I have observed that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who think there are two kinds of people and people who do not. It is in our very nature to divide between us and them, winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, State and Carolina, ECU and any ACC or instate school, rich and poor, those born below the Mason-Dixon line and those born above the line, etc. (help me out with your divisions of the world). Just one more observation, if you are worshiping with us on this one of the lowest attendance Sundays of the year, you are the ultimate insider.
(North Point Community Church outside of Atlanta does not have worship celebrations on the last Sunday of the year to give their 1000+ volunteers a break. When I brought this up with my staff they thought this would be a great model to follow, but others disagreed. Most of the dyed in the wool Christians I know consider cancelling Sunday worship a heresy, excepting for snow or others “acts of God.” I mean if its Sunday then we are … playing some football right?)
I bring this to our attention because most the lessons about Jesus’ birth are about establishing his insider status among God’s chosen sons and daughters. The “Scandal of Particularity” is that God became flesh and blood and moved into the backwater towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth, in the backwater province of Judea on the edge of the mighty Roman empire. If God were planning to transform the whole world (see John 3:16, “for God so loved the world …), then the plan seems inverted. Wouldn’t have made sense to have God’s child show up in Rome and born within the emperor’s lineage? If God is going to transform the world, don’t we need the assistance of those insiders on Wall Street (financiers), Pennsylvania Avenue (politicians), and certainly K Street (lobbyists)?
This was brought back to mind this week, when Leonard Sweet’s text message came across my phone’s screen this week. Len’s tweet was “Where are the Wise Men? Are they disappearing from Xmas story? Particularity=Jewish Messiah. Magi open us to Universality: Savior of World.” That’s right I thought, without the Magi (and the shepherds) we outsiders do not have a chance at this flesh and blood Savior born among us.
So let’s hear those familiar words that cause us to hum “We Three Kings” as they are read:
Let’s pay attention to this question today: “what barriers are you willing to put aside in order to welcome those ‘seeking the one born king of the Jews?'”
The question for me is rooted in the remembrance that those of us “insiders” gathered here for worship today would have been considered “outsiders” by those surrounding Jesus. We celebrate Jesus’ particularity and we should celebrate our own particularities as well (or peculiarities if you are talking about somebody else). Particularity is what makes Jesus and us real to the world, but the way of salvation is not in others adopting our particularities in order to meet Jesus. God’s design, to say it again, is to show love to all the world, not just those who are circumcised, who profess the right creeds, bow at the right moments, and show up to worship on low attendance Sundays!
So again, let me leave you pondering “what barriers are you willing to put aside in order to welcome those ‘seeking the one born king of the Jews?'”