Sunday has seen us celebrating the event when the “three wise men'' (often called the three kings or the Magi ) arrive on the scene of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Their journey to the Christmas manger was a careful choreography of following a star, making prudent inquiries from civic and religious authorities and exploring the scripture prophecies - all while the general population was on edge as to what all this would mean to the political, religious and cultural ideologies of the day. There were a lot of mechanisms at play, checks and balances, both by heaven and earth, by saints and sinners to set the stage for the coming of the Messiah.
After they had paid their homage to the baby Jesus and paid their respects to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, the Wise Men disappear into the darkness and secretly return to their distant lands. Of course, this provokes the rage of the paranoid King Herod who, failing to track and trace the whereabouts of the newly born messiah, initiates the slaughter of all the newborn babies in the region of Bethlehem. Forewarned, St. Joseph quickly takes Mary and the child Jesus, escaping the impending bloodbath by retreating to Egypt. There they must wait until it is safe to return home. In the meantime, family life is far from normal.
This has been, in so many ways, the story of our lives too, even at St. Margaret’s. During the past year, like the three wise men, we found ourselves carefully navigating our way through civic and religious complexities in order to encounter Christ in the sacraments, and in a manner that did not provoke outside intervention.
Like the Holy Family, we know that our surroundings are not ideal but that they are temporary. Like them, we also have the sense that we can not return a sense of normality for some time yet. Both the Wise Men and the Holy Family must leave their Christmas of Bethlehem behind and take the long way home. That we also must do.
What we have been through so far has inevitably changed us. It has reshaped and redefined our relationships with God, each other and the church. We might be tempted by muscle memory to dream of returning to the ways we had it in the past. But when the Wise Men returned to their distant lands and the Holy Family returned from their exile in Egypt, there would be no turning back the clock, no nostalgia for times past.
If we are to allow God’s Word to again take root, grow and produce a great harvest, then we too must be open to new changes, a new environment, a different way experiencing divine grace and mercy with a better understanding of what it means to be a parish church.
Like the Holy Family waiting out their time in Egypt or the Wise Men slowly navigating their way home through uncharted lands, when we eventually get settled back into parish life again, it definitely will not be the same as we left it. That’s because we will not be the same as when we left it.
May this new year of grace, bring forth within us, at the right time and despite the challenges and uncertainties, a new and refreshing model of being a parish church, not just for ourselves, but for the new generations to come.
Father Cávana Wallace