I was happy to receive a new 2020 Mary Englebreit calendar for a Christmas gift. It has become kind of a tradition that my daughter Darcy gets me one every year. I really enjoy the artist’s illustrations and the various quotations listed month by month. One January’s quote was from Mark Twain who wrote, “Knowledge without experience is just information.” I find that thought particularly relevant to Sunday’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 2:1-12 about the wise men’s search for the baby Jesus.
The wise men, learned astrologers from the East, no doubt had a great deal of knowledge. They must have read and studied about the stars, observed the movement of planets, moon, and asteroids. They were from a very different culture than the one into which Jesus was born.
Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The Magi fascinate us because they do not fit into this tiny stage of hill village and humble stable. Their sophistication clashes with this simplicity; their obvious power sits uneasily beside the vulnerability of child and family. They are urban in a rural world, affluent in the midst of poverty, cosmopolitan amid the provincial.
We discern their wisdom even as we read with of their dealings with the court of Herod. Civilized and mannered, they pay their respects to Herod, yet with contemptuous ease they see the reality behind the pathetic physical and mental wreck Herod has become. They have gained experience at a far more powerful court, and have no illusions about Herod’s ability to be dangerous and vicious, even in his decline.
Theirs is a deep wisdom. The Magi represent forever and for all of us the wisdom that recognizes human life to be a journey, taken in search of One who calls us beyond ourselves into faithful service—One before whom we are prepared to kneel, and to who we offer the best of our gifts, flawed, and unworthy though they be.”
“Knowledge without experience is just information,” Twain wrote, a wise man himself. So it follows that it might be said that knowledge with experience can lead to wisdom. We may know facts in our heads, but it is in the living of life, participating in experiences, that we learn in our hearts the deep truths. Some experiences we choose; some are thrust upon us, but we still have choices as to how we will deal with them.
If we view life as a journey, we know that every journey has a beginning and an end. Every journey worth making is a quest, a search for something outside ourselves—meaning, purpose, that which we can worship with our whole selves—God. Journeys are time-limited, and we are reminded, as we take down our 2019 calendars and hang up the fresh, new 2020 calendars, of how quickly human time passes. Some of us still make New Year’s resolutions, joking that they probably won’t be kept very long—losing weight, exercising regularly, taking a class, searching for a new job.
Let each of us challenge our self to resolve to make choices in our own life’s journey that will give us the opportunity to have experiences that make us wiser in our faith. Let us risk uncertainty, guided by our star, Jesus Christ. Let us resolve to become better acquainted with who he is and what he taught, by studying scripture and listening to it preached regularly as we worship with our faith community. Let us travel to places near and far where it seems he might be found in our interactions with others when we are doing the work his disciples are called to do.
Let us try hard to look beneath the surface of daily life for eternal meaning. Let us search, remembering Christ’s guiding words in Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
God-speed to each of you on your own journey.
New Year’s blessings,
Pastor Candy Thomas
Christ Congregational United Church of Christ