Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Come All Ye Faithful

If there is one thing that I have been impressed with in preparing for sermons these days it has been in noticing the centrality of worship in the biblical witness.  This should of course go without saying and yet I don't think we reflect the biblical concern.  First it was returning to the prophets and before I listened to Isaiah's concern for social injustices I allowed myself to hear how this judgment is rooted in faithful worship or what had turned into unfaithful worship (Isaiah 1).  Then in Advent I reflected on the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary.  I took note for the first time that Gabriel is only mentioned in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament and there Gabriel brings a political vision of the end of the world.  This vision came in the context of Daniel's prayer.  In Luke both Gabriel's message and Mary's response are steeped in Old Testament imagery.  The imagery is political but also liturgical.  There appears to be an integration of worship and politics that we (Mennonites) still do not yet fully understand (well I will speak for myself).  We say that worship and work are one but I am not sure that is helpful.  There is only worship.  There is only liturgy, whether it is to a true or a false god.

Now I am in the midst of preparing a message for Epiphany, the visitation of the Magi.  The Magi bring gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.  This gift giving is set in the larger context again of the Old Testament where the nations will come and bring their wealth to the house of God.  This imagery always disturbed me.  I never felt comfortable thinking that this vision was one of increasing power through the means of earthly wealth.  It did not fit with the experience of the Second Temple Israelites and certainly it did not fit with the ministry of Jesus.  I decided, however, do perform a simply search of 'gold', frankincense' and 'myrrh'.  What I found was that all of these materials are used predominantly if not exclusively for the purposes of worship, particularly in the Temple and Tabernacle.  Even gold's use as a measure of monetary worth is far and away overshadowed by use in worship.  Worship and work are not one.  There is only worship.  The nations who come with their treasures do so to join in the song.  This too is the vision of Revelation.  God's Kingdom is restored as a liturgical community.  It is from this place that peace and justice will be restored.  It is to this end that we must re-conceive both worship and work.  The center of our worshipping community has been born.  Come all ye faithful.  Come let us adorn him.

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