say about minimum wage bills vetoed by governor in New Hampshire? What about the political attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act? What about the poisoning of our atmosphere with carbon from coal plants, or the poisoning our streams with toxic chemicals and carcinogen? There is profound selfishness in the ideology of scarcity, and it counters God’s abundance in the wilderness with the Israelites and with Jesus’ feedings of the multitudes. Jesus’ proclaims God abundance in compassionate sharing.
5) Finally, the wilderness is a place of epiphany and the gift of surprised discoveries or revelations. In the wilderness, Jesus practiced an awareness of self in relationship to the elements of nature: the heat during the day and the coldness of the night, the beasts, and scrub plant life,
Canadian clergy and author Bruce Sanguin writes,
The soul feasts on silence. It is God’s first language. Silence is not simply the absence of noise. It is a presence unto itself. The kind of stillness is the font of all creativity, the womb of creation itself… Silence reminds us that we are not separate and isolated. To enter silence is to enter a field of interconnectedness and share in the consciousness and intelligence that animate all of life.
Wandering in nature is one of the most soulful practices for us today. It connects us with solitude, simplicity, vulnerability, and a sense of presence. It is locus for epiphanies. I don’t want you to mistake that epiphanies only happen in nature and wilderness. Often they do, but not always.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Taking an Alternate Path

Taking an alternate Path

So let us review today's Gospel….how many were there….3?  It doesn't say that.  What were they Wise men, Kings Astrologers…It doesn't say that.  Wait I know one many how many know the answer to what were their names…
“Melchior, a Persian scholar; Caspar, an Indian scholar; Balthazar, an Arabian scholar… many Syrian Christians name the Magi Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas… In the Eastern churches, Ethiopian Christianity, for instance, has Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater, while the Armenians have Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma and many Chinese Christians believe that one of the magi came from China…”[1]
We three kings of orient are  wrong we three wise men mmm ….astrologers…..sages….mages…Magicians…. Maybe.  What do we know about these three guys who come from the east?  Well we know they are described in the Greek as Magi these are men most likely of the Zoroastrian tradition an early Monotheistic faith that had its origins inpre-historic Iran that had influence as far as China and Japan.  “According to Richard Foltz the roots of Zoroastrianism emerged from a common prehistoric Indo-Iranian religious system dating back to the early 2nd millennium BCE”[2]
Does all this matter?  Are the Facts important…in this case no!  It is about the story, and the Journey.  We assume 3 Magi because there are three gifts given and so I am going to roll with that.
Melchior a Persian Scholar I imagine came from a Tehran his Journey would have been over 40 days this is a calculation done at 10 hours a day walking which is highly unlikely considering midday heat and companions and setting up camp and tearing down camp.
Caspar an Indian scholar I like to say he came from Madhya Pradesh India his Journey would be (at the unrealistic rate of 10 hours a day) 126 days and finally we have Balthazar supposed to be an Arabian scholar in that case he would have been the closest but if he came from the far east deep in china his journey could have taken up to a year and a half or more…..
So we have three men who are educated and read the skies for signs of things to come and omens of things to watch for they see something in the sky that foretells of the Child who is to be the king of the Jews and so the furthest one out sets off on his trek much before the others.  Therefore, as he went along he must have told others what he saw in the sky and those that choose to believe him (as he was a figurehead of some kind) they followed him.  His party grew as  he went along adding the other two figure heads as he journeyed helping them interpret what it was they saw in the sky.
Ernest L. Martin describes the caravan this way as they had an audience with Herod;
These Magi came from the east bearing rich gifts for the newborn king. They could not have been reckoned as certain classes of sorcerers and confidence men who roamed the Roman world under the name “Magi.” Herod and all Jerusalem would hardly have been troubled by what they considered impostors. But if the Magi had come from the court of the Parthian kings who employed Magi in the religious affairs of their government, or from the respected Magus colleges of the east, then that would have been a different matter in the view of Herod and the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem.
In order to have an audience with Herod and for him to have members of the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of the Jews) to hear the interpretations of these Magi must show that they were held in high esteem by the people of Jerusalem. In their deportment, it was customary for the Magi to dress in magnificent priestly attire to indicate their professional status. In presenting themselves before royalty the historical records show that the Magi did this with pomp and circumstance. 4 In traveling or on official business in areas where their influence was felt, it was normal for the priestly Magi to proceed in a processional mode with various ranks of them appropriately positioned in the caravan. This must have been the manner in which they approached the city of Jerusalem to present their gifts to the newborn king of the Jews. This would account for the respectful attitude of Herod and the Jewish authorities to them.[3]
So they all come bearing these gifts, for one who they believe is royal born. And so there are theories as to what these gifts represent “The theories generally break down into two groups: All three gifts are ordinary offerings and gifts given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable. The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.”[4]
I am sorry if there is disappointment here but I say, assuming the story is true, the meaning of the gifts are most likely just ordinary offerings for the birth of royalty.  So imagine the shock when this entourage arrives at a simple country house and find an unassuming girl and her husband a carpenter. Can you imagine the shift there?
Can you imagine these High Priests who are revered by kings and leaders, who can interpret the stars and who respect the Hebrew scholars and religious texts: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for form you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” (Mathew 2:6)  These studied men, these well-traveled, worldly, rich men find the simplest of people with a child that in no way will be brought up or trained to be a King as they have understood.
This is where, and why I have titled this “Taking an alternate Path”, you see in the meeting of the Christ Child their realty of how the world works, of how the stars align, of who is worthy of royal honors…it all shifts.  Reality is turned upside down and instead of saying well this can’t be…we read something wrong…this peasant cannot, nor never will be a King at least not in any way that they comprehend and yet they present their Gifts.
These men, I choose to believe, are humbled and awe struck, what has been their way of thinking and believing is shifted, a new reality is opening up before them and they have yet to see what it means.  The scripture says at just seeing the house they are overwhelmed with Joy.  Before they even get in the door something is happening, something physical and as they enter they see the mother and child and they fall to their knees and pay homage opening their treasure chests and presenting their gifts.
This is not ancient hospitality nor the rules the world traditionally abides by, Andrew Arterbury, a professor at Baylor explains;
“Ancient hosts also were obligated to meet their guests’ needs by supplying them with necessary provisions. Upon their guests’ arrival, meritorious hosts fed strangers an initial meal and at times provided them with lodging without asking their guests questions about their identity or place of origin.
In addition hosts would often provide them with water for cleaning their feet and with new clothes if they needed them. Then, after the guests had finished the meal, hosts finally were free to inquire about their guests’ identity, home region, and travels.”[5]
The imagery here is intensified when it is juxtaposed against tradition.  For one Joseph and Mary would never even anticipate a visit from a group as big and famous as these guys probably were and in no way could they even begin to provide what traditionally is given.  There are new ways of being beginning to be expressed before Christ message is spoken, Kings are bowing to peasants.  The host is being offered Gifts with no expectation of Hospitality.
The “wise men” are warned in a dream to take a different path home.  But they are already on a different path.  The meeting of the low born king, the peasant king, who overwhelmed them with Joy, to whom they knelt before expecting nothing.  There are no alliances made, there is no political or religious relationships established what was imagined to be a king has now changed the meaning all together.  They are on a different path.
After their dream they probably left in haste realizing that their lingering presence would arouse suspicion and place the child in danger...which it already had.  So they journeyed the long journey home 40 days, 80 days, and a year to a year and a half.  All the way home they had to study and ponder what did this all mean.  How their understanding of the world could be so reversed by one child astounded and confounded them. They are literally taken on an alternative path through this intentional encounter with the peasant King.
A friend of mine, Judith Favor, shared a poem and some quotes on Journeying from Mark Strand’s; Chicken, Shadow Moon and More, and though this story is about a physical journey it becomes a spiritual journey for the 3 Magi and their entourage and for us.

A journey continues until it stops
A journey that stops is no longer a journey
A journey loses thing on its way
A journey passes through things, thing pass through it
When a journey is over, it loses itself to a place
When a journey remembers, it begins a journal
Which is a new journey about an old journey
A journey over time is different from a journey into time
An actual journey is into the future
A reflective journey is into the past
A journey always begins in a place called here
Pack your bags and imagine your journey
Unpack your bags and imagine your journey is done
If you're afraid of a journey, don't buy shoes[6]

I believe that part of being a Christian is telling the story. So how do we tell the story of Jesus.  Do we let the carols and the feasting and the gift giving become the story? No, we tell the the story through Engaging the story and journeying with the story.  That means living the story of Jesus in our hearts and on the road.  You see many of us the story of the Magi can be relevant.  I actually believe for all of us if you just engage the story. Don’t worry about the facts.
You see our lives changed when we met a different understanding of Christ.  When, many of us learned, that not only could we be loved by God but that we are most enthusiastically loved by God, by Christ and that through the Life of Jesus we are taught how we are to Journey in this world.
We are invited to an alternative path an alternative Journey…it is not done in a day or a year but over many years over a lifetime.  As we are on our own Journey, each one unique onto itself, we discover that the Journeys and stories of Christ change in our heart, Shift our perception and in return they will again change our Journey.
In many ways it doesn’t matter if this story or any of the stories are true for we have chosen to live as a people of faith.  We have chosen to listen, study, and incorporate these stories into our lives.  We have chosen to take an alternative path, a path that in the end, leads us home, home to Christ, Home to Love and Home to our own selves.
So on this the first Sunday of a new year I wish you a safe Journey.  May it be filled with wonder and awe, may God grant you a few surprises, and when difficulties arise know you are not on the journey alone reach out to a fellow traveler seek support from the people here around you.

Blessings and a very happy healthy year.

[1] Wikipedia, Biblical Magi, (accessed December 30, 2014).
[2] Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Zoroastrianism, (accessed December 29, 2014).
[3] Ernest L. Martin, Who were these wise men?, (accessed December 30, 2014).
[4] Wikipedia, Biblical Magi.
[5] Andrew Artebury, Entertaining Angels:: Hospitality in Luke and Acts, (accessed December 30, 2014).
[6] Joseph Shore-Goss, Via Stillpoint as Shared by Judith Favor, (accessed December 30, 2014).