I did a double-take when she said, “Remember, friends, life is short.”
Two mornings ago, I was sitting with my Mom during the morning Bible study at the care center where she lives. I had made a hurried New Year’s Day trip to see her, as her health declines and her life forces dwindle. The study leader was engaging a discussion of 1 John and the need to discern those who might welcome conversation about the gospel and those who don’t. It was a highly-nuanced argument, and I admired her insight and persistence. Sadly, the students in her Bible study were not so admiring. They were, instead, in various states of somnambulism—some nodding gently in the warm sunlit room, a few muttering quietly to themselves, and others full-on snoring. It’s not that she was boring, but that they are old. And tired. And modestly confused. And ready to be done.
It was in that context that her comment, “life is short,” struck me ironic.
The Bible study leader is in the prime of her ministry—smart, energetic, thoughtful. There are clearly not enough hours in her days. But for everyone else in the room, my Mom included, life is dragging on far too long. The care center’s residents pray life to be short, that they might be released from the burden their bodies have become.
Life is short. Life is long.
Each is true. But each is not necessarily a gift.
This Sunday we celebrate Epiphany—a day on which we read of Academics from the East who visited Jesus in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2.1-12) This odd little story is found only in Matthew’s gospel, awash in dream analysis and astrological anomaly. Learned men from an Eastern country had been tracking an unusual constellation—a King’s Star—when they stumbled into Jerusalem. Nosing around the city’s markets in search of the Jewish king whose birth the star announced, they were delighted to be summoned to the King’s palace. Surely the King would know! But the King was not delighted—news of a rival king on his turf was terrifying.
Though attuned to the movements of stars, the Wise Men were blind to the machinations of power. “Go, find this King and tell me all about it so I can worship him, too!” Herod exclaimed. But he lied. His only interest in the natal king’s location was to smother him in his sleep.
Buoyed by King Herod’s enthusiasm, they followed the star all the way to Bethlehem. There they knelt before the child monarch, offering gifts befitting a king. Meanwhile, Herod lay sleepless in his palace, awaiting word of his rival.
In the same way that the duration of life is a gift to some and a curse to others, the arrival of Jesus in our world was the answer to prayer for some and others’ worst nightmare. If Jesus is who the angels and shepherds and Wise Men—say he is, the powers of this world are right to be frightened. Jesus is a King who rules with kindness, who judges with mercy, who welcomes the weak, and feeds the hungry. The Herods in our world may not fear Jesus, but they certainly scratch their bejeweled heads. No regent on earth rules that way.
Please join us for worship on the Festival of the Epiphany. Our Sunday School children will enjoy Children’s Music at 9:30, Godly Play at 9:45, and, as part of our offering, perform a procession of Royals bearing gifts. At the beginning of Worship we will bless our sanctuary entrance in the new year, and multiply the Wise Men’s joy.
Is life short? Yes, and life is long. It depends on who you ask.
Is Christ “King?” Yes, and he is threat. It depends on who you serve.
Pastor JoAnn Post