In a time like this it helps to take a deep breath. Just stop for a moment. Breathe deeply.
But stopping to breathe isn’t easy.
This morning I jump out of bed to get the latest news reports of the dispute over the President’s travel ban executive order: Judge Robart Rules’s Federal District Court ruling in Seattle staying the travel ban; President Trump’s tweet calling Judge Rules a “so called” judge; the Ninth District Court of Appeals’ delay in responding to the Justice Department’s request to immediately restore the travel ban.
Where and how will it stop? How do you take a deep breath when the things you value and the things you fear are colliding as fast as atoms in a super-collider?
Stepping outside this little moment of time for some perspective helps me to stop and breathe. The story of Herod and the Wise Men (Gospel of Matthew 3:1-23) comes quickly to the mind of a retired preacher.
After a long journey to Bethlehem from their foreign country, the Wise Men (the Magi) “returned to their own country by another way”–which is to say, they refused to return to Herod who had sought to deputize them. They did not accede to Herod’s disingenuous, anxious request that they return to inform him of the whereabouts of the newborn child who would threaten his rule. “They returned . . . by another way.”
The Wise Men were returning to a different country, thought to be Persia (our Iran). They had been wise to come; they were wise to return . . . by another way than Herod’s. Although the rest of the story is gruesome – the slaughter of innocents before the death of Herod – the good news is that the world did not belong to Herod then, and it doesn’t now.
The story of the Wise Men helps me stop, take a deep breath, and find hope for the America I feel I’ve almost lost. If we “return to [our] own country by another way,” we may yet find American democracy again.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 5, 2017.
Today is a day of searching for wisdom. This period between the November 2016 American election and January 20 presidential inauguration is what Carl Jung called a pause moment. An interruption of the normal to seek a deeper wisdom.
This year two calendars converge. It’s the first day of a new year on the secular calendar, which coincides this year with the First Sunday after Christmas on the Christian liturgical calendar. This coalescence invites the kind of pause of which Jung spoke. Here’s an excerpt from the assigned Gospel reading for today from the Gospel of Matthew.
Now after [the Wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. – Matthew 2:13-16
Several things leaped out from the text this year:
- The wise men “tricked” Herod. The Greek word translated here as “tricked” derives from sports – the wise men sported, played, mocked, or made a fool of Herod. Whenever Herod sends out agents for the children, wise people find a way to play him.
- These “wise men” – magoi in the Greek text – are foreigners from the East. These foreign visitors with a different religious tradition (astrology) are outsiders to the myths of religious and national exceptionalism. They bring gifts for the Christ child before “returned to their own country by another way,” side-stepping Herod and his agenda.
- Joseph’s dream and flight into Egypt reverses every expectation. It was from Egypt that Moses and the Hebrew laborers had fled. Now it to Egypt that they flee from Herod, the puppet king of Roman occupation, who had made a mockery of Passover and Exodus. In this pause of 2017, perhaps the angels will forgive updating the text:”Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada (or) Mexico, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the children to deport them.”
- The Holy Family become refugees.
Interpreting biblical texts is a dangerous thing, and sometimes the interpretations go a bit to far! Though that be the case, this Gospel of Matthew text for the First Sunday after Christmas and January 1, 2017 offers an interesting opportunity to do what Carl Jung suggested. Engage the pause. Join the wise. Refuse cooperation with agendas that mock the good news. Take time out from the collective madness to be found again by what is holy and sane.
Grace, Peace, and a Blessed New Year,
“And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, [the wise men] departed for their own country by another way.” – Gospel of Matthew 2:12