I have always loved the Christian seasons. As someone who wasn't raised in a faith community or any other type of spiritual tradition, the seasons have always spoken to me as a way to make time special when it would otherwise seem mundane. The Christian seasons, in particular, follow a timeline set out by the biblical narrative. Christmas is obvious, but this past Sunday we celebrated Epiphany, an even older tradition. This coming Sunday we will be celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. Thinking of time in this way reminds me of who I am and the story that I belong to that is different from other possible stories. It's not just a story I read, but one that I am living daily. My son, Walter, wrote a wonderful card a couple days ago to my wife Cheyenne that said "I hope you have a good Epiphany season." I love how my kids love thinking about time in this way, too.
But what happens when the story you are raised in has become a drain? Something that is not life-giving, but one that creates pain, guilt and hurt? In the sermon from Sunday, I noticed that the scripture is used by different people for drastically different purposes. King Herod calls on his scholars to search the scriptures for the location of Jesus' birth so he can kill him. Many of us have had a negative history of faith in our upbringing, that when we think of Christianity or the Bible, all we can see are Herods wielding the scriptures like a weapon to hurt, shoring up their own power and control. So, understandably, we are inclined to simply let the faith we were brought up with go for good on account of our own bad experiences.
I wonder, though, does it have to be this way? In our story, we discover that, even though Herod send the wise men with the wrong intentions, the wise men come hoping to meet the newborn king and eventually discover "great joy." After worship, someone put it brilliantly: "sometimes the wrong people send us to the right place." There's deep wisdom from the heart of our tradition here: that from God good can come out of even the worst parts of our lives. There's something about this story that seems to bring great joy, even in spite of the fact that the wrong people use it the wrong way. I find that to be a powerful affirmation in the midst of the seemingly insurmountable troubles that our world currently faces.
So, looking forward this Sunday to the festival of the Baptism of Jesus, I am left wondering: Can good come out of our own negative experiences? If so, does this mean that we are part of a story that transcends our own worst attempts to control it for our own gain? Is this what it means to use the language gifted by our tradition--of creation out of nothing, of joy from sorrow, of life out of death? If so, it may be worth giving ourselves to and betting our lives on.