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“He did not wait…”: Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Baptism of the Lord:
Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

This coming season the Stratford Festival is putting on “A Wrinkle in Time,” based on the story by the 20th century author Madeleine L’Engle. I know that a few people from the congregation will be seeing it this summer, because it was a part of our silent auction a few weeks ago. It turns out that L’Engle was Episcopalian (an American Anglican), and she wrote the following remarkable religious poem:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Driving around this week I was shocked by the sight of all of the Christmas trees littering the streets. (‘Where do these people get the energy?’ I ask. We’d leave ours up half the year, if not for the cat driving us mad.) Michael Perham, who was a bishop and writer, remarked that “[t]he world wants to pack up Christmas and put it away all too soon, and in a sense the world may be right that we have to move on from the baby, but not from the lessons we have to learn about the One who came with all his glory into our midst at Bethlehem.”* L’Engle’s poem seems to hit what that bishop was getting at: the Advent and Christmas coming of the Word Made Flesh is the focus, but it expands its focus by speaking of the “prisoners [crying] out for release” (evoking our first reading, from Isaiah, and the adult Jesus’s appropriation of the passage to describe his ministry, one day in the synagogue). Or his being and dining with “sinners in all their grime.” Or the nations who are not at peace…

The Christmas season ended on Epiphany. And so go ahead, and throw out your Christmas tree. But you don’t have to. You might recall hearing how the ancient and continuing Eastern tradition of Epiphany brought together the Magi (the wise men), along with the Baptism of Christ, and his first miracle: the turning of water into wine. (We hear that story in what would be next Sunday in ‘Year C’, two years from now.)

Maybe we do need to move on from the baby. An overly sentimental faith is unrealistic. And annoying. But that experience of the baby should have resonance and reverberations past the nativity scene. The Benedictine nun and author Joan Chittister has written: “Christmas is larger than a baby in a manger. Christmas is the coming of a whole new world.”** Think of John the Baptist’s words that set the scene (you’ll remember them from Advent): “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” (A new world is dawning.) Or from the prophet: “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare…” Or the message of the earliest Church: everything changed with Jesus, and not even death can stop the revolution that he started. And we are witnesses to, inheritors of, this.

“Epiphany” means something like “appearing” or “revelation.” The Maker of the stars was born, and Epiphany celebrates that word travelled past the stable, and beyond the field in which the shepherds were abiding. Through a star — God’s purpose and presence in creation — people from distant lands (gentiles, us) learned of this appearing, and experienced it themselves. (Months, a year, or years later?) In the River Jordan Jesus joins with the crowds that were so conscious of the grime that marked and marred their lives. And a voice came from heaven, revealing Jesus as Son of God. And at the wedding feast, with some reluctance, and with the encouragement and direction of his mother, the divine power of Jesus is made known. Different opportunities to reckon with this happening of Word Made Flesh; something that probably shouldn’t be too easy with which to come to terms. Because it makes a claim on us. It’s the coming of a whole new world. And the epiphanies will continue, well past the manger: in acts of power and transformation. And met with different responses. (How did the disciples do, on the mountain, at the transfiguration? How about the centurion, or the penitent thief, at the Cross?)

The magi search and find. They knocked and the door was opened. They put their skills and wisdom to use, and were rewarded. And they needed their ingenuity to thwart the king, the bad guy in the story. Or think of the crowds at the baptism of Christ: they’re yearning for something; maybe somewhat unformed. But they’re drawn to this movement that’s looking for something new, and different, and better. And then there’s the guests at the wedding. They were invited. They were just there. But they drank the wine. Some of them knew what happened. Maybe most of them didn’t. But they were blessed by that fellow guest, nonetheless. The epiphanies keep appearing. Our responses will differ. Maybe some epiphanies work for some. Less so for others. But there’s another epiphany that will come. Because epiphany speaks of a God who wants to be known. Even if we, or everything around us, is imperfect.

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace…
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours…
He came, and his Light would not go out.

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter

* Michael Perham, Glory in Our Midst (London: SPCK, 2005), 71.
** Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 94.