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These weren't the kind of differences Paul was planning on.
Things had started well. Some 17 years after the death of Jesus, and some 14 years after his own conversion, Paul came to Corinth.1 The book of Acts tells us he had connections with some in the Jewish community, folks who made tents just like he did. Acts 18 tells us that after some settling in he began to build a community. But in a place like Corinth, I imagine Paul was worried about differences. The city was an important port for much of that part of the Mediterranean - there were people coming and going from all parts of the world, all the time, bringing with them not only their goods to trade but their language, their culture, their religious practices. It was a busy place, a transitory city, ‘a superficial place,' one ancient historian called it.2 Archaeologists have found evidence for temples to different gods all over the place, some 2 dozen different kinds of temples and shrines, including a place in the forum at Corinth that was ‘a temple for all the gods.' I imagine he was worried with differences between this new Christian community and the culture around. How would they see themselves? Would they know that they were to be different from the rest of the world?
We have made it through Christmas, with all the anticipation of the Advent of God come to earth in a little baby born in a stable and laid in a manger. We have noticed that Jesus was born into a risky world, as his parents had to flee with him soon after his birth to evade the wrath of an evil king. We have reflected on Jesus' entry into ministry beginning at the Jordan River, where Jesus asked John to baptize him, and John recognized that Jesus was much greater than him.
Through the waters, God made a promise, a vow. It began in creation, when "God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.' 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 9 And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.' And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together God called Seas. And God saw that it was good."1 And it was good. Good creation for God's people, for us. A sign and seal of God's devotion. Then we see God's vow to us once again in the flood, a renewal of creation to call us forth into new life, into a new covenant. The waters are separated at the Exodus, making way for God's people to enter into the wilderness and eventually, the Promised Land. A vow, made visible through water, that God is indeed with us. Naaman is cleansed in the Jordan River, his wounds becoming whole. A vow that we are made clean through the Holy One. And then we come here again - to the Jordan River - to the first baptism.
Where is the child? Where is he? It began, for these wise men, with a question.
We know very little about them. Faithful throughout the ages have imagined their story, even added the number, 3, to coincide with the gifts they brought. In one verse at the end of chapter 1 Mary and Joseph are exhausted and glowing, gazing at their newborn son. Joseph does as the angel says and names him Jesus. But in the very next verse we meet these men, wise men, Matthew calls them magi, which can mean anything from astrologers to sorcerers, coming from the East to Jerusalem. Unknown outsiders came from beyond with a question1: "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?" Do you know? Do you know? Have you seen him?
Maybe we expect too much from Christmas. The retailers certainly push it on us, with decorations out as soon as Halloween is over, and sales now starting on Thanksgiving Day instead of the day after. Some radio stations start playing Christmas songs before Thanksgiving. Many play them all through December. And they all tell us that Christmas is "merry and bright," it is "the best time of the year," ‘Tis the season to be jolly."