Plough


12/31/2017
 Come join the party, everyone welcome. That’s what we see in the Magi visiting the infant Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea. Everyone is welcome to participate.

Plough

This Saturday the date on the Hebrew calendar will be the 19th of Teves 5778. It’s a Sabbath day.

This Saturday the date will be The 6th day of January in the year of our Lord Two thousand and eighteen. On the Christian calendar it’s Epiphany. Epiphany heralds the end of the Christmas season. The day is a high feast day for the followers of Christ, its also known as Three Kings Day.

Matthew 2:1-12 (MSG)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory—this was during Herod's kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. 2 They asked around, "Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We're on pilgrimage to worship him."

3 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. 4 Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, "Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?"

5 They told him, "Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

6 It's you, Bethlehem, in Judah's land, no longer bringing up the rear. From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel."

7 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. 8 Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, "Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I'll join you at once in your worship."

9 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. 10 They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

 Epiphany looks back and forward at the same time. It marks the end of the time of Jesus’ birthday celebration, and it marks the beginning of a new era in history when God’s promises are extended not just to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well. For it was these Magi whose presence meant more than Jesus got gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew introduces a whole new element to Jesus’ birth story. Some “magi” had journeyed to Jerusalem “from the east” seeking “the child who has been born king of the Jews.” The term “magi” originally meant a member of the tribe of the Magoi, and then became synonymous with a caste of Persian priests with special powers to interpret dreams and read the stars for signs. Our modern term “magic” is a derivative of “magi.” These “magi” who show up at Herod’s doorstep could hardly be more strange and foreign to the Jewish messianic tradition. They are the ultimate “outsiders” in this story.

No doubt these “magi” came to Jerusalem first because it was the center of political and religious power for Israel. Where else would a new “king of the Jews” be found but in Jerusalem? When Herod hears about the arrival of these strangers asking about the whereabouts of a newborn “king of the Jews,” the crafty ruler sets a trap. He quickly summons the religious authorities asking them for their knowledge of where the Messiah would be born without revealing to them the reason behind his sudden interest.

Herod summons the magi and gives them the information they seek. The sacred texts say the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. But there is a “string” attached to this “reveal.” Herod piously urges the magi to “seek diligently” for the child, and then report back to him the exact location of the newborn king so that he “might also go and pay him homage.”

Herod is a particular type of ruler. He is a member of that infamous group of tyrants that include Caligula, Genghis Kahn, Henry the 8th, Ivan the Terrible, Maximilien Robespierre, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Poi Pot, Kim Jong and the list goes on and unfortunately on. Ruthless. Herod’s homage was to kill this new threat to his power.  

As the Magi turn towards Bethlehem, they spot the star. They follow it until it they find Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus. True to their word, these pagan religious leaders, strangers both to the land and the history of Israel, bow down and worship the child, recognizing him as a king, the “king of the Jews.”

Matthew had in mind a largely Jewish audience when he wrote the gospel that bears his name. But here is this strange meeting between magi and messiah, Matthew tells something extraordinary to his Jewish readers.  Jesus’ mission encompasses not just the Jews, but the Gentile world as well. This Messiah’s power and pull will transcend all religious and ethnic boundaries.

Revelation 7:9-10 (MSG)
I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb  and heartily singing: Salvation to our God on his Throne! Salvation to the Lamb!

In Matthew’s birth story, Jesus is the messiah for the whole world from the moment of his arrival. That’s the significance of the meeting of the Magi.

Have you ever heard of “Plough Sunday?” In Britain, there is a tradition which dates from the 15th century of calling the Sunday following Epiphany “Plough Sunday.” The tradition stems from the fact that since the celebration of Epiphany marks the end of Christmas celebrations, it’s now back to work. It is time to “plough” back into the work-a-day world, to once again put one’s shoulder to the plough and to “plough forward” into the new year and new season.

Church on Sunday and a parade and party on Monday. Plough Monday.
When “Plough Sunday” was first celebrated, the “work” to which most people were returning was agricultural. Even in the dead of winter, there was work to be done in order to prepare for the spring. To mark the start of this new agricultural season, a “plough parade” would be held. Decorated ploughs would be pulled down the village streets, and every house that was passed was pressed to put a coin or two in a collection box. “No fun without funds,” as the saying goes. And the funds went to support the agricultural workers who were without much income in the winter months. At the conclusion of the parade, the participants would share a “plough pudding,” made of suet, meat, and onions.

A big part of “Plough Monday” celebrations was the atmosphere of silliness, of celebrating the ridiculous in preparation for the randomness and vicissitudes of the coming year. It was a day that allowed people to “go outside the box,” and be a completely different version of themselves. Maybe like the feel, we get when we celebrate Halloween in the traditional American style. Animal disguises were popular: pig noses, donkey tails, goat ears, and deer antlers, made for ridiculous half-human half-animal creatures. The key to any good “plough parade” was someone playing the character of “Bessie,” a man dressed up as a strange old woman, and a “fool,” a jester of sorts, someone dressed up in either animal skins or covered with sheaves of straw. Bessie and the Fool, Queen and King of the party. Both “Bessie” and the “Fool” danced and invited everyone to join them.

Molly dancer Clip
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYZO6pERrks

“Plough Monday” welcomes everyone, no matter how strange, bizarre, or out-of-place they appeared to be, into the community gathering. As the border between play and work are blurred by this “plough” day, so are the borders and distinctions between different types of people and different genders of people. There were no “marginalized people,” there were no “outsiders,” everyone was invited to participate and play, everyone equal.

Looks like the Brits captured the inclusive essence of Epiphany and projected it into the new year, the new season,  of “back to work” in our hand to the plough work a day world.

Come join the party, everyone welcome. That’s what we see in the Magi visiting the infant Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea. Everyone is welcome to participate.

 As we “plough” into a new year, a new season, a new world transfigured by the birth of Christ, can you think of new traditions you can bring to your world that will bring the welcoming inclusiveness of that first Epiphany celebration into your everyday, workaday life.

Can you take on a new attitude, put on a new “face” in order to bring others outside the community into the presence of Jesus?

Which do you prefer to attend—Wedding or funeral?

Which do you prefer to go—Hospital or party?

Who do you prefer—Victory or defeat?      

Who do you prefer to be with—the depressed or the happy?

The positive or the negative, the heathy or sick, tears or laughter?

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