Tuesday, January 06, 2009

To Make Everyone See

Matthew 2: 1-12, 16
Ephesians 3: 1-12

There's an old commercial that runs through my head periodically. It's from when I was a kid, and it suggested the power of person to person sales. It involved a woman with long, glossy, lustrous hair in the old Farrah Fawcett style of the 70's talking about how great the shampoo was. And it ended with her saying ". . . and I told two friends . . . " and two other women appeared, also with long shiny hair. The three of them say together "and we told two friends. . .", and four more women appeared.

By the end of the ad, there was some large number of women, all with shiny soft hair saying that they had passed on the good news of shampoo. It's been such a long time, I don't remember if there were any non-white faces in the crowd of soft and shiny haired people, but undoubtedly the makers of the product would not have objected to women of non-white ethnicity and with money in their hands buying their shampoo.

It's often been in my mind, this image of friends telling other friends, the end result of it being a lot of people hearing the news. Nothing is better advertising than a friend telling another friend of a new product or service. All the advertising in the world can't do the job better than someone recommending something to someone else, based on the already understood common needs and interests.

It's even been suggested in an evangelism tool--rather than a preacher go into an area with tent and band and entertainment values, a few people simply move into an area, be visible in an unobtrusive way, become part of the community, and act according to the love of God in their lives. Based on a buildup of trust between the new people and the others, the word of God is passed along on the strong coils of relationship.

The story of the coming of God into the world was passed along by extraordinary measures. A star led the wise men, and Angels announced to shepherds. It's really easy to believe something's up when you see a star moving outside the charted paths of the heavens, or a celestial being appearing in front of you saying, go into town now, and see the new divine creature that has been given to you.

But the lights fade, the star disappears, and the angels fly away. And after Herod's terrorist slaughtering of every child under two in the area of Bethlehem, there isn't much that happens, until a guy appears announcing a baptism for the repentance of sins. When he goes to prison and dies, this other guy is seen walking down the beach, stopping and talking to fishermen along the way. He's not shouting, he's not gathering crowds, he's just being social, it looks like. But then a number of them drop their nets and walk down the beach with him. No shouted slogans, no campaigns, no coercion. Just a conversation.

We know that Jesus is inviting people to "come and see". We sit here this morning because that invitation was, at some point, extended to us. It may have been because of the leadership of parents, it might have been the stories told by a friend when we were young, it might have been a holy experience at camp. It might have come by a spiritual two-by-four upside your head, like Paul on the road to Damascus, or it might have been the gradual growth into faith over the course of months or years, as you grew into your faith. Whatever, the invitation was extended, and if you are here this morning, it was either accepted or you are still thinking about accepting.

What happens next is up to you. It's up to us. We have to make everyone see what we saw, what the shepherds saw, what the wise men saw. Epiphany means to experience the appearance or manifestation of a deity. I think we should probably let God handle the appearances, but I think that we are called to handle the manifestations--the actions and speech that cause others to realize that God exists, and that the God we believe in is love. Radical love.

It's the kind of love where Israel and Hamas put down their weapons.
It's the kind of love that helps people stop flying the confederate flag because they realize how hurtful it is to others.

Howard Thurman, a theologian and poet of the 20th century, wrote this which I had never read before. A friend posted it in his Facebook web page:

"When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart."

This is our work. And through our work, though our stepping outside the walls of this building into the world to serve God, we can make everyone see that the love of God is for everyone, not just a chosen few. And then they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. . .

Note: since I wrote this, two enterprising folks have found the ad on YouTube. Thanks to Penny and Carlton, and here's the link, from Penny!

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