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January 7, 2007, Epiphany Sunday All
Souls' Episcopal Church
Are We too Smart to Come
to the Manger?
Tommy had just been promoted from 2nd
grade to 3rd grade in Sunday School. He was very happy and
proud of his progress. Coming out of his classroom, he met
his former teacher whom he liked a great deal and regretted
losing him as his teacher. “Mr. Reynolds”, he explained, “I
wish you were smart enough to teach me this year too.”
We may laugh at Tommy’s comment, but
there is a strong element of truth in the way we view the
Christian faith the older and smarter we become. Some folks
feel that they not only outgrow their teachers, but they
believe they outgrow the need to believe in a Christmas
story with a virgin having a baby that is laid in a
manger…….. The premise behind this notion, of course is that
the mind in capable of infinite knowledge and solutions to
every problem. Belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a
virgin birth, a Resurrection, a subjective relationship of
faith…….all this is seen by some folks, as a crutch for
emotional cripples who don’t have enough intelligence to
figure out life on their own!
So strong is the prejudice in some
quarters against the validity of Christian experiences and
faith that academic degrees have actually been denied. A
graduate student in a midwestern university was denied a PhD
in Social Science and was told, “Believing what you do about
God, you are by definition ill equipped to function in a
Can the Christian faith provide
answers, intelligent answers to the questions that our
technology and our social sciences claim to have answered
without the need for the so called emotional crutch of
faith? ……..The answer is a resounding “Yes”! If we once
again take seriously the need…. the passion and excitement
to approach Jesus Christ with the mind as well as the heart.
And there is no better beginning than to consider the story
of the wise men this Epiphany season who came from the east
to find the King and worship him. These were no ignorant
shepherds who were looking for a military leader……nor were
they following some childish fantasy story. These were men
of science, and of learning, and of wealth, men who were
skilled in finding answers to the questions of the mind.
What is truth? What can be proven?
Does the universe have order? Why?
Are there predictable patterns of events which can be known
These are the questions of the mind and
of the heart and they have not really changed much in
thousands of years.
Astrology was a calculated science
providing insight into an orderly and predictable universe.
Instead of steering the wisemen away from the adoration of
God, it caused them to believe with even greater commitment.
Not everyone then, nor everyone now, who is involved with
the sciences, finds faith to be incompatible with their
scientific observations. B.H.Shadduck, with a PhD in
entomology, writes of his studies, (and I quote), “Here is a
little bee that organizes a city, that builds 10,000 cells
for honey, 12,000 cells for larvae, a holy of holies for the
mother queen; a little bee that when it observes the
increasing heat, (where the wax may melt and the honey may
be lost,) organizes the swarms into squads, and puts
sentinels at the entrances. It glues the feet down, and
then, with flying wings, creates a system of ventilation to
cool the honey that makes an electric fan seem tawdry! ………a
little bee that will include 20 square miles of a field
whose flowers it has oversight. But if a tiny brain in a bee
performs such wonders, who am I to question the existence
and guidance of God who guides my life with such wisdom and
purpose?" end of quote)
The Wise Men did not discard their
scientific training to seek after the Son of God. They used
their very knowledge to guide their journey. “We have seen
His star in the East”.
It was very logical that Jesus, the
King of the Jews, would be born in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was
the center of academic learning and study, the center of the
Jewish Nation. It would be similar to Washington, D.C. for
you and me. It is logical that if Jesus Christ were to come
in the flesh today, He wouldn’t be born in Steubenville,
Ohio. If He were to be our King, it would make sense that
He would be born in a center of political power.
But our great God never has and
probably never will accomplish His miracles to fit into
man’s logic. We may use our sciences to observe and
understand how He has created to this point in history, but
He invariably will use another means to accomplish His
purposes with mankind than what makes logical sense.
Jerusalem made sense to the Wise Men. God chose Bethlehem.
We look for order, for connection, for logic….But what does
God give us? He gives us surprise! Just when we think we
have our feet firmly planted, and we have it figured out, it
seems like God pulls the rug out from under our feet,.
You’ve probably heard the old saying,
“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!”
God’s way is not necessarily a course
of ritual, of tradition, of habit. And if we follow God’s
Will, chances are, our lives won’t always take a logical
The logical course for Moses would
have been for him to continue to tend the flocks of his
father-in-law Jethro in the land of Midian. Yet God chose
Moses to face the Pharaoh and move the children of Israel
across the Red Sea to the Promised Land.
The logical course for Ruth would be
for her to return to Moab to her family after her husband
died. But God called her to remain with her mother-in-law,
Naomi, to go to a foreign land. By following God’s lead,
Ruth was to become the great grandmother of King David. The
logical course for Joseph would have been to divorce Mary.
But God called Joseph to wed Mary, and give the child a
house and lineage.
The logical course for the Wise Men
would be to stay put in Persia; but God’s course…God’s
Star…took them on a difficult journey to the tiny country of
So………..we conclude: Man’s
logic……..God’s Will……..not always compatible!
The Wise Men, of course, expected God
to work in this world. For them, God was no absentee
landlord. They believed that God could be a work in a
little child. They believed that God could speak volumes in
the life of this special child born in Bethlehem. So they
rejoiced. And they fell down on their knees in worship in
the presence of the Christ-child (even though found in an
Yes, the Wise Men expected great things
from God. And yes, volumes are written with all the
accumulated knowledge of scientific study from other wise
men over all the ages. But, the question invariably comes
up…. how does science or knowledge ever provide the power of
love which heals conflict, which leads neighbors to forgive
As has been said, “Men have been
barbarians much longer than they have been civilized. They
are only precariously civilized, and there is a
propensity, persistent as the force of gravity, to revert
under stress or strain, under neglect or temptation, to our
first natures.” You see…..the jungle is never far away. And
the only thing that keeps the jungle at arm’s length is
civilization; and the only things that makes civilization
…..Civil Law Moral
Law Religious Law!
So……. in the end, the Wise Men
discovered as many present day scientists have concluded,
that civilization with its law and knowledge and book
learning will not save mankind no matter how hard they
try.. We need a Savior who will save us from moral and
In truth, all truly great and wise
minds find themselves eventually bowing before the One who
came to redeem not only our souls but our hearts and minds
as well. The Epiphany Season celebrates this manifestation
of God to man. Socrates taught for forty years, Aristotle
also for 40 years, Plato for fifty, and Jesus taught for
only three…… yet those three years infinitely transcend in
influence the combined one hundred and thirty years of
teaching of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, three of the
greatest men of all antiquity. Jesus painted no pictures,
yet the drawings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da
Vinci received their inspiration from Him. Jesus wrote no
poetry: but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world’s
greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no
music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach and Mendelssohn
reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns,
symphonies, and oratorios written in His praise. Thus every
sphere of human greatness has been incomparably enriched by
the humble Carpenter of Nazareth. But Jesus Christ’s unique
contribution to the race of men is the salvation of the
Philosophy could not accomplish
that—nor art—nor literature—nor music. Only Jesus Christ
can break the power of sin and offer salvation!
The world admires Christ afar off.
Some adopt Him as their example and try to pattern their
lives after His. And some of us open the door of their
hearts and invite Him to be their Savior. As has been
“Though Christ a
thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
If He’s not born in thee, thy soul is still forlorn.”
Starting next Sunday and all the
subsequent Sundays of this Epiphany season, we will have the
color green for the altar. So, as we enter this Epiphany
Season with our minds, and our hearts and our souls………
May the green of this
May the growth of this season…………..
Empower and enable us………in our own
individual daily living as wise men and wise women……..to
reach out, following our star, and ………..to attempt great
things for the Christ Child.
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