The Feast of the Epiphany -- the Coming of the Wisemen -- was on a Sunday this year and I was scheduled to preach. As I began to study the lessons, I turned to the essays by Raymond E. Brown in the collection, "An Adult Jesus Christ at Christmas." In an essay written in the early 1960s, he was deeply troubled that Christians had surrendered the whole Christmas Season, and the Epiphany, to our secular culture. He noted how difficult it was for churches to attract people to church during those weeks except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
He surprised me by claiming that the underlying culprit was a general loss in our culture of "curiosity." (Curiosity is defined as "a strong desire to know or learn something.)
I believe that curiosity can be the first important step in a deeper spiritual journey. I believe we are daily offered by God opportunities to wonder, to dream and to seek a new vision and wisdom. Our curiosity takes us to the world of questions and study. It moves us to prayer and listening. It brings us back to spiritual community and action -- Micah 6:8. The afterglow of a spiritual question is "serenity" -- "The state of being calm, untroubled, peaceful."
When I taught at Arkansas State University, one of the teaching tools I used was the "pop test." The questions were always about the significant points in the assignments and there were no trick questions.
I had an idea! (Not all my ideas are good ones.) During the sermon, I would give the congregation a pop test over the nativity events from the birth of Christ until the magi go home.
I enjoyed creating the test. I finished the sermon and put it aside. Later, when I returned to edit the sermon, I had a sudden image of the looks of terror on the faces of my students whenever I announced a pop test. I did not want to repeat that reaction with the good people of St. Thomas.
The Nativity bridges the Old and New Testaments, including the conflict between the Decrees of Caesar Augustus and the Law of Moses.
I did wonder with the congregation about what the shepherds did after they left the stable, what Mary and Joseph were doing the next few days after Jesus was born, and about their presence in the Temple in Jerusalem after Jesus' birth.
A priest friend of mine told me a story about a conversation with his family at a local restaurant. They had just told their six-year-old daughter that his wife was going to have a baby boy. Their little chatterbox was so excited and so loud that everyone in the restaurant tuned in to the conversation.
The little girl started describing all the things they would do together, ride bikes, play dolls and swing. He would have to do everything she told him to do because she was the big sister.
My friend asked her if there was any boy in her school she wanted her brother to be like? There was a pause, then she said, "Mommy stop making me a baby brother. Make me a baby sister."
There are sacred mysteries and wonders just waiting for every one of us to explore. Some of them are inconvenient to our cultural beliefs, but we cannot change reality just to suit us. We can become curious and we can ask questions and seek answers. We can pray and listen.
My hope is that in 2019 we will find solace in every line of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer, and not only just the first lines.
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Ken Parks is the former rector of St. Theodore Episcopal Church in Bella Vista. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 01/30/2019
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