Don’t Stop, Bethlehem is 9 Miles Farther Still

Text: Matthew 2: 1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  hen he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Message:

When I went this May to London, I was amused to see the TomTom which is the automotive navigation system which help drivers to manuevre their cars to the right destination. Before you set out for a journey you need to enter the postal code of the destination. From the time you start a lady’s voice will guide you in your journey. If there is a turn it will clearly instruct “Turn Left and keep going”. I was really fascinated by this device as I am very poor with road directions. I can go to a place a hundred times and still end up at the wrong place when I go next. If you happen to take the wrong direction in spite of the instructions, the TomTom will reroute it and adjust to the new route taken. In a tabloid that week I read how TomTom guided one of the drivers. The driver kept going as per the device. Surprisingly he reached the edge of a cliff. The lady in the device insisted to take a left. If the driver would have heeded to the esteemed instruction, he would have a free fall into the river. Thank you very much.

Today we are meditating on the text that was very popularized by the classic carol “We Three Kings”. We see that three wise men in the quest of child who has been born king of the Jews,   employed the star as their TomTom or the GPS. The Biblical passage says that “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” (Matt 2: 1) Weird. In search of Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, they reached the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem. Was this a case of dysfunctional TomTom? Before that let us learn something about King Herod. The Roman Senate gave him the title of “King of Jews.” He was called ‘Herod the Great: King of Jews, Friend of Romans’. Herod was famous for huge building projects that he undertook. One of the historian says ‘No one in Herod’s period built so extensively with projects that shed such bright light on a relatively dark world.’ Massive stones of the temple he built along with the various buildings he built defined the landscape of Jerusalem. For the wise men what better place than Jerusalem that is buzzing urban centre with all the spectacular shows of power and riches. If a king of Jews has to be born, where else other than the palace of King Herod, the King of Jews? Sometimes in our journey of faith we get caught up in our assumptions of our destination and we end up in the wrong place. King Herod felt really threatened by this new revelation that he frantically called his chief priests and scribes to find out where exactly the Messiah was to be born. Walter Brueggeman, an Old Testament Scholar says that the coming of the Wise men to Jerusalem can be alluded as the right destination if we read the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah 60: 6. ‘Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.’ But the chief priest and scribes settled for much more humble a prophecy by prophet Micah.

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

    who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’” (Micah 5: 2)

In the lure of the tall buildings and symbols of power, the wise men were off their target by 9 miles, as Bethlehem was 9 miles to the south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem, a small unassuming backward village looked like a joke in front of the glorious Jerusalem. But Jesus was born in an unassuming, backward place that held no promise or hope.

When we today think of Christmas we too think like the wise men. Malls glittering with the choicest decorations, eating joints with the best Christmas offer and lovely Christmas cake is what we call ‘Christmassy.”

But the question is are we ready to reroute ourselves and travel that 9 miles that we have grossly missed. Are we ready to travel in quest of the child, king of Jews in places that has no tall buildings, luxury cars, multiplexes and malls. Because there in an obscure manger, denied room from the inn, lies baby Jesus who would one day grow up and minister and be called “The friend of sinners” which definitely was not a compliment. The gospel of Luke says that the first ones to know about birth of Jesus were the shepherds who were the outcastes of the society. ‘Jesus, The King of Jews, the Friend of Sinners’  was being accessible to those that the powerful and mighty like Herod abused and vilified.

Rev Thomas Kurien is the Associate Director of Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai. He was the former Vicar at the St. Thomas Mar Thoma Parish, Pimpri, Pune. Achen was known for his concerns of reaching out to the society. During his time he tried to reach out to the people in the neighbourhood helping them with financial aid dor surgeries and for life skills. The major focus was the slum near the church. Navjeevan Centre has a ‘Padosi’ (neighbor) Programme that reaches out to the friends of Navjeevan. In this programme the Reverend and his team were visiting the St. Thomas Church, Pimpri. Before he was about to enter the church there was a visitor at the gate of the Church. She was a lady clad in burqha. She greeted Achen with a salaam. They exchanged pleasantries. She handed over a cover to him saying “This is with gratitude for the money received from the church for my child’s bypass surgery. Use it for the project of Navjeevan.” Achen was visibly moved by this gesture and invited her to the church. But she refused to come. When he checked the cover, it was a check of Rs 5000. What better witness of a Church that has made a difference in the neighbourhood.

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Friends today we judge a city by the count of malls and multiplexes. A City is not good if it does not have a McDonalds or a KFC. To be in tune with times we are obsessed with the latest smartphones, tabs, cars and clothing. We have believed that only if we appear to be ‘cool’ and rich do we have some value. This has affected our spirituality and our celebrations of Christmas. But the text today calls us to take a reroute from our ‘Jerusalem’ of comfort to the ‘Bethlehem’ of transformation. Bethlehem literally means the “House of Bread.” It is a call for a journey to share our bread with our neighbours. We live in times where the attitude towards the poor and the not so successful people have become very cruel. These people either have become invisible for us or we conclude that because of their laziness they are poor. The Journey of Christmas is a journey from our self- centeredness to the transformation of self- giving. Let not the noise, music, celebrations and decorations drown the real meaning of Christmas. Hope you reach Bethlehem safe and sound. Let the star guide you beyond the glitter and glamour. Happy Journey. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

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Call The Doctor. Hey Doctor…..

When I was doing my Seminary studies in Kottayam, I fell ill one day and went to see a doctor.  He saw me and started to write something down while I was still narrating my complaint. But before he heard me out, he had a prescription ready. And a new world record was set. Within 135 seconds I was out of the doctor’s consulting room paying Rs 150. For what? I had so many questions to ask, I wanted assurance of the cure even if it was a silly viral fever. And by the time I could get a grip of climbing the steps, the next patient was out and in went the next. I went with a physical complaint but came out mentally anguished. Recently I spoke to a friend of mine who suffered from a very bad back. The doctor she went to said “This is very serious. If you do not take care of your back, you may get incapacitated.” It did no good to her back, I mean those words but the words made her B.P. shoot up and it was time to see the next doctor.

Why am I telling you all these sad doctor stories? Well more often than not, one appreciates the good in life only after an encounter with the bad. When I first moved to our first new home in Pratik Nagar, Pune, Building No 4, Flat No. 8, in the year 1989, I remember chuckling at reading the name of the Doctor who had a clinic below our flat. The board read “Dr. Suhas Bulbule”. I was in 3rd standard and was just taking my early lessons in Hindi and Marathi and so was introduced to the bird ‘Bulbul’ and I was like hahaha. Well those who know me, can tell you that I can laugh at the silliest of things. As a child I could set a record at the rate at which I could fall sick and having a doctor right below my flat was “Wow, what a relief” for my parents. Well there were these “My stomach is paining” sickness which was more an “I don’t want to go to school” sickness which never reached the doctor, but earlier than that I just reached school. Like all children I hated doctors. I felt they were mean people who hurt you so badly with the injection and then pacify you with a candy. The hulaboo I made about going to a doctor was just not funny. I used to act like a ‘Bakra taken for halaal’. That is not the point. I remember sitting with my mother, running a high temperature, in the doctor’s clinic. I tried my best to convince my mother that I had no fever by touching her forehead and my forehead and telling her “Our temperature is the same mummy. You are ok, I am ok, and we all are ok.” But when did parents take their child seriously?  I saw people sitting along and as a child I definitely did not like to sit with people from the nearest slum. There were many that day who were in the waiting. My mother kept complaining, “Why this doctor is taking so much time?” A patient goes in, he will for sure come after 20 minutes, minimum. Just before my turn came I saw a gypsy lady in her 70s who was notoriously a ‘loud mouth’ and had a stench,  hug the doctor and bless him. I went inside the cabin and saw this tall, handsome man with a very warm smile. Before he could ask of my complaints he took all the time to strike a conversation with me. He asked me my age, which school I go, what game I play, which subject I like. Then he turned to my parents and got to know them too. And then he examined me and without even the doctor asking, my mother started complaining “He got wet in the rain, he ate cold things, the temperature started in the night, he did not sleep, I did not sleep, my husband slept” and she went on and on. After examining me he looked at my parents and smiled. “Don’t worry, he will be fine. I will give him some medicines.” And I will give him one injection followed by a candy. Well he forgot to say that. Or he forgot that he was a doctor. I was confused. I looked at his face with the expression like “Seriously, are we done.” He just ruffled my hair and told me not to get wet in the rain and to avoid sour and cold things. Then my father tried to strike a conversation asking him about his wife and children. He politely replied “I am not married.” And my father just said “O”. Now what did that mean I don’t know. I guess it is heredity, but I too keep saying a lot of ‘O’. My father took out his wallet and gave him a Rs 50 note. And the doctor returned Rs 45. Seriously? Ok this was in the year   1990, and Manmohan Singh was yet to introduce economic liberalization, but Rs 5 for a consulting charge?  And after coming out of the cabin we saw many eyes staring at us with the look “What on earth were they doing so long inside”. My mother told my dad “Enthoru Nalla Doctor” (What a wonderful doctor) and for the first time I agreed with her.

From then on he has been our family doctor, our friend, our advisor, everything. My father always says that “Doctorinte samsaravum, perumattavum kannumpol thane pagathi rogam maari kittum” (Half the disease vanishes seeing the interaction of the doctor and listening to his encouraging words like “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”) Times have come and gone, disease minor and major visited our family, but the humane approach of Dr Bulbule has been constant all these years. Months passed into years and then into decades. Dr Bulbule is still unmarried and when one of my relatives mustered the courage to ask him about his wedding plans he replied “I do not plan to get married. I don’t think I can manage being a good doctor and managing a family.” His commitment to his profession and the people is a living testimony. Poor and rich alike, he has no discrimination in his approach. The poor people from the slum flock to him because of his very low consultation fees and wonderful healing touch. If need be he also waives the fee for people who cannot afford the money. With his qualification and expertise, the Doc certainly could have minted money. But he has maintained a very low profile with a very unassuming clinic. His consultation fee has increased 10 times than the first time we encountered him. It is a paltry Rs 50 and at a follow up he just does not charge you. He is involved with many NGOs, furthering his social commitment to the community. On a personal note I am a big fan of his sense of humor. You can never get bored talking to him. When we have invited him over home for lunch, we were surprised to see the ease with which he could relate to us beyond the parameters of a doctor- patient relationship

Recently I called him to report about Soji’s sore throat and sore eyes. He told me “Don’t worry, everything will be fine, write down the name of a medicine….” Soji was depressed after a day of having a sore eye for the first time in history. To top that she had severe throat pain and cough. When I said that the doctor said things will be fine, she was not satisfied. She called him with a facial expression that was like “Ghanaa baadal, charo taraf andhera, barish hone ki sambaavana hai.” She heard “Don’t worry….” I assume, then the clouds made way and then there was sunshine.

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Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrain Church

Guwahati

Updated Version 2.1- Isn’t Liturgy Meaningless mate?

Now with the unforeseen success with the 2 characters Minjo(Hope u hav not forgotten the derivation formula of his name. if yes here it is {mother}Mini+{father}John={son}Minjo. Wow)and Dan, our cool dude, 2nd yr seminary student Jack decided to have an informal session on Saturday evening with the youth league. Now he pondered over the venue and this time it was definitely not a coffee shop. He was after all not so benevolent enough to treat 13 youths to a coffee that only costs Rs 43. Thank you very much. With consultation with the principal, he decided to call them to the seminary, and listening to the idea, Dan msged the Epiphany Youths, and the 13 miraculously became 7, as the seminary din sound that appealin to some, the girls dropped out, some were not too interested in Worship but had the curiosity similar to goin to the zoo, to get a feel of what are the rare specimens called Seminarians, and how do they look in their habitat. Don’s motivation to go was pure jealousy, as after the last meet of Minjo and Dan made them look very smart with both flauntin their new found knowledge, he(Don) din wanna give the two the advantage of the pleasure of his ignorance. Cutting the long story short, the 7 did arrive at the seminary. Jack definitely basked in this glory as his fellow mates were curious as ‘wats up, what they doin here?’ kinda expression on their face. Well, the delegation settled in at the B.D. 1, Classroom. We will get introduced to the 7 if at all the need be. After talkin bout facebook and the comments on their new prof pic, bout some sitcom, this and that, Jack decided to arrive at the core point. Since we have followed up till the “Holy art thou” part, we will join the portion after that. All ears.

 

Sony(definitely male, as he always had to explain that to people who found it fun to remind him that it is a girls name, 2nd yr mech engg.)- Well chach, I find the part after Kauma very funny. The kurielaeeson, 3 times part. I know it means Lord hav mercy, but why after adoration of God(kauma ‘holy art thou’)?

J. Wel, Sony boy the idea is that after adorin God and his majesty and rememberin his crucifixion, we become aware of our sinfulness(Isaiah 6:1-5 wher Isaiah sees God’s splendor and repents, ‘I am a man of unclean lips) and say Kurielaeeson, Lord have mercy. Interstingly it is said that the early church took this response from the story of blind man Bartimaeus(Mark 10: 46-52) where Bartimaeus became aware of his blindness in the presence of Jesus and said ‘Lord, have mercy upon me’. In greek Lord means Kurios and mercy is Eleeo, and therefore kurielaeeson. We pray the prayer of Bartimaeus, becoming aware of our spiritual blindness. Does that sound greek to u guys?

 

Ajit(a B.A. psychology student and guess what his friends think he can look at ones face and know what they are feeling because he is a Psychology student. Haha)- yeah, that sounds really cool  mate. Interesting. Well I wanna ask why do we read bible, that is the epistle and the gospel in between the worship. Who listens to it? There is bible readin any way?

J . Well Ajit, we have to know that our practices were taken from the Jewish synagogue worship and thank God there was no copyright existin. The synagogue worship had liturgy and ther were bible readings from the first 5 books, the prophets and Psalms. So readin is a continuation in that sense. Did you know that first the bible was read in the context of worship alone as there were no printed copies available? It is only after 1850’s after the translation to Malayalam that personal bible reading started in our church.

 

Minjo- seriously? That’s interestin.

J.  yes. Before reading the Epistle priest says “Accept O lord, our prayers and petitions…”. Priest is callin God to make hearers, that with purity, and holiness we may keep God’s commands. The idea is that we need grace from God to live accordin to his will. And before readin the Gospel, Priest says “Peace be with you”. This means that the Gospel is the good tidings of the peace of Christ, who sets peace among people and the creation, as the angel said to the shepherds ‘Lo I bring you this day good tidings of great joy(Luke.2.10). then he says “ the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Here the life giving Spirit and the role of salvation is emphasized.  Again Jesus  is presented as the Word of life that gives us new life and then the portion is read with reverence and we are supposed to hear it and respond saying, “We thank you Lord you have given us your Gospel……”, so listenin to the portion and following it is an imperative. I guess I will keep it at that.

 

Saju(a guy who loves philosophy and talks about abstract stuff, but parental pressure made him chose computer science. He teaches his teachers philosophy when he fails consequently. He says success and failure is vanity, vanity. Brave) – deep indeed, I will try to listen tomorrow what is bein read. But u know from the portion called Promeon on, I switch off my brain. I am somewhere else. Achen keeps reading long boring stuff. Honestly why do we need that?

J. Boy I have to go to play table tennis at 4. So this should be the last question as it also sums up the first part. As Dan said nothing more than half hour. Right Dan?

D. yeah.

 

J. ok answerin Saju’s question, promeon in greek means introduction. Here the content is “Help us O Lord, our praise and thanksgiving…..”it says that Jesus absolves all our debts and pardon, but we should be penitent. The promis of “Call and I will answer, knock and I will open….” Is affirmed. And then after that we have the Husaya which means Prayer for pardon and peace. It is a confession that is very meaningful and my mom says she is always in tears when she hears that. Honestly I used to be in tears , but out of boredom, but now I listen it up and it is very meaningful.  And then we have the Sedra which means orderly arrangement of prayers. I will stress 5 points to sum up the sedra;

a) Glorifying Lord Jesus Christ by remembering His Incarnation event.

b) The affirmation of the greatness of the Holy Qurbana and our unworthiness to receive it.

c) Prayer for the coming of Holy Spirit.

d) Prayer to enable us to participate with dedication in the Holy Qurbana.

e) Prayer of surrender and dedication.

 

Dan: Ok!! we have Holy Spirit in Mar Thoma Sabha? I am sorry , I am curious.

J: haha. Even I had that question. I will take up that question the next time. Ok , and do you know why we have the Nicene Creed at the end? Anybody? It is affirming our faith before Qurbana. We have faith declaration in 5 Areas;

a) the faith in Trinity.

b) then in the Incarnation of our Lord.

c) faith in One Baptism.

d) faith in the resurrection of believers.

e) and in the Final Judgment.

 

Saju: Let us now collect the offertory.

Minjo: Not funny. Well Jackman we will have this in the youth league tomorrow. What say?

J: sure. I will take you to the Cafeteria and you can have free tea. Haha. Gotta play table tennis. My room is in a mess, can’t take you there or else you will lose all respect for me. Haha

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

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Isn’t liturgy Meaningless Mate?

(Let me start by saying that this question has always baffled and confused me. I have struggled very hard to understand to know why we need this. I have a history that I am not necessarily proud of. I have read novels and books in the church using the order of worship as a shield. So here I am trying to put some light on our liturgy and I will try my best to keep it as interesting and simple as possible. I don’t think anyone will be with me if I elaborately expound it, so I will highlight certain key points of the worship. I Prayerfully hope this will help you in helping you participate in worship meaningfully.)Image

 

We have Jacob, popularly called Jack(why ?) who is a 2nd year student at the theological seminary, and along with him are Minjo(how symbolic a name. Mother’s name is Mini and dad’s name is John, so guess who we have. Malayalis I say, they are genius with names) and Dan who are members of the Epiphany Mar Thoma Church, where cool dude Jack is assigned for Sunday assignment. Jack, took these two youths for a coffee at “Kaapi Kada: Coffee is Just an Excuse(why do I feel I have heard that somewhere)”. Now can you imagine he took them out to talk about worship? These two dudes are here so as not to offend him and to be nice(and who doesn’t like free coffee?). They truly believe that the “Worship order is meaningless”. So after the initial talks about cars and of course girls, Matt dares the two to ask questions pertaining to the structure of Worship. Here, let us hear it.

Minjo- Do we have a structure in here?

Jack- Yes is the answer and it is called the a)Preperatory service or the thooyaba b) Ante-Communion or Pre- Communion, c) Communion.

Thuyaba is where the priest prepares himself for the service. This can be both public and private. There is an order that is followed. But I would not as of now elaborate more upon it.

 

Dan- This Ante-Communion, Communion sounds very funny. I thought the entire service is called Holy Communion. I don’t get it.

J . Frankly even I was unaware of this division. Actually in the ante-communion comes the preparatory service. But I here to make it more pronounced divided it. So the Ante communion is also called the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ as the Epistles and Gospel is read in this section.

‘Shobha Niranja Aleyathil….’ Is the call to the community to participate in this Worship. It affirms the holiness of God and confesses our sinful state and asks God to intervene.

 

M . Dude whats Mary doing in the opening prayer of the priest? Why do we have John in there too? We don’t worship the saints, do we? ( In reference to “Mariyamil nin Shariram Dharikyugeyum…” O Lord Jesus Christ, born of Mary, Baptised by John, have mercy on us)

J . Ok to answer that I will call upon your attention to the fact that the curtain is drawn open in between “Shobha Niranja”. Now why do we need that curtain? It is a symbol. This symbolizes the full revelation of God in Christ. It is here that we remember Mary and John. This prayer calls us to the attention of the incarnation of Christ. So it is Mary’s willing response to God that made the incarnation of Jesus or to put in easier terms, the possibility GOD becoming human in Jesus became possible. John prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus and baptized him. So this prayer remembers the incarnation and the public ministry of Jesus which is significant for our salvation. So, they are remembered as facilitators in the process. Does that make sense?

 

D. Yeah. Kind of. Getting the hang of it. I think this would be my last question for the day as I am just gettin started, it would be an overdose. The HOLY ART THOU part is said three times. What is that all about?

J. yeah, that’s a neat question. Let us remember that ‘Holy Art Thou O God’ in our liturgy signifies Jesus. Here we affirm Christ’s Holiness, Immortality and his Crucifixion. The crucifixion was to save us. “O Thou that was crucified for us have mercy on us” means he was crucified on our behalf. For our salvation. It is said three times for affirmation, so it is called Trisagion. Some claim that this is how you affirm as we see in John 21:15-17, Jesus before reinstating Peter asked him thrice ‘Do you love me’. It is an affirmation on our behalf.

 

M. Ok. Seriously what do you mean by salvation? What is the fuss all about?

A . I will answer you what I learnt from my Principal Rev Dr Abraham Kuruvilla and my friend and guide, Rev Sam Koshy. We have to understand Salvation in the continuation of Creation. God created the world and He saw it was good. God had a purpose in creation. He made man ‘In his Own image’. But man sinned and defeated the purpose of creation. We distorted the ‘Image of God’. As Paul says ‘Image of God’ was completely revealed in Jesus. His crucifixion and resurrection defeated the chaotic forces of death. He showed what God’s image is and showed creation its purpose. Salvation is return of the fallen creation to become the Creation that God saw ‘It was good’. It is also the journey from the distorted image that we have in sin to Grow to the “image of God”, seen in the life, Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I guess what Athanasius, the church father said sums it all. “God became man, so that man can become divine.”

 

D . Honestly I dint wanna hear all this. But it kinda sounds interestin. But not anymore today. How about meetin in the weekend. Guess you should call Arpit. But nothing more than half an hour. I seriously don have patience. Bye.

J. Thanks guys for comin over.

M. Dude anythin for free coffee. (Jacob reminded him that he had seen Dil Chahta hai.)

 

 

*Ok guys coming up shortly are answers to questions like “what is the Gospel reading doing in between the service, n so the epistle. Why on earth, the “Kiss of Peace”, “what are the 4 blessings all about”. “Why Bread and wine?” and anything you ask and I can try to answer. Your feedback, no matter what the texture is solicited, as there are 2 more series to come. Also comment on the casual structure adopted, is there anything more to be simplified. I have kept it short as a long article can put us off. Haha. And if you think I am smart since I know all the answers, I would love that you believe so. I am majorly depending on the works of Rev Dr. George Mathew, who is a liturgy specialist.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati