I have often used, as well as heard, the phrase “it is a matter of perspective”.
It can be an acknowledgement that the place in life from which we observe or experience something will often influence or control what we see in the experience. And sometimes it can also be a phrase that gets used to disregard the thoughts of someone we may disagree with, as in saying, “Well, that’s just your perspective.” My “mobile device” reveals to me that the synonyms for perspective are: “outlook, viewpoint, standpoint, position, stance, angle, slant, attitude, frame of mind, way of looking, etc.”. The perspectives we have may deeply influence what we see, what we are willing to see and how we respond to what we see.
At an early family Christmas gathering at our home our two-year old grandson decided that he needed a real close look underneath the Christmas tree. We are fortunate to have a fairly tall ceiling in our great room, which creates a great space for a large Christmas tree each year. This year we trimmed off the lowest branches so that we could set up the full crèche under the tree. The figurines are ceramic pieces that Ruth’s late mother made for us years ago. They not only imbue a deep sense of the Nativity story and the following Epiphany scene, they also carry family memory and meaning.
So, when our grandson planted himself on the floor, I decided I would (and should) as well. It did not take long for him to engage me in a conversation, sitting on my lap as I bent myself under the limbs of pine. He was fascinated by the tree limbs, the lights, the ornaments, and of course the figurines. I asked him to touch them gently, and thankfully he did so. He also learned how to turn on and off the battery-operated candles placed strategically in each part of the scene: shepherds and sheep, wise magi and camels, and the center piece of the stable and holy family. I told him what each figurine was and he immediately began picking up the new words.
The very next morning I saw our little grandson get down again, turning on the candles and gently touching the figurines. His “perspective” was one of enjoying mystery, learning, exploring and taking it all in. My grandpa’s heart and my preacher’s mind were in a good place that day. How wonderful it is when as human beings, created in the image of God, we can have eyes to see and hearts capable of receiving the profound mystery of the Light shining in the darkness.
“In the time of King Herod, … wise men … came … asking, “Where is the child …? For we observed his star at its rising…”
The Epiphany reading from Matthew 2:1-12 is unique to this Gospel. We often times sweep it away with a hymn on Christmas Eve or the following Sunday, then it is forgotten along with the gift wrap and boxes of our holiday festivities. Yet, it is an essential revealing of how perspectives really do matter. The gospel writer shows a clear distinction between the capacity to “see and receive” of the wise men or magi, and the distorted inability of Herod. Herod lived in fear rather than appreciation.
Author Kathleen Norris, in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, writes:
“I am fascinated by the gospel depictions of King Herod: everything he does, he does out of fear. Fear can be a useful defense mechanism, but when a person is always on the defensive, like Herod, it becomes debilitating and self-defeating. … Herod’s fear is like a mighty wind; it can’t be seen, but its effects dominate the landscape. … Herod, who, while he had worldly power, is pitifully weak. Because of his fear, he can only pretend to see the light that the Magi have offered him.”
One of the verses that I so deeply love is when Matthew writes of the wise magi, “And, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” Another translation states, “they departed for their country by another way.” This year Epiphany and this story seem especially timely and poignant. People all over this country and across the globe seem to fear anything that is different than the small circle of their own power and control. We hear it in the news; we hear it in the rhetoric of a polarizing political process; and we too often hear it in our struggles to shape the Church in a changing world. Yet, it does not have to be that way—we can choose “another way”! We do not need to look at the world through Herod’s eyes, or to see new emergent happenings through his perspective of fear.
We are in a season of change because of wars, poverty and global migration and refugee resettlement. We are in a season of change because our denomination is struggling to move out of decline and into new viability and relevancy here in the U.S., while it is growing rapidly in other regions of the world. We are in a season of change as we seek to create one new conference here in Michigan. We are in a season of change in many of our local churches and communities as lay and clergy leaders risk venturing into new forms of ministry and relationships through the Vital Church Initiative or the launching of new sites for ministry. For some, the emotional response will be one of fear of any change. Yet, the message of Epiphany is to invite us to choose another way!
In the midst of all of this, may we have eyes to see and hearts to receive the proclamation that “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) We live as a people of that Light, not of the darkness of continual fear and mistrust. We live as the people of that Love, not as people of hatred and oppression. We live as the people of that Grace, not as the people of intense judgment and condemnation. After all, it is just a matter of perspective!
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Hopeful Epiphany to you all!
REV. DR. JEROME (Jerry) DeVINE
Director of Connectional Ministries, DAC