Sermon 12-4-2016; Seeking the Christ Child, with Wonder

Micah 5:2-5 and Matthew 2:1-12

Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew; Harper, 1997, p 45.

Pastor Ruthie Tippin – Indianapolis First Friends Meeting




Do we leave space in our lives for curiosity?  For seeking out new things? for finding answers to curious questions? Do we leave way open for mystery? For wonder? 


Years ago, learned Gentile priests worked at solving curious questions.  They had read the accounts from sacred writings of a ruler, an anointed one, who would come to restore peace and rule justly over the people of Judah.  When and how would this happen?  They joined others who for hundreds of years had struggled with this same mystery.  The magi wanted to solve it.  King Herod was afraid not to solve it, first.  He had too much to lose.  An incredible story… ending with three magi, a child king in a manger, and gifts brought forward – riches, incense, and balm. The wise men left the True King in Bethlehem, not returning to the Vassal King, but instead going home by a different road.


How many times have we left ourselves open to discover Truth?  To allow answers to come?  To wonder about things?  To let life prove life itself?  How many times do we begin an intellectual argument, only to discover a mystical response?  Does all of life have to be two dimensional?  Must we live in ‘Pleasantville’, with the false emptiness of rules and regulations, or can our faith take the risk of trust in living color?  Can we not leave way open for God’s Spirit?  Do we have to solve everything?  Do we straightjacket God?  Or do we allow God to wear a billowing cape, leap tall buildings, and fly through our lives with the energy and power of the Spirit?


For Marcus Borg, the intellectual understanding of God was important.  Without it, he could not sustain faith.  “For my own religious journey, the resolution of the intellectual problem was indispensable; without it, I would still be on the outside of the Christian life looking in.”  God totally gets this… Why else would he tell us that we must love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength?  We are created with emotion, spirit, intellect, and physicality.  God wants all of that - requires all of that – in our relationship.  I believe God expects and is concerned for our emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical well-being.  God asks and answers us intellectually, and challenges us to think, to question, to wonder.  God does not expect us to be ignorant. 


What is the first question a child usually asks?  Why?  And it’s the first question we always ask God, isn’t it?  ‘Why?’  We always want to know.  To think that God is not an intellectual is to underestimate God.  To think that God cannot handle intellectual debate is to totally miss the mark.  To think that God cares about your intellect is to be absolutely accurate. 

So how did Marcus Borg come to resolution with this?  Flatland – a late nineteenth century book by Edwin A. Abbott.  Quoting Borg: “Flatland is a two-dimensional universe having only length and width, a plane inhabited by two dimensional creatures – squares, triangles, rectangles, etc… Abbott invites us to imagine Flatland being intersected by a sphere and what the Flatlanders would experience as the sphere passed through it… What kind of explanations might the Flatlanders have for what had happened?  They would have no chance at all of understanding what really happened so long as they tried to do so within the framework of a two-dimensional understanding of reality.”


For Marcus, the modern worldview of the Enlightenment – a materialistic and mechanistic image of reality, where what is real is the visible material world of our ordinary experience, was intersected, interrupted, by the experience of the sacred…


“Experiences of the sacred shatter Flatland.  Visions happen, enlightenment experiences happen… These experiences suggest that reality is far more mysterious than any and all of our domestications – whether scientific or religious - make it out to be.  They suggest that reality is much, much more than modernity has imagined.”


Another man discovered much the same thing in 1656: “But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition"; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give Him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let [hinder] it? and this I knew experimentally [through experience].”  [George Fox]


We don’t have to experience God.  We don’t have to travel through the English countryside.  We don’t have to travel to Bethlehem.  We don’t even have to go outside and watch the sky for signs and stars.  We can sit at our screens.  We can hold to what we already know.  We can be consumed with our own understanding of ourselves and of life.  We can remain informed and uninformed, all at the same time.  We can remain ignorant and educated, all at once.  What the wise men did was to move out of their studies into experience, and they saw a star.  The Flatlanders triangles and squares were interrupted by a sphere.  George Fox moved out of his cloistered life at home into an experience – a way that opened for himself, and for many of us.


For some, the man Jonah spit out of the belly of a whale is just a story.  For others, it’s resurrection.  For some, a vision of a sheet filled with ‘clean and unclean’ animals is just a story.  For others, it’s genuine acceptance and blessing of all people.  For some, a dry sea bed, crashing full of water is just a story.  For others, it’s the absolute denial of anyone’s right to own any other person.  For some, a baby in a manger is just a story.  For others, it’s the birth of a revolution.  


Thomas Merton: “Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or fable, it is true.  This is something we are not able to see; but if we abandon ourselves to Him, forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently, that God manifests Himself everywhere, in everything: in people, and in things, and in nature, and in events; so that it becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him.”

I dare you to think - intellectually.  I dare you to think – experientially.  I dare you to remain curious.  To search for the Christ.  To think and read and seek critically.  To try to figure out the mystery of faith.  To work at your own salvation.  But I also ask you to remain humble and teachable.  To walk and work and study in companionship with the Spirit, as all wise men and women do.  To continue seeking.  To continue in the way of wonder.  To perhaps, find yourself in Bethlehem.   Amen.


I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky