Christmas 2 • 3 Jan 2016

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:10-18

Rev. Chris Udy

This week I conducted
a little inventory on my computer.
I discovered
that I have more than 67,000 images
and nearly 20,000 audio files on my computer.
There are so many that I simply forget what’s there,
and when it comes to looking for images or ideas
to use in our weekly worship,
most of the time I skip what I already have
and go direct to Google -
where a search for articles or pictures of ‘wise men’
gives me 33 million options
delivered to my screen
in less than half a second.

We live in the information age.
Almost any work of art or photograph,
any piece of music,
any book, or poem, or published article
is available to us instantly,
and until the new Managing Director
of the ABC takes over,
most of it is free.
We can listen to dozens of radio
broad or web or podcasts,
get a box with a hundred channels of TV,
and with the wonder that is Netflix,
we have access to more than 13,000
movies and TV shows available almost instantly
at any time of the night or day
without having to sit through a single commercial.

We live in the information age -
but TV producers and Newspaper editors
and political leaders and advertisers
and preachers and teachers and parents -
anyone who’s interested in presenting information -
knows that it’s not enough
just to give people information.
Information’s become like sunlight.
Once you could bathe yourself in it,
lie back and absorb it,
let it wash over you …
but now there’s too much,
and it floods and exhausts and intrudes on us,
and we’ve learned to exercise caution.
We’ve learned to block and filter and test information,
because if we tried
to accept and understand and respond
to all the information we receive,
we’d be utterly confused and defeated by it.

Information’s not enough anymore -
what we want is knowledge -
information we can use -
information that’s relevant and reliable,
facts that are friendly,
messages we can trust and understand.

And even beyond knowledge,
what we really need is wisdom -
because wisdom is knowledge with heart;
it’s the very best of information,
it’s knowledge that connects us
to other people and to God;
it’s knowledge with insight and meaning and truth,
it’s reality with a heart and a human face.

This Wednesday we begin a new season
in the Church’s year.
The 12 days of Christmas will be over,
and we begin the season of Epiphany.

Epiphany celebrates
the way God communicates with us.
God doesn’t overwhelm us with floods of information.
God doesn’t hit us with rubbish TV
or mountains of newsprint,
or bins full of junkmail -
even if some of God’s interpreters might do so.
Nor does God leave us
to work out our own truth
through simply accumulating knowledge -
because knowledge on its own
often makes us arrogant and contemptuous -
it can leave us proud and isolated,
in a world of our own projections and rationalisations,
where other people are just objects and shadows.

Epiphany celebrates God’s revelation -
not simply as information or even as knowledge,
but as wisdom.

In Epiphany we re-tell the story
of the travellers who set out
on a journey of discovery
because they saw a star in the east.
Modern tellings of the story
often say that they were scientists - magi -
they were information rich -
the learned people of their day -
but apparently they knew that wasn’t enough.
So they set out on a search
for something greater.
They followed their star to Palestine,
and to Jerusalem,
where they announced their search to Herod.
But Herod wasn’t interested in wisdom.
He was arrogant, contemptuous and frightened -
he didn’t want another king
in the world his knowledge controlled,
so he lied to the travellers -
he told them to continue their search
and report their findings to him.
He said he would then come himself,
to show his respect and to worship -
but his intention wasn’t to honour God’s revelation
or to grow in wisdom.
Instead he’d decided to destroy
whatever the travellers found,
and preserve his knowledge and his power.

The travellers set off again,
and this time they followed
the light of the star to Bethlehem,
where, Matthew says,
they discovered God’s most powerful revelation -
the Word made flesh -
the human face of God in Jesus Christ.

There’s a cruel joke
that says the reason these travellers
were called wise men
was because they were the only males in history
to stop and ask for directions -
but maybe the travellers were truly wise
because they’d come to understand
that information on its own is almost useless,
and that knowledge by itself can be dangerous.
The travellers became wise
when they discovered
that God reveals himself in human life
and in loving relationships -
because that’s where
information becomes knowledge,
and knowledge becomes wisdom.

We all make choices about how we deal
with the flood of information
we’re faced with every day.
We flick through Facebook,
or subscribe to Twitter,
and get our news in 140-character chunks.
We read the Sydney Morning Herald
or the Australian or, if we’re utterly desperate,
the Daily Telegraph.
We read Ross Gittins on economics,
because, even though we’re told
he’s a journalist, not an economist -
he’s the one who seems to make most sense.
We watch Jeremy Fernandez on the ABC
or if we're searching out world news
we might look for Lee Lin Chin.
We tune the car radio
to the station that irritates us least,
and when there’s conflict
we look to see what’s being said
by people that we trust.

Those choices are fairly automatic -
we do them by habit,
and without much thought -
but as we begin a new year,
and in a time when it’s possible
to set some directions for the months to come,
it’s worth examining the way we filter and test
our sources of information,
and the way we use them to learn and grow.

The first filter we apply
is the community we belong to.
We live in Australia,
and in Sydney,
so that limits what we see and hear.
Many of us can only speak English -
so that limits us again,
and our education and employment
make some things accessible to us, and not others.
We’re part of the Uniting Church,
and members of this congregation;
we worship and find friendship -
with those we know and trust here -
we provide each other with information
that we use to learn and grow.
All of these connections define our community,
and the first question we might ask
is how this community
can help us find balanced and helpful information.
What reading can we do this year?
What study can we plan for?
What disciplines can we use
to test the information we rely on
to understand the world and to make decisions?
If the community we belong to
colours the information we’re exposed to -
how will we live in community during 2016?

Information needs to be lived with -
chewed over and worked through
before it becomes knowledge -
and we grow in knowledge
by testing and trying and examining
what we think and believe.
Most of us do that kind of testing and examination
in small groups.
Sometimes a group can be just 1 more person
someone that we trust enough
to speak with honestly and openly -
but often it’s a few -
maybe 5 or 6 or 7
that we turn to for encouragement and guidance.
Traditionally, the Magi
learned their way in a small group of three …
It’s often in a small group
that we take a chance
of saying what we think
and expressing how we feel -
and we look to our friends and companions
to give us a safe place to speak,
and honest responses.

In small groups information becomes knowledge,
and so the second question for the new year is -
have you found a group of people
that you will trust with your company
and your insights during 2016?
Do you have people
who will give you the time and respect you need
to make the mistakes that are part of learning,
and to take the risks involved in growing?

Each year this congregation sponsors
a number of small groups
for study and fellowship -
and I urge and encourage you
to think very seriously about being part of one.
Alternatively you might think about
finding five or six other people
and forming a group of your own -
and if you’re looking for resources
I’d be very happy to help.
If your need is something smaller -
like a conversation with one person,
please do speak with me or Bev Cameron
who co-ordinates our pastoral care.

Community provides information,
small groups foster knowledge -
and wisdom comes from God.

Wisdom grows
when we discover the Word made flesh.
Wisdom comes through epiphanies -
when we receive God’s revelation
and discover meaning and truth
that we can share with others.
Wisdom comes in moments of communion
either with other people, or alone with God -
moments that are the essence of what we call prayer -
when God gives us insights
into ourselves
and into the lives and needs of other people.

Wisdom doesn’t come automatically or easily.
It takes patience and courage and grace -
it involves a journey,
a commitment to following the light,
and if we make no time or space
for God’s revelation,
wisdom will not come.
So the third question for the new year is -
what disciplines of reflection and prayer
will you accept for yourself in 2016?
What time and space will you give
to remember God’s love and power,
to examine your life in the light of Christ,
and receive God’s forgiveness,
and to discern God’s will for you?
What worship will you offer,
and who will you pray for,
and how will you test your information
and your knowledge
against the meaning and truth of God?

Epiphany begins on Wednesday,
and over the next few weeks
we move out of the holidays
and into the rhythm and direction of the new year.
These are the days
when the light is strongest,
and there’s time for travelling
and journeys of discovery.
This is the season for revelations -
so may God bless us
as we begin another year in grace,
and may we discover God, as the wise men did,
the Word made flesh,
living here among us.