Matthew 2:1-12, Epiphany C, January 3, 2016
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
This is the story of a Palestinian American Christian woman named Naomi. Her name means beautiful, and she became a beautiful light in another’s eyes. This Naomi’s story takes place in Albuquerque, of all places.
While Naomi was walking through the Albuquerque airport terminal to her gate, she heard over the intercom that her flight would be detained four hours. Although a bit bummed, Naomi didn’t think much of it. She could handle waiting four hours.
Then the next message over the speaker was a bit more urgent, “If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Naomi’s gate was 4-A, so she went there quickly.
At her gate, she found an older woman in traditional Palestinian dress and wearing a head scarf. She was on her knees wailing. Naomi looked up at the flight attendant’s desperate expression. Seeing Naomi’s olive-colored skin, the attendant pleaded for her to help this older woman. Naomi didn’t speak much Arabic, yet she knew enough to ask what was wrong.
Hearing her own language, even if terribly spoken, the older woman quieted down. Naomi discovered that this woman thought that the flight was canceled, not postponed. She had a medical procedure scheduled for the next day, and she was sure that she wouldn’t make it. Now both breathing a sigh of relief, they considered how they would spend their four hours together.
So, they found the older woman’s cell phone and called her son. Naomi told him - in English - what had happened. Then, to bide their time, they called this woman’s other sons, too. Then Naomi wanted this woman to be able to speak Arabic with someone, so they called Naomi’s father. Although her father was Christian and this woman was Muslim, they discovered that they had many Palestinian friends in common.
After two hours of talking on the phone, the Muslim woman was calmed down. She was laughing and talking joyfully. She was so full of good cheer that she must have been like the wise men when they found the Jesus child.
You see, her joy in that moment was so special. It was almost holy. All of the weight of her grief, terror, and discomfort was lifted from her shoulders. Now relieved, she could find time and space to breathe.
I can only imagine that is what the wise men went through. For they too were not Jewish or Christian. They were foreign Zoroastrian astrologers. They saw the stars change, and they knew that a world-changing event had happened. They followed that star to Judea, yet they couldn’t find Jesus immediately.
So, these wise men went to Jerusalem to discover where the King of the Jews was born. The scribes and chief priests told them that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, as the Hebrew scriptures had foretold. Only then could they once again follow the star until they found the young Jesus with his mother Mary.
Upon finding the child king, the wise men paid him homage. This means they either honored him as they would a king, or they worshipped him as they would the Lord. Because these men are pagan, we don’t know whether they honored or worshipped.
Then they gave those famously odd gifts - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are gifts fit for a king, but not for a child. These gifts also foreshadow Christ’s life and death, for the spices are used for anointing and embalming. These gifts are expensive and seemingly frivolous, yet some other gift can also make the world of difference.
So, we return to Naomi and the older Muslim Palestinian lady in Albuquerque. After two hours of talking, the older woman sticks her hand in her bag and comes out with a sack of homemade mammal cookies. These wonderful date and nut cookies were covered in powdered sugar. This woman happily went around offering cookies to all the women at the gate. Sorry guys.
Surprisingly, not a single woman declined. This strange assortment of women - of all races and religions - were joined together in that moment. They all were covered in the same powdered sugar. This simple gift of a cookie ended up being like a sacrament to these people. Seeing how special this moment was, the flight attendant pulled out complimentary drinks. Two little girls passed out apple juice and lemonade to everyone at the gate. All because one Muslim woman offered some cookies to a few women.
Naomi concludes her story, “And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—has seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.” http://kindnessblog.com/2015/11/20/wandering-around-an-albuquerque-airport-terminal-by-naomi-shihab-nye/
This is true. Not everything is lost. Our good Lord can work through the stars in the sky to bring a few wise men to the Christ child. And our Lord can work through Muslim women (and men) to bring a holy moment to Christians. Not everything is lost. In fact, the best is yet to come. I pray that we each take a moment to look around and find the face of God in people who do not look like us, especially Muslims. By the grace of God, we will be able to do so. Amen.