I learned to “move the wise men” from my colleague at St. Matthew in Avon, CT. The front room before people entered the sanctuary featured four windows with wide flat windowsills, so each week of the four weeks in Advent, Pastor Bill Carter moved those wise men from one window to the next, getting them closer to a small table where a nativity set awaited them. I loved this engagement with the story so much that we implemented it at home, and it is something I brought here to St. Michael’s when we came in 2010. I have expanded the wise men’s movement as I now keep all the characters in motion. The Nativity Sets come out at home and in my office in the first week of Advent, by week two Mary and Joseph arrive at the stable. Even though everyone moves each week, the shepherds and their flock arrive sometime between the last Advent Sunday and Christmas Eve, and I’ve stretched the wise men’s journey to hold them off until Epiphany, January 6. I love playing with my Nativity toys each year. When I do I remember not only the story we love so much, but my friend who helped me see this story in a new way; a story that isn’t stationary, but always in motion.
For the last three years I have honored the tradition I learned from my friend in Avon, by using the five windows above the foyer doors on the way to the Fellowship Hall here at St. Michael’s. The holy family waits in one window, and the wise men move across each week. I love that as a person walks up to the door from outside, they could look up and track the movement. I learned (after losing an angel who took a nasty fall) that I needed to use an adhesive on the bottom of the figurines so they wouldn’t plummet to their demise. Last year I found some really great sticky tape that kept them in place. Unfortunately at the end of the season, I noticed it scuffed up the paint.
This past year we have undergone quite a bit of work on our church building. This fall our church sanctuary has been completely redone and it is incredibly beautiful. I am excited to welcome not only our members, but friends, relatives and newcomers this Christmas Eve to experience it. But we’ve also done a lot of other work as well. We had a major roof leak in the walls of the foyer earlier in the year that has been repaired. The work crew opened up the wall, fixed the roof, installed new insulation, hung new dry wall, and repainted. They did a nice job with the repainting. They even repainted the windowsills above the door. The pathway I’ve used for my wise men on their journey to Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus who is coming. Not wanting to wreck the new paint, I sought a new adhesive to keep my figures in place. I didn’t find any. I am required to change and do something different of my wise men might be able to come out and play.
What to do now?
Change always represents the unknown. It’s hard to change and we resist it; sometimes without being clear why. We decide that we’d rather stare at chipped paint than fix a leak. After all we have grown used to the water stains and it gives us something to talk or complain about. Sometimes we are forced to change when we have run out of other options. Even when we implement change we still lament that we have lost something substantive in those paint chips and water stains. But change is inevitable and we all know it. The question is: What will we do when change happens?
I came up with a few possible courses of action regarding my moving wise men.
1. REPEAT. I could have done what I’ve done in the past – by using the same sticky tape as last year to preserve the tradition. It might have wrecked the paint, but at least I could have kept something central to my Advent/Christmas practice alive.
2. RESIST. I could have fought the efforts of those who were implementing change. I could have locked the door and made the conditions difficult to work in. I could have been passive-aggressive and kicked over a paint can when no one was looking. I could have set up my wise men just before the work crew arrived each day so they knew what they were taking away from me. I could have gotten nasty, caused a ruckus, and pulled as many people as I was able to ensure the painting project was seen as a failure.
I was once told there are two ways to be the tallest building in town – The first is to build the tallest structure, surpassing the others by doing all the work necessary to push ahead. The second is to knock down all the buildings in town except for your own so that by default yours is the tallest. It is easier to knock things down from the outside than to build them up from within.
3. RESENT. I could bear a grudge against anyone who worked on the project and make them my enemy. I could fold my arms and narrow my eyebrows and see how long it takes people to notice I am upset. I could pack up my toys and go home. I could stay home. We’ll see how long it takes for people to notice then.
I am not going to resent people for fixing the wall and windowsills. I am not going to get in the way of people doing great things as they help us become a more welcome place and community. I am not going to do what I used to do anyway even if it wrecks the brand new paint. Which leads to other possibilities.
4. RELATE. I need the insights and encouragement of others to help find a solution to the challenges I face. I need to help others face their challenges too. I need people to help me see my blind spots and apply their insights to make things better than I can do alone. I need to listen, assure, challenge and empower others too. I need others to point out to me, as I do for them – that our life together is never stationary, but is always moving one little step at a time. And if we can track God’s movements and discern which direction that is pushing us – the next windowsill might not seem so far away. Toys are always more fun when you play with others.
So I’d like to ask for your help.
Your mission should you choose to accept it – is to find a new pathway for my Nativity players to make it to the crèche. It can be our own participation in John the Baptist’s call from the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3). It can be our way of sharing the journey as the star leads them again next year. It can make that journey fun.
Facing change is not something we can avoid. We can repeat what we have always done in the face of change. We can resist change. We can even resent change or those who bring it to our attention. But whatever we do with change – we still have to deal with it.
I am convinced this is why we have communities like churches. We are not called to hold the status quo firmly, keep the world at bay, and judge with great disdain those who differ from us. We are called to engage the world and support one another as people who bring the good news of Jesus into an ever changing world. We need each other to complement our strengths, compensate for our weaknesses and contemplate what God is doing through all this change around us, even when we scuff up the paint along the way.
Which leads to 5.RENEWAL…
With God leading us we can see new pathways appear. With one another we can point to the leading star. As we follow together to see Jesus; we can start to share our toys.
We are never stationary, but always in motion. The question is – which direction are we headed? If we hope to become wise – we should pick up some paint and brushes along the way.
I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:15-19)