Christmas 2 – Thoughts on Trust – January 3, 2021

Thoughts on Trust

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

– Matthew 2:1-12

It’s no secret that there’s a crisis of trust in our country: trust in government, trust in news sources, trust in science and expertise, trust in one another.

Trust is the foundation of civilization.  Trust is vital for every human enterprise, every key relationship, for the collaboration that is essential to healthy families, businesses, and societies.

Scripture tells us that trust lies at the heart of the Incarnation.   Jesus would not have been born or survived infancy without the deep trust of people who lived 2000 years ago.

The Magi

Take the Magi.   Trusting in their own studies, they followed the star to Bethlehem to honor the King of the Jews.   Wisely, instead of Herod, they trusted the message in a dream.  The Magi went on by another way, saving the infant Jesus from Herod’s deadly design.

The Magi are only in Matthew, whose birth stories are somewhat different from Luke’s.   Each gospel account reflects the vision that author has of Jesus’ mission.

In Luke, Jesus comes to turn the world’s values upside down: to lift up the lowly, put down the mighty, exalt the humble and meek.    It is the vision we heard in Mary’s song The Magnificat; and we saw it in Jesus’ humble birth in a shelter for animals, and the visit by lowly shepherds.

#ChristmasAltarMatthew presents Jesus’ birth as an important, cosmopolitan event.   So instead of shepherds and a manger, or stable, and regardless of what the paintings and greeting cards depict, Matthew has the Magi come to see the child and his mother in a house.     People of learning and wisdom, the Magi brought exotic, precious gifts to to honor Jesus’ birth.   They traveled from distant lands.   Their foreign origins foretell the final words in Matthew: the Great Commission.   There the Risen Christ says to his followers: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Another difference in Matthew’s account is Joseph’s leading role.   An angel comes to him to say that the child is from the Holy Spirit.   After the Magi visit, in another dream, the angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus because Herod  plans to kill all male infants in the land.

Different as these birth stories are, the common trait is trust: the trust of faithful people in God’s invitations, God’s guidance, God’s warnings, God’s promise.

First of all was Mary’s   Her thoughtful deliberation, her ‘yes’ to Gabriel, her gracious acceptance of God’s will gave birth to our salvation.

Trust, upon trust, upon trust.

Mary, Joseph, the Magi all trusted in God.   They surely had come to know God and to discern God’s voice and God’s will through years of prayer, abiding in God’s word.   Their trust in God enabled them to trust themselves and their own judgment in the moment of decision.

Whom Do You Trust?

Whom do you trust—trust in your deepest heart and soul, trust in your bones?   Some trust is built over time, years of close friendship or family ties. It can come quickly between people who have lived together through challenges, trials, and tragedies.

We trust individuals, and if we are fortunate, we belong to communities of trust as well.    When Claudia and I moved to Newport we were drawn here by Emmanuel’s historic commitment to people from all parts of society.   When we came, we saw that it was true, and we found an authentic community of souls–who aren’t perfect, who certainly don’t agree on everything, but who respect and trust and care for each other.

Like all relationships, ours at Emmanuel need to be tended to.  Covid separation makes that a challenge, in which Jere Wells has created an opportunity.  He is leading Zoom conversations twice weekly that bring members together to share our thoughts and concerns, our faith journeys, our lives.   These simple meetings help strengthen our bonds, deepen our knowledge about each other and the trust that comes with it.  Please join us at one or both of these: Sunday at 9 or Wednesday at 5.  You can even Zoom in on the phone!

(The information is on the web and in the weekly bulletin or call the office.)

Thank God!   The days are getting longer.   Thank God!  The vaccine is getting distributed.   But we are weary.   And, alas, the other crises will not disappear when Covid does.  There is no quick fix for the systemic injustices in society, nor for our widespread lack of trust.   That repair, that rebuilding is going to take a lot of work, of faith, of commitment from all people of good will.   People like you and me.

That means taking risks, reaching out in God’s loving kindness and peace to people who have different lives, different politics, different looks.    Empathy has the power to bridge many an apparent divide.   When I’m challenged by someone’s attitude, it helps me to remember that behind it there’s just another fragile–maybe fearful—human being trying to get through the day.

Empathy, Radical Trust, and Generosity

Inmates raised tuition for high school student

I want to close with a story about empathy, radical trust, and generosity from Friday’s Washington Post.[1]  For three years, a group of inmates in the Soledad State Prison in California pooled their meager prison earnings to help put a young man through Palma Catholic High School.   Their gifts were truly sacrificial, made from wages as little as 8 cents/hour and at most $1.   That was what they had for items like toothpaste and deodorant that the prison doesn’t supply.

The idea grew among inmates attending a regular book group they had with some students from Palma, where they shared their feelings and lives.    When they read The Miracle on the River Kwai, where prisoners of war banded together to care for each other, the inmates vowed to do that, to support each other.  Then, they decided, “We can help some young man get a head start that a lot of us didn’t have”.  They enlisted other inmates too.  The book group teacher from Palma chose a good student, whose parents’ health and employment crises had devastated their savings.   In all, in the three years, about 700 inmates contributed a total of $32,000 to see Sy Newson Green graduate and go on to college.   And in the process, in the prison, they had built a community of trust and a significant charitable enterprise.

Our community of trust at Emmanuel is a priceless treasure—particularly in this time of crises.   It blesses each of us.  And like all of God’s blessings it is given to be shared beyond the church: to bless the larger community.    In 2021, then, let us strive to live more and more fully into God’s blessing: Emmanuel. God is with us.   Let us bear the light of Christ, and show all whom we meet that God is with them.  Indeed, God is with us all.

[1]  Kellie B. Gormly, “Inmates Raise $32,000 for High School Student’s Tuition,” Washington Post, January 1, 2021.  The original story was on CNN.