University Congregational Church
Jan. 4, 2015
“The Journey is Home“
Come with me to join the magi on their journey to find the Christ Child – God with us. A mysterious sign in the sky has captured the imagination of a few wise guys. They think it could mean something important.
- Is it the beginning of the end of the world?
- Is it a sign of something new to be discovered?
- Is it a star, a planet, a comet, a fireball?
- Is it a good sign or a warning of imminent danger?
- What could it all mean?
Curiosity and imagination are set on fire and we all decide to follow this light in the sky to see what it could be.
It’s not an easy journey, mind you. I get a crick in my neck from walking with my eyes toward the heaven. Blisters, sunburns, heat exhaustion, and disbelief all take the toll on our caravan. Some turn back. Others lose hope. This journey isn’t for the weak of faith or heart.
Come along with us as we seek to find meaning in this heavenly light. We follow along for days on end. It seems like the journey will never end. Yet, we put one foot in front of the other, hoping that it will all make sense at some point. We keep following where it seems the star points.
Why are we willing to risk this journey? Because we are seeking something more from life. We want to know what it all means. We have looked high and low and now we have set out to find the answer to this burning question… what does it all mean?
People of every religion, race, age, and gender ask this question. We try to organize our lives into meaningful patterns. We like things to make sense. We want to understand the riddles in life. “Why am I here?”
In Viktor Frankl’s book, “Search for Meaning”, he speaks to these questions about life. His interest grew out of his experiences as a prisoner during WWII when he spent time in more than one concentration camp. Because of these experiences, he observed that the source of trouble for most people comes when they despair because of meaninglessness. Day by day, with nothing seeming to fit into any kind of pattern o meaning, many lived a life that was like a puzzle never put together. Because of this, Frankl realized that the people who survived the death camps were not necessarily those who were the strongest physically, but those who somehow, through the process, were able to find some purpose for going on. They found some purpose to being alive.
This same search for meaning is to be found at the very heart of religion. Every religion seeks to deal with the ultimate questions of life.
“Am I wise enough?”
“Am I good enough?”
“What’s my purpose?”
And that is where we make a mistake. We seem to believe that we can discover the meaning of life. But we’ve asked the wrong question. The meaning of life may not be discovered like some precious gem. Meaning is something that is infused into life as life occurs.
To find meaning is a process. It is not contained in a simple whispered phrase. It does not fall from the sky. It does not come to “lucky” people at birth. The meaning of life becomes more and more apparent to us as we live day to day. It is a journey in and of itself. By living, we experience the answer through our experiences, dreams and choices.
The questions change when you think about a journey instead of a destination.
“What am I learning?” vs. “Where is the meaning?”
“Have I tried?” vs. “Have I arrived or was I good enough?”
“What are my goals and dreams?” vs. “Did I do the right thing?”
Theologian and writer, Nelle Morton, wrote about a dying woman who had called her family and close friends to her bedside. After they had traveled the distance to her home and come into her room, she calmly asked those who had gathered around her bed, “What is the answer?” There was a long silence. It seemed to the ones gathered that this was a momentous occasion, one in which she would impart some great lie truth. They did not know how to respond. The dying woman took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Then, she lifted her head and asked, “But what is the question?” In the stunned silence of her waiting family she died.
Epiphany begins on Tuesday. Epiphany is the Christian season after the 12 days of Christmas. During Epiphany, we symbolically join with those Magi from the East who went out following a star. With them, we begin the ultimate journey. We find ourselves asking the questions of the ages – “What does it all mean?” “What is my purpose?” And we think that when we arrive at our destination, we will know the answers.
Paul spoke of the journey last week – a fabulous metaphor for a life of the faithful. He and I talked about my sermon this week being about the metaphorical arrival of the Magi at the manger. The longer I thought about it, I realized that I don’t believe the arrival is the point. It’s like asking the wrong question. And so, I’ve used the same traditional and contemporary word that he used last week to continue thoughts on journey and meaning. You get two different but compatible perspectives on the same texts.
I believe the Magi appear in the birth story because of their journey from far away and their quest to find purpose and meaning. And I believe that their journey home is a symbolic parallel. What they found in the middle of their journey was the Christ – the incarnation of God – love divine. But that was not the end of their trip. The text tells us that they departed from there and went home by another road.
We are left to imagine what transpired on the 2nd leg of the journey, or if they ever made it back to where they began. We don’t know what became of them or whether their experience in Bethlehem led them to change their beliefs. This is not a story tied up, and wrapped with a bow! That’s it: “The departed from there and went home by another road.”
Do you suppose they were still seeking, still questioning, still wondering? Were their questions answered after that long journey? Did they ever get home?
Perhaps the writer of this story wanted us to go on the journey with those Magi to find God incarnate – divine love. And once we started out on the journey, and even after we found the divine child, perhaps the writer wanted us to continue the story for ourselves.
Remember when the man Jesus spoke about life and its meaning? He said that meaning comes from our attitudes and our actions. Life takes on meaning and significance when we are merciful…. When we are peacemakers… when we choose love.
Once we’ve been to the manger to meet God’s love, we begin to see the needs and the problems of others. It helps us to discover more about what life is all about. Until we reach out to others, we do not fully know who we are. Choosing to be on the journey after the manger gives us meaning because we become part of an adventure of love that never ends.
Ann Weems wrote the poem “It is Not Over”. She speaks to this idea that the journey continues into the future.
It is not over,
There are always newer skies
God can throw stars.
When we begin to think
That we can predict the Advent of God,
That we can box the Christ
In a stable in Bethlehem,
That’s just the time
That God will be born
In a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe.
Those who wait for God
Watch with their hearts and not their eyes,
For angel words.
This journey does not conclude. It is never “over”. We are tasked with continuing the journey of the Magi, following stars and dreams and love, hoping to find God in the midst … but never, never completely arriving. Because the journey to divine love is never done. The journey is home.