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The Welcoming Face of God

January 4; Epiphany (Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12)

The Bible teaches us that the people God called in the Old Testament were not
called simply for themselves. They were not called for their own ambitions and goals.
They were not called simply for their families and friends. These people were called
from the beginning to be a blessing, a priesthood, to all the nations. Their purpose was
for the world around them. For years the people of God seemed to live in relative
isolation and almost hostility towards their neighbours. The people were to establish
themselves by God’s law and spirit so that they would be unlike their neighbours. The
point of creating this distinct community was to offer light and salvation to those in
darkness not because of the moral accomplishments of the people, not because they were
in any way better or more special but because their lives were centered on the worship of
the one true God creator of heaven and earth.
In time the prophets and the psalmists picked up this vision. They saw at the
heart of the people an alter; a place where we individually and communally open
ourselves vulnerably before God. They believed that to this place the nations will come.
To this place the world would draw close. The Psalmist says that all kings will bow
down to him who is at the centre. Isaiah who we have heard from already this morning
says that as the LORD rises the nations will come to the light and the kings will turn
towards its brightness. And what is more is that the nations will come and they will bring
their wealth with them. They will open their storehouses and journey with their treasures
to the house of God.
And now this morning we hear about some strange visitors. Contrary to popular
tradition we don’t actually know for sure how many of them came or who exactly they
were. Some have called them the three kings others have called them wise men. These
men were likely some sort of astrologers. These are men of questionable character and
religious practice by Jewish standards but they have come from a far away land in search
of a king and they have recognized this king in the child Jesus. They were faithful to the
sign that was given, even when it took them off of the main roads that led to the major
cities of power, even when it took them out in the country, even when it took them past
the warmth of the inn and the smell of cooked food. They believed their sign even when
they had to cover their noses from the smell of urine and manure and watch what was
getting stuck to the bottom of their sandals. Here is where the star rested and so here was
their king. To this child-king lying in a feed-trough they opened their chest and offered
gold, frankincense and myrrh. As the Old Testament had told of long ago the nations
would flow to the light of God as so it began with these men.
There was a time when it troubled me to think about the nations bringing their
wealth to the Kingdom of God. What did the Old Testament mean by this act? Was the
God’s kingdom going to be established and recognized by earthly wealth? This reality
seemed so foreign to the experience of the Jews when they returned from Exile and
certainly from Jesus’ own ministry. Does the welcoming face of God come with a price?
So in preparation for this sermon I decided to see how these items brought by the magi
were used in other places in the Old Testament. It quickly became clear that all three of
these things were used predominantly for the purposes of acts of worship. Even gold,
which does at times simply designate monetary wealth, is far and away most often used

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in reference to objects used in worship. This of course was evident to see all along as it
says right there in the text that the magi came explicitly to worship to this king. But I
wonder if I am alone in separating worship from things such as wealth, politics, and
society. I have been deeply impacted lately by the way that proper and faithful worship
shapes the beginning and end of our life with God.
I have heard the phrase ‘work and worship are one’ in Mennonite circles. As I
understand it this phrase points to the reality that your work should not be separate from
your worship. This is true. However, the phrase may not go far enough. The Bible
teaches us that there is in fact only worship and that our life and work will always already
be in the service of some form of worship. The issue is not trying to understand how we
can transform our work into an act of worship but in recognizing in whose service of
worship our work is already engaged? And as Christians we are called not only to
recognize that our work is already worship but that the world around us, the people and
the systems, are also form their own acts of worship. This means recognizing that the
political systems and social structures are also liturgical expressions. Our malls are
cathedrals where we seek comfort and security. In the west we sing anthems to our state,
pledge allegiance to its security, establish missions to strengthen our presence within and
outside our borders, we tithe to it and we submit to its discipline. Much of our lives are
spent in the liturgical rhythms of living into the Canadian or the Western Idea. Even
though we may, in our minds, believe otherwise we still live as though the church is
essentially a side-project, a hobby, a club, a support group or a relief organization. The
nations come to worship and give allegiance to a king and not to an idea or to a hobby or
project. They stream to Christ, leaving their homes, leaving their allegiances, and they
come to humbly enter a new kingdom.
Our third reading this morning comes from the Apostle Paul. Paul established
himself as an influential figure within Judaism. As a Pharisee Paul was concerned with
the practical relevance and practice of the Mosaic Law. It could be said of the Pharisees
that their goal was indeed that worship and work would be one. But at that time in
history most of Judaism understood itself as a national religion. It was a religion based
on geography, culture, and lineage. It is like the particular assumptions that come to
mind for many of us when we use the word Mennonite. We think of food, dress and
actions. Jesus however did not define his life and ministry by the same parameters as the
Jewish leaders did. Jesus in fact did not seem to fit within any system established in the
Jewish or Gentile world. Jesus was born as the king of only one kingdom. In time Paul
himself was converted to this Kingdom. In fact Paul recognized that this kingdom was
fundamentally different then how the world has conceived of its governments and
kingdoms. This kingdom exists within Christ. In fact early in this letter Paul goes so far
as to say that the whole universe is contained and held together in the body of Christ.
The magi and nations now flow not to another king who wields power at the tip of the
sword or the end of a gun. They come now to king whose sword flows from the words of
his mouth. They come now before the face of God.
It is this shift in conceiving how our lives are lived together in Christ that allows
the nations to be welcomed because they are no longer bound by land or culture. They
are received now if they turn their face to the face of God. Later in our reading Paul calls
this relationship a mysterious economy, a new economy, though in English the word is
often translated administration not economy. The Old Testament talks about the nations

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bringing the wealth of their economy to God but this does not quite capture the picture.
In God’s administration the wealth of the nations has no value in itself. Sitting in their
storehouses the treasures of the nations are worthless. But if the treasures are opened and
they are brought before the Lord then they become valuable. The magi’s gifts only
became valuable in their presentation to Christ. This is the mysterious economy of God.
We believe that we can honour God with our value but in fact our value comes instead
when we open whatever gifts we have already been given before the welcoming face of
God. It is the simple story of the widow’s mite in the New Testament. In Christ’s
mysterious economy the woman’s small monetary gift outshine the filled treasure chests
of the wealthy. Paul’s mission and ministry is to share this newly founded economy with
the Gentiles. He hope too show them that they now have currency within it. This vision
consumes his life and in our reading this morning he hopes to spread his vision to
establish another star for the nations to follow. He tells the Galatians that the intention of
God is that this new and mysterious economy should be made known to the rulers and
authorities of the world through the church.
We are called to live out an economy reflected in the face of God. We are called
on to show the nations that it is God’s face that gives value and worth to the world. It is
the light of God’s face that illuminates the truth and treasure of every person. I have to
be honest and tell you that this Advent series on the face of God has not quite grabbed me
the way I hoped. We say that it is possible to see the face of God in each other and this is
a valuable gift we are given but I can’t help but think that there is something more than
simply seeing good things in each other. If we believe that the very body of our king
Jesus was born on earth and rose from the dead then in some way there is only one face
that we seek. We are parts of the body but we all look towards and point to the on face of
God.
At the close of the 18th century the world witnessed one of the most astounding
events in the modern period. The French Revolution was a dramatic and intense
overthrow of established power and order in France both of their government and of their
church. During the events that led up to the Revolution and thenthrough its wake one
Catholic order offered a specific act of worship in response. It is told that in 1843 a nun
of the Carmalite order received a word from Jesus who said to her, “the earth is covered
with crimes. The violation of the first three Commandments of God has irritated My
Father. The Holy Name of God blasphemed, and the Holy Day of the Lord profaned, fills
up the measure in iniquities. These sins have risen unto the Throne of God and provoked
His wrath which will soon burst forth if His justice be not appeased.”
In response to this revelation and in hopes of restoring the faithful witness of the
church the order established a form of worship called devotion to the Holy Face. It was
believed that humble and devoted attention to the face of Jesus in prayer and meditation
would bring healing and restore justice. The particular ethnic features of the face were
not so important as were the depictions of Jesus life and death and often particularly of
his suffering and death. It was understood that these practices carried real currency in
God’s Kingdom. They were acts such as what Paul called the church to in asking her to
reveal the mysterious economy of God in the presence of the powers and authorities of
the world. And there was perhaps no better audience of competing powers and
authorities in that time than in France.
A young woman of fifteen years entered this particular order in 1888. She was

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known as Therese of Lisieux and she would die only 11 years later but in that time she
established one of the most lasting and profound expressions of turning towards the face
of God. There is wrapped up in her prayers an implicit understanding of God’s economy
and of its vision of spreading to all nations. There is even something of the magi’s
journeying in her own spiritual quest. And as usual the saints around us can do so much
better in a prayer or poem than I can in sermon. In one poem titled My Heaven here on
Earth she writes this,
Your Face is my only Homeland.
It’s my Kingdom of love.
...
Your Face is my only wealth.
I ask for nothing More.
Hiding myself in it unceasingly,
I will resemble you, Jesus . . .
Leave in me the Divine impress
Of your Features filled with sweetness,
And soon I’ll be holy.
I shall draw hearts to you.
I just think that is one of the most beautiful things I have read in some time. I came
across this poem when I was already almost finished my sermon and it summed up and
turned into a prayer everything I hoped to say. As the magi were so we too are searching
for our king. Our star is the face of God. Turn and travel with it wherever it will take
you. Find yourself, find your worth and your wealth within it. May the face of God then
turn and shine upon the rulers and authorities of this world. Have no doubt that in God’s
face you will not only bring light but you will also shake the world that the world too
would begin their journey. My prayer is that the church could now pray as Therese did to
God saying, “Your Face is my only Homeland.”
Amen.