God with us: Embarrassment and James Bond

There have been several news stories in recent weeks which have been difficult to handle.

Perhaps like me you find yourself completely flawed by the notion that some nurses might need reminding that they have a duty of care.

Perhaps like me you are astonished that some bankers are unaware that they are custodians of other peoples` money or that some Police Officers have forgotten the importance of integrity and the need always to tell the truth.

As I say we find ourselves incredulous-and after a little thought, perhaps embarrassed that it`s come to this.

But it strikes me that this is very much how it was in Jerusalem when those three wise men turned up and asked- `So where is the one born King of the Jews?` For, all of a sudden Herod and his folk are scurrying around- embarrassed at having being caught out.

It`s just plain embarrassing. Here are the people of God questioned by Gentile outsiders and they are  effectively asking: `You do DO God don`t you?` And so we see them dusting off their Bibles and checking out the old prophecies that spoke of the coming of the Messiah.

And then I think back about six months ago to the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Do you remember? James Bond walks into Buckingham Palace and we`re all thinking: `surely not`… and `it must be one of those queen impersonators` and then `yes, that white haired lady was indeed the Queen`. And it really cheered us up. And ever since people have been remarking on her evident sense of humour.

But part of me wants to ask why we are so surprised. Because, respectfully, this is what we hope and expect to see in healthy people isn`t it? It`s what anybody would do. No matter what our station in life- we like to think that we don`t take ourselves too seriously. 

And so Matthew tells us more about these three visitors to Jerusalem. Somehow God caught their attention. They made a journey and on seeing the child and his mother we`re told they did what we would expect. They did what anybody would do; they kneel and worship and offer and go their way. And these people are changed. We`re told, they returned to their home `another way`. And in all of this they are a model and an example. 

At this point I think it helps to remember that in Matthew`s Gospel Jesus is called `Emmanuel`- which means `God is with us`. And his whole story is, if you like, his way of describing what it`s like when God is indeed with us. 

So firstly, he`s telling us that when God shows up the people of God can sometimes get a bit of a shock. He`s showing us how embarrassing it is that faith can sometimes go to sleep. That God can be regarded as distant, academic; as a matter of speculation or some kind of absentee landlord. So this passage begs the question: `You do DO God don`t you?`.

And we are called to ask what signs we`ve seen of his presence in our lives at the moment? And if we`re not so sure well, what steps will we take to restore this sense of immediacy in our faith? Herod and his cronies turned to the scriptures- to the resources that develop and sustain faith. This passage begs the question: `What about you and me?` 

But secondly, we look at the wise men: these Gentile outsiders. When God shows up they are the ones who take notice of what`s going on. They do what anyone in their right mind would do; on seeing Christ they make their offering. They acknowledge his significance and authority in their lives. Their response to the truth that `God is with us` is to accept the call to change. Notice again, they return home `another way`. So yes, let`s use that word: they got CONVERTED. Changed. They were not the same again.

People sometimes say to me: `Are you going to convert me then, Vicar?` Of course, my standard response is `No, that`s what God will do`. But the very nervousness that lies behind that question just lets you know that underneath it all they understand that there`s no faith without change. 

There`s no faith without responding to God`s attempts to get your attention. No faith without the willingness to follow up the possibility that there`s a better way of being a world- a better way of being a human being. No faith without offering, acknowledging Christ`s proper place and authority in our life and in the world. No faith without giving up your autonomy: without what I call coming `under new management`.  

So, for me, Matthew`s story of the visit of the wise men is on the one hand a story about astonishment and embarrassment. Astonishment and embarrassment that the people of God could somehow lose their sense of the immediacy of God. 

And if this is where you are at the moment. Remember, this for Matthew, is one of the signs that `God is with us`. This is a good thing. I mean, you can batter yourself if you wish or we can just use it as the wake-up call it is surely meant to be. 

And on the other hand we have a picture of three people coming to faith. We see these visitors to the infant Christ doing what all of us in our right mind are called to do. They respond to God`s efforts to get our attention. They recognise his presence in Christ. They worship, offer and allowing his transforming work to continue in our lives: going home `another way`. 

So pray this morning with this sense of your own calling as one of the people of God. Called to live, I want to suggest, with a greater sense of the immediacy` of God: God with us.  Don`t batter yourself if you feel embarrassed or second-rate: listen to the wake-up call. Listen more carefully to the words we will hear later in our Worship `The Lord is here`.

And as you come forward to receive the bread and wine- as you keel- do so as one of those visitors to the infant Christ. Take your time. Worship, adore. Renew your offering; accept the changing transforming work of God in your life- that like the wise men you might return to your home `another way`.

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