January 7, 2017 – Remembering the Gift

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

What was your most memorable moment during this Christmas season? My most memorable moment came on the day after Boxing Day. I went to Riverwood Square for a service of lessons and carols. Not many people showed up. Five hearty souls got together to lift up our voices. We listened to the story in the Bible as if we heard it for the first time. We sang Christmas carols like never before, shaking the entire building from floor to rafter. After the service, I went to see my Chiropractor. The visit had been scheduled as a follow up, but it was a timely visit. My body deserved a treat after working hard for Christmas services. The cracking sound soothes me sometimes. It was a good day.

To complete my perfect day, I went to a Vietnamese restaurant on Pembina Highway across from the library. The place was crowded as usual. There were multigenerational families dining out more than usual. ‘What a lovely occasion,’ I thought to myself. It was like a Christmas wrap up party with a bunch of strangers. There was a large family with two kids beside my table. There was not much space between us, but we didn’t dare to look at each other. Everyone in the restaurant shared the same goal: to enjoy their food and leave as quickly as possible so those who were waiting in line could be seated. But when the family was just about to leave, the mother of the kids broke the spell. She said, “Oh my gosh, you are the minister at Fort Garry!” I didn’t even know she was speaking to me until I heard the word, minister. “We were there at the service” she continued. “And you invited my kids to participate in the Christmas pageant. We are from New York visiting our family.” “Yes, I remember you and your children. They were angels.” I finally opened my mouth standing up. “Somebody mentioned that there was a family from New York at the service.” “That’s us. My kids really enjoyed the pageant. Thank you.” She was sincere and very appreciative. “You’re welcome. Thank you for recognizing me.” And then her husband also said, “It’s very nice of you to do that. Thank you.” They came to thank me one after another. That just made my day. I was so moved that I almost forgot to finish my noodles.

The lunch time in the crowded restaurant became a ritual of giving thanks. They took time to acknowledge the gift they received, and expressed their gratitude in person. It is their act of remembering that made the ordinary time and place into extraordinary time and place.

Remembering. That’s all it takes to realize that the place we are standing is holy ground. That’s all it takes to deepen our relationship with God and with one another. That’s all it takes to begin again and again, and to keep going.

Remembering is one of the most important tasks God asked the children of Israel to do. When Moses received the Ten Commandments, God prefaced with the following. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Remembering preceded the commandments. It’s only by remembering the God of liberation that they were able to live differently, and that they were able to continue their journey in the wilderness.

God also said, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Notice the two words, ‘remember’ and ‘holy’ and how they are related. Keeping the Sabbath is more than taking a pause and doing nothing. It’s about remembering. It’s about consecrating the lives of those who remember.

Remembering was what Jesus asked for from the followers. “Take, eat, and remember” said Jesus at the supper on the night before he was betrayed. Celebrating communion serves a similar function as keeping the Sabbath because both involves remembering what God has done and still does for us. We are on the receiving end.

A week before the farewell meal, he was sitting at the table in the house of Simon at Bethany. There came a woman with a very expensive perfume, with which she anointed his body beforehand for its burial. And he said, “wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Jesus acknowledged the gift he received. The only proper way to respond to that gift was to remember, so not only did he remember but also he asked us to remember her.

Today we celebrate Epiphany. The word epiphany means appearance or manifestation – the making known or showing forth of what was before unknown or hidden. We celebrate how God was revealed to the strangers, the foreigners, the outsiders who travelled from a different country. The story shows us how the grace of God was hidden to those who were holding on to their power, but was manifested to those who were seeking and leaving everything behind. Their emotional reactions show a stark contrast. Herod was frightened, the elite group in Jerusalem was with Herod, and didn’t do anything about what was happening as bystanders, but the wise ones were overwhelmed with joy. The fundamental difference between the groups was whether they were able to see the sign of what God was doing as a threat or as a gift.

The question is where we are in the story. God continues to be manifested. God is still speaking to us through nature, the people around us, books, our experiences and what’s happening in the world. But what is our response to it? Are we holding on to our power? Are we doing nothing as if we are bystanders? Or are we seeking beyond our boundaries? There is no guarantee that the road ahead of us is easy or smooth. We might have to cross deserts of unknowing, mountainous obstacles, and valleys of despair. But as long as we remember how we embarked on our journey, as long as we remember the light which has guided us, and is still guiding us, we can keep on going.

Let us remember the gift we received from God. That’s all it takes to begin again, and to keep on going, like the parents who took time to acknowledge the gift they received, like the wise ones who remembered the star throughout their journey.