In Matthew’s Gospel, the visitors from the East go home “another way.” After a year of journeying with the Corona Virus, all God’s people are coping with another way of life.
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Lent is less than two weeks away, which means the season of Epiphany is drawing to a close. No more excuses. It’s time for the nativity sets to return to their boxes until the calendar turns to Advent once again.
This year, 11 months into the COVID-19 era, it’s this figure that captures my imagination. Other crèche scenes include camels, the “ships of the desert.” But a rowboat? What are these Wise Ones doing in a rowboat??
This figure’s creator, a man named Dennis Brown, titles it “The Journey Home.” Verses from the second chapter of Matthew sparked his imagination. The first two verses begin: “Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. At about that time, some astrologers from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in far-off eastern lands and have come to worship him.’” Herod, “deeply disturbed,” finds out from the scholars and priests that Bethlehem is where they want to go. He informs the stargazers and tells them to return to the palace after they meet this royal infant, so he can set his GPS to find and worship him, too. The 12th verse concludes: “But when they returned to their own land, they didn’t go through Jerusalem to report to Herod, for God had warned them in a dream to go home another way.”
Another way. Not on a camel. In a rowboat.
Like me and everyone else on the planet, you have lived the last year of your life another way. Some days, we can put our shoulder to the oar and row that boat ashore to accomplish whatever task is before us. Livestream that sermon from the home office. Attend that Zoom conference for work. Help your homeschooler with the day’s homework. Put on a mask and walk into the grocery store or hospital, or classroom to do your essential work. Go to church in your pajamas, watching a screen, large or small.
Other days we feel adrift upon the sea. No in-person contact with family or friends for far too long. A loved one dies without a hug or a smile or loving word from you. You lose a job and fear you’ll next lose your home. The things you once did to help your neighbors now put you and them at risk. While desperate to get the vaccine, there’s no shot to be had. And some days, all you want is a haircut.
Another way. The Wise Ones avoided King Herod. Now we do our best to avoid the Corona Virus. Like them, we have seen Jesus, and that sets us on a new course all its own. In Christ, we learn another way is not a bad way. It’s just different. During Lent, we will come to understand that Jesus was good at going another way. He can teach us how to do it with grace, patience, and hope.
As Sherry Parker Lewis suggests in the story at the top of this page, “Blizzard, winter, or ice age,” another way may indeed be our only way from now on. In the days that come after COVID-19, we may need to and even want to choose the rowboat over the camel, at least sometimes.
The best thing is, Jesus is in the same boat with us. Thanks be to God.