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2. Planning is underway for the 2022 “A Seat at the Table” event in partnership with the Chefs @ Downtown Welcome Table! This event includes both silent and live auctions with a five-course seated dinner prepared by some of Asheville’s top chefs. Our selected venue this year has multiple outdoor spaces to provide great flexibility and support with navigating pandemic conditions. If you would like to join the planning effort, please come to a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25th at 11 am. If you need to attend virtually, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll supply a zoom link.
A Haywood Street Sermon By: Pastor Seth
(Presented on 1/5/22, Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12)
Traveling to Bethlehem under the guidance of a star, pagan astrologers from the East enter a dwelling, finding within a young peasant woman on the margins of society named Mary with her child, Jesus. These Magi have come to pay homage – recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and offering gifts that many traditionally interpret as symbolizing elements of Jesus’s identity as the Christ – the wealth of gold representing royalty, the ritual incense frankincense representing religious authority, and the embalming resin myrrh representing the significance of Jesus’s death.
This is the story of Epiphany – a special day in the life of the church where we celebrate the revelation of a God who incarnates God’s self in this world in and through a very particular way. Over the years, this story has been dramatized and imaginatively interpreted, evolving into the Magi being three wise men or even three kings gathered around the baby Jesus in a picture perfect postcard of the nativity.
Traditionally, this is a story that focuses on Jesus – the Magi follow an auspicious star in order to visit Jesus, to pay homage to Jesus, to offer gifts to Jesus, and to place Jesus at the center of God’s revelatory intentions. However, we would be remiss if we did not also recognize the reason why there is a reason for the season to begin with; remiss if we ourselves did not recognize a key figure in this story whom the Magi actually acknowledge immediately. The Magi recognize that Jesus did not simply float down to earth in a cradle of clouds, but, rather, was formed in and birthed from a womb. They do not simply recognize Jesus as the Messiah; they recognize Mary as his mother.
So as we listen to the reading of scripture for Epiphany today, I invite us to ponder what this says about Mary’s identity and place in a story that is traditionally all about Jesus.
What does this story tell us about who Mary is and what her place is in the Kin-dom of God?
- Astrological significance of the star
- No mention of the manger in this passage
- All encompassing and involved dynamics of motherhood
- Mary at the center of the story
I heard a story once about two churches located across the road from one another. Each had a sign board out in their front lawns with the churches’ names on it that announced what the sermon was going to be about that week in addition to the time of the service, the name of the pastor, and so on. One week, the topic for the sermon on one sign was the creation story, centering on Eve and women in general. In an effort to seemingly put women in what this church believed to be their place, the sign read: “Last to be created; first to sin.” Upon seeing this sign, the church across the road decided to respond with their own sermon topic, arranging the letters on their board to read: “Last at the cross; first at the tomb.”
In a world still plagued by patriarchal notions of a woman’s place being on the periphery and below the valuation of a man’s, the narrative ark of salvation reminds us again and again that women are not mere sidekick sinners and supporting roles, but rather bear the image of God as leaders and teachers, revolutionaries and providers, patrons, creators, and models of God’s movement of love in this world.
It is women who courageously defy Pharaoh’s orders to kill newborn Hebrew boys and a woman yet again who defies the oppressor to keep an infant Moses alive. It is a woman whom God sends as the fourth judge of Israel for their deliverance and whom God commands to lead an army of ten thousand in the book of Judges. It is a woman who puts her life on the line to hide Joshua’s spies, instrumental to the conquering of Jericho. It is a woman who is brave enough to reach out and touch Jesus’s clothes in order to be healed, epitomizing faith itself. It is a woman who models the true meaning of discipleship as she sits at the feet of the Teacher. It is a woman who dares to wash Christ’s feet with expensive perfume, teaching the disciples themselves a lesson. It is women who are often the providers and patrons for Jesus’s ministry and Paul’s continuation of it. It is women whom Jesus praises for their faith, understanding, and action far more than he praises his own male disciples.
It is women who stay the longest at the cross. It is women who are first to the tomb. It is women to whom Christ first reveals the resurrection. And it is a woman whom God entrusts and authorizes to bear and birth Christ into this world.
What is Mary’s place, what is a woman’s place in the Kin-dom of God? – at the very center, the very core, the very foundation, the very heart of God’s workings in the world. Who am I to say, who is anybody to say that a woman’s place is relegated anywhere else or that a woman cannot bear authority when it is a woman living on the outskirts of the margins of society whom the Spirit ordained to literally bear and birth God?
Epiphany cannot be about Jesus without being about Mary, as well. Some scholars suggest that when the Magi come and make their offering of gifts to the infant Christ, that such gifts were a practical, medicinal offering for the postpartum care of Mary, too, for Frankincense and myrrh contain anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties with myrrh in particular being an aid in menstruation as well. In this sense, the gifts were not only a way of paying homage to Jesus, the Christ, then, but were perhaps a means of taking care of Mary, the mother, and placing her at the center as well – the one who nurtured her changing body, who endured morning sickness and aches beyond belief, who dreamed for her son, who sang to her forming child, who protected him, who co-created Christ in her very womb, whose screams of agony and immense strength preceded anything Jesus ever said or did. At this point in the story, it is Mary, a woman, who has done all the legwork of ushering in the Kin-dom of God. Jesus can’t even speak a word yet.
Read in this light, Mary’s place is not in the corner of the room – out of sight and out of mind for the Magi. No, the text says that they saw Jesus with Mary, his mother. Mary’s place is with God, cradling God, nursing God, being tended to by guests rather than being the one doing the tending. Mary’s place is right beside God. A woman’s place, whether motherhood is a part of her journey or not, is right beside God – not on the periphery, not under subjugation, not to be looked down upon as below the status of men in passive submission. No, but as bearers of the image of God who bear God’s love in this world and to whom God looks to and ordains again and again to exemplify discipleship and help usher in the Kin-dom.
On this day we celebrate the magi coming and recognizing Jesus as the Messiah – the Christ whose body and blood will become the living, dying, and resurrecting testimony to God’s love of the world. Down the road, when Jesus breaks the bread and pours the wine, he says do this in remembrance of me – of my body and of my blood. But let us not neglect to remember that it is through the power, the pain, the strength, the beauty, the god-bearing authority of the body and blood of a young peasant woman that we are afforded the grace to remember Christ’s body and blood in the first place.