By the Rev. Robert P. Starbuck, M.Div., PhD
Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in front of a campfire with the flame going up and down, back and forth. You are mesmerized! You go on a journey to Never Neverland. You have no concept of time for 30 minutes or an hour is in itself lost in time.
Whoever was there a few minutes ago has left. You are all alone - quietness grips you and your thoughts return to the evening just ended and the future that awaits you. The fire before you is gone - only the burning embers remain - the afterglow.
It is the second Sunday in Christmastide. The decorations have already been taken down. The Christmas tree is gone, and the beautiful poinsettias too, but look! - We still have the cross, lectern, the pulpit, and the candles on the altar are still burning. We need to keep them burning for Christmas is not over. The Wise Men have not arrived. The Star in the East is still shining as they make their way to Bethlehem.
A couple weeks ago I was talking to the mother of our next-door neighbor. She was telling me with a sparkle in her eyes that her son and his wife were in the process of adopting their second child. He would be arriving on January 6th.
I said, "O, that's a special day."
"That's your birthday?” she asked.
"No, that is Epiphany-the day the wise men arrived in Bethlehem with their gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.”
Then I told her the story of the Twelve Days of Christmas. While she knew the song she did not know the story. She is active in her church but it doesn't follow the Christian year as we do.
Like the wise men we too journey toward Bethlehem. We too want-even need to lay our gifts before the Lord Jesus. He's waiting for us - you know.
"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
Jesus admonishes us to love God but also to love one another and above all to love our selves. I think now of the hundreds of people I have worked with through the years that do not love themselves. Since early childhood they have been physically, emotionally, verbally, and many sexually abused. They depend on others to make them feel good - even to feel loved.
We are on this good earth to love and be loved. Listen to Luke as he writes: "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read, and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah.
He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
The Prophet Jeremiah was often referred to as the suffering or weeping prophet; he prophesied in both the pre and post-exilic era. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to the Assyrians and in 586 BC the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom and many were taken to Babylon. It was during their captivity that Jeremiah told them of the New Covenant God would make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
"I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
During my years in the parish minister I simply could not understand and later felt anger because certain church people were complaining that I was spending too much time with the youth. In the late 60s and early 70s, I loved going to Lakeview to work with the youth. I always enjoyed Youth Activity Week, which was so evident in churches throughout our Conference during that period of history. It reminds me of this poem.
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
Ms. Will Allen Domgoole
As we celebrate the afterglow of Christmas and wait for the wise men to arrive with their gifts may we gather up our own gifts - continue on our journey with a life full of wonder and excitement. We too have seen his Star in the East and have come to worship him.
I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly. It is the eighth day of Christmas. It is Epiphany Sunday. A new year awaits us. Our world awaits us. I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
By Ruth Comfort Mitchell
A tired old doctor died today, and a baby boy was born-
A little new soul that was pink and frail, and a soul that was gray and worn.
And—halfway here and halfway there-
On a white, high hill of shining air,
They met and passed and paused to speak in the flushed and hearty dawn.
The man looked down at the soft, small thing, with wise and weary eyes;
And the little chap stared back at him, with startled, scared surmise:
And then he shook his downy head-
"I think I won't be born," he said;
”You are too gray and sad!” And he shrank from the pathway down the skies.
But the tired old doctor roused once more at the battle-cry of birth,
And there was memory in his look, of grief and toil and mirth,
"Go on!" he said, "It's good-and bad:
It's hard! Go on! It's ours, my lad."
And he stood and urged him out of sight, down to the waiting earth.
Ruth Comfort Mitchell
Published in Harper’s Magazine ~ December 1921-May 1922, Volume 144, page 252
Ruth Comfort Mitchell and John Steinbeck both lived in Los Gatos, California, and she wrote her novel Of Human Kindness, as a literary rebuttal to Steinbeck’s, The Grapes of Wrath.
A Christmastide Sermon ~ THE AFTERGLOW, written by Rev. Robert P. Starbuck, M.Div., PhD, in 2011; edited by Ron Starbuck, Saint Julian Press, Inc. © 2014.
This sermon and others will be included in a new book of prose and poetry to be titled, In My Father’s House are Many Mansions, from Saint Julian Press in 2015.
As a Methodist minister for over 50 years, and practicing psychotherapist for over 40 years, my father never read the Bible in a literal way. He saw the Bible stories, readings, and lessons, as a way of wisdom, being, renewal, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
He saw them as something to be taught and celebrated as sacred literature and scripture pointing humankind towards a much higher truth and experience of the divine, pointing us towards an intimate and eternal relationship with the divine that is ours to claim, a new being. As a clergy he believed in and administered the sacraments of the church, and he believed in the Divine Mystery and Love of God actively at work within the world.
He was able to live in that mystery, to accept it fully and completely, and came to realize early in his adult life that what Jesus was teaching humankind was to love God, yourself, and others as your self.
Hear what our Lord Jesus saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22:37-40
He urged people to embrace life, to live their life in great spiritual abundance, without separation, fully and completely. He believed in Jesus and the message and gift of God’s love, of salvation and oneness within the Trinity. He saw these as higher mysteries that take us beyond all religious beliefs, faiths, symbols, words, and images.
He believed in the unity of God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, unseen and invisible that is always waiting for us to claim the power of God’s love and healing within our own lives.
Ron Starbuck, Saint Julian Press.
January 1, 2015
Robert P. Starbuck, M.Div., PhD
In My Fathers's House Are Many Mansions (John 14:2) will be a new book to be published by Saint Julian Press in 2017. It will be a collection of essays and sermons written by Robert P. Starbuck, M.Div., PhD, in his fifty plus years as a Christian clergy, and over forty years as a practicing psychotherapist. We'll begin at the beginning and work our way through my father's life. The book's title is of course an allusion to and a metaphor for the diversity found in a literary and artistic dialogue that promotes world peace, cultural conversations, and an interfaith awareness, appreciation, and acceptance. Although, mostly Christian in vocabulary, the messages offered here are ones of universal acceptance across all humankind.