Marsh Hudson-Knapp | Speaking of religion: Are we the shepherds and magi of 2020?

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Trying to avoid discomfort, suffering and danger — that's been a powerful force in my life. So has desire: I want what I want! Striving to get my way has been a driving purpose since I was a baby wanting my bottle. How about you?

There's an ancient story about the Garden of Eden. You may remember it. The first people were driven out of their Eden of peace and contentment. Then two angels with flaming swords guarded the gate so we could not return. They had names, these fiery guardians. Do you know them?

One was called Fear. The other was named Desire. They and their cousins anxiety, worry, lust... still keep peace out of our reach. Are you aware of their power in your life?

So what does this have to do with shepherds and magi?

The shepherds lived outdoors guarding their treasures. In those days, wealth was not measured in money but by the animals you owned. So shepherds spent day and night protecting their flocks and trying to get them to grow. Were they first century stock brokers perhaps?

Then one dark night, a great light exploded their darkness. Liberating angels, very different from those who barred them from Eden, opened the shepherds' eyes to the light greater than darkness, to the love greater than desire, to the faith greater than fear.

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I cherish the angels' challenging message. "Don't be afraid." Of course we FEEL fear! But the angels warn us to refuse to BE fear, to let fear take over our life-focus.

When the Divine opens our eyes to life larger than fear and desire it can it can frighten us. A life of faith is dangerous, and we realize are vulnerable. Yikes!

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Yet we see more now! We see shimmering fields, God all around us calling us to a life of adventure and self-losing love, a relationship with God come as a little child.

The magi also call to us. Ages before the first Christmas, the people of Israel had been dragged hundreds of miles from home to become refugees. A few of them, it is told, kept hoping. They waited and watched expectantly for generations, searching the night sky for a sign that God would come to them and save them. Perhaps these magi where the umpteenth generation of watchers in the night. Lunatic hopers!

Then one night they saw the light, a new star, and like the shepherds they surrendered to a voice calling them through darkness, even across deserts. They brought their most precious treasures to offer to God with us.

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What they found must have been shocking cave, animals, a homeless family, so the story goes. They met a little child, and in this place of great vulnerability they laid down their greatest treasures, worshiped, and surrendered.

In our days the world is shaking. Shootings, sea levels rising, longstanding relationships within our country, across the world, and with nature herself are being ripped apart, homeless neighbors are freezing outdoors . A baby whispers to us, "Is there not something better than fear and desire to be our center?"

Will we learn from the magi and shepherds? A little child urges us to a life worth living — a life re-centered on love of others, of God, of all creation.

Maybe we will be the wise ones and shepherds of 2020! Are you ready to set aside the fear and desires that still grab for our soul and re-center your life on self-giving love? Maybe the threatening angels will step back to re-open a way to deeper peace!

Marsh Hudson-Knapp is a member of Second Congregational Church and the Greater Bennington Interfaith Council. You can reach him at


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