Dr. Fabiny Tamás: Lutheran service in English

Létrehozás: 2008. december 21., 14:52 Legutolsó módosítás: 2008. december 21., 14:53

Budapest, Fasor 21st December 2008, TEXT: Mt 2:1-12

The best-known and most beautiful Christmas-report has been written in Luke’s Gospel. We all know very well the colourful descriptions of the various events, we can repeat the beautiful sentences  by heart. We know from our childhood how the angel visited Mary, how Mary and Elisabeth met. The words of the Magnificat are in our ears and hearts, and we hear the angles' message from heaven: „glory to Go in the highest and on earth peace”…    

All that is Christmas – according to Luke. But the „spokesman” for this 4th Sunday ind Advent is another evangelist: Matthew. His description is not so loud, his report is not full of  trompets and solemn heavenly proclamation. Even the shepherds have gone. It’s only the three magi or three wise men who are visiting Jesus. Sometimes the story is told with three kings coming to visit Jesus, but the Bible never calls them kings. In fact, the Bible never says there are three of them. They are described as Magi. That’s the Greek word that can mean an astronomer, or someone who has supernatural knowledge. Paintings of this scene are traditionally called the Adoration of the Magi, because these Wise Men from the East come with one goal in mind – to worship the newborn King of the Jews.

The wonderful altarpicture of this very Lutheran Church is a masterpiece of fine arts. The artist is called Gyula Benczúr, one of the most famous Hungarian painters of the early 20th century. (Some blocks from here you can find a street named after him.) The painting of Benczúr has – as you can see – brilliant colours, Hungarian folk-motives are shown on the costumes, and the „Protestant Madonna” is without a halo. You schould know, that we find the self-portrait of Benczúr at this composition. No doubt, that in he figure of the oldest wise man, kneeling before the child Jesus,  he has portrayed himself. 

The Greek word used in this story for adoring is proskuneo. It means literally to bow down and kiss the ground. It is used to describe worshipping someone. That’s the Adoration of the Magi. They come in carrying their fancy gifts, but on seeing the boy who will become the King of Kings, they drop all of that and bow low to the ground. It is an Epiphany. An “aha” moment where you say, “I have got it! I finally, really, have got it.” It’s a moment of understanding. And in that moment of understanding, all the wise men can do is bow low and adore the one true God.

The story of the three wise men from the east and its artistic realisation on this altar-picture is an invitation to all of us. As we sing in the famous Christmas-carol: „O come, let us adore him, o come, let us adore him, o come, let us adore him, praise the Lord...”

But from the romantic and enthusiastic emotions we have to come back to the reality. Just like the wheather today. We do not have a romantic advent-wheather this year. Instead of a „white Christmas” we will probably have a grey Christmas. Perhaps somewhat more accurate is for example the poem of T.S. Eliot, “The Journey of the Magi”; Just the worst time of the year for a journey and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter.” And Eliot’s lovely, ruggedly honest imagery invites us to take that journey with them: “…And the night fires going out, and the lack of shelters, and the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly and the villages dirty and charging high prices: A hard time we had of it. At the end we preferred to travel all night, sleeping in snatches, with the voices ringing in our ears, saying that this was all folly.” It is a powerful poem, which I recommend to you at this advent-time.

That very poem of Eliot leads us to a second picture, which may show some similarities with the Adoration of the Magi, although the original situation is completely different. You can see a photograph on the leaflet for this Advent service. It was made by a famous Hungarian photographer, living in the Netherlands. Her name is Ata Kando, and she shot the picture in 1956. That was the time when after the Hungarian revolution hundred thousands of people left the country. There were refugees all over the towns in Europe. On this photograph of Ata Kando you can see a rather unusual „holy family” Mary is an exhausted woman, Joseph is a caring father. Perhaps they were freedom-fighters on the streets of Budapest. And now they have to leave their home country. They are on the road. There is a little baby in their lap. This very child reminds us to the fate of Jesus. He was in danger, from the very beginning of his life, to the end.

This second picture reflects the realism of Christmas in December 2008. There are many – in the whole world, but also among us – who do not have a safe life. Who can not celebrate. Who have a rather grey, or even black Christmas, instead of a white one.

I reminded you at the beginning of my sermon, that the host of our Sunday service today is not the „romantic” Luke, but the „realistic” Matthew...

Dear Sisters and Brothers. As I have also mentioned, the artist Gyula Benczur has portrayed himself on the altar-picture of this church. It can mean, that we all are among the magi, the wise men – and women – who come to adore Jesus, and lay down their gifts at his feet. But I would like to remind you, that we can – virtually – project ourselves also onto the second picture, the photograph of Ata Kando. We must find those, who are in need. Incarnation means that God has become human, wearing the body of a little and week child.

Bishop Mark Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation has also emphasized the reality of God's mercy, when he wrote in his Christmas message: „Christmas brings good news of a great joy for you and all people: home is not far away. God has come to make a home with you in Jesus. In the life of this human brother, on the stage of human history, God took up residence in the world you and I inhabit. From cradle to cross his life embodied the fulfillment of God’s promised mercy—forgiveness for every sinner, liberation for the oppressed, the hope of welcome in the very heart of God.”


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