Sunday, January 5, 2014

As with Gladness Men of Old (Strength in Hymn)

“As with Gladness Men of Old”
by William Chatterton Dix, 1869

As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

January 6 is the traditional celebration of Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, when we commemorate the visit of the magi to see the new King. (Think of the carol "We Three Kings.")  They followed the prophetic star to find and worship him, bringing their gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense.  The word "epiphany" means "appearance" - and this is also when we remember that the babe who laid in a humble Jewish manger was also the Christ - the sent one - for the whole world.

"The Adoration of the Magi"
by Benvenuto di Giovanni in 1470-1475
In his sermon this morning, worship leader Josh Bales told us that he was going to preach about models for missions (sharing the gospel of Jesus) through the story of Epiphany in Matthew 2:1-12.  I thought, "Right. Sure.  I'd like to see how he's going to pull this off."  Yet he did.  Aha.  Like an epiphany to me, in the sense of insight appearing as light in my heart through his words.  

Josh reminded us that in the mystery of Epiphany, God shows himself to be inclusive.  He draws men and women from around the globe into his own divine family by faith.  Like two foremothers of Jesus, Rahab and Ruth, the magi came from a completly different culture, nation, political system, and religion.  These "wise men of the East" were outsiders in every sense of the word to the sleepy little town of Bethlehem in Judea.  Their arrival heralded not only the amazing news of the Savior of the Jews, but of people all over the world.  

God is also gracious.  He lead these men, who were most likely pagan astrologers, by the star, something already a vital part of their lives and worldviews.  He meets us right where we are, just as he met them with a star.  He can use anything in any culture to communicate his grace.  So we too, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can be creative and authentic in how we express or share our faith.  We don't need gimmicks.  We do need to reach people where they are and not rigidly expect them to be just like us.  We can be sensitive to their needs, their preconceptions, their preferences, their hesitancy. We also realize it's not just our words, but his spirit drawing them in so many ways we cannot even fathom. (To them it was a star, but to me, clouds communicate his beauty and glory and kindness, which is one reason I chose some of my cloud photos for this post.  But I digress.)

Finally, God is personal.  In Jesus, we find that God is present in a human body, not abstract and distant.  The magi ventured first to Herod's fancy palace to seek the newborn King. Yet the end of their journey was counter-intuitive.  Instead of splendor, they found a lowborn baby in poor family in a simple home.  And they bowed and worshiped him.  They knew. God was there, small, with skin on.  As we try to share God's plan with those who don't yet know him, where are we pointing them?   To our religious morals and ideologies?  To a political agenda? To our favorite Christian celebrities?  To our bumper stickers and TV shows or clubs?  To our quick and trite answers to their deepest doubts and dilemmas?  Or do we bring them straight to Jesus?  He is not just an idea or a philosophy.   He is real.  He is alive.  He still speaks.  He still saves.   He is the Light of the World. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  He is the great I AM.  Jesus, God with us.

Epiphany.  The Savior has appeared to the world, made his debut into the whole of humanity.  Take a peek at the hymn again, and see if it will lead you a little closer to Jesus.

In grace,
Virginia Knowles

Post Scripts: 

#1: I love the word epiphany, so I used it twice in my poem Shimmer and Shadow.
#2: You may also like my Advent poem Paradox.
#3: More from Josh Bales about stars, this time in music: Count the Stars.
#4: My other Christmas hymns in the Strength in Hymn series:

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