" There's Dealings With Us"
(Sermon preached on Epiphany Sunday 2008)
He was a man who had suffered a cruel wrong when he was young, and, as a result, George Eliot's linen-weaver, Silas Marner decided to turn his back on his fellows and give himself solely to the making of money. He made it, accumulated it until he had quite a pile, and then one day it was all stolen. It seemed the end of the world to Marner, but it wasn't. Into his cheerless life there wandered a little child, and that child, Eppie was her name, changed his life and brought him back to the real things. Later on, looking back, Silas Marner says to a friend, 'There's good i' the world - I've a feelin o' that now; and it makes a man feel there's a good more nor he can see, i' spite o' the trouble and the wickedness. That drawing o' the lots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there's dealings with us - there's dealings.'
I think the wise men, the astrologers, would have agreed with that: 'there's dealings with us - there's dealings'. Of course, they would have put it in high flown, scientific, technical language, but the meaning would have been the same. They believed that there was some kind of traffic between heaven and earth, some kind of communication, some kind of 'dealings'. That at any rate was the message they read in the stars, a message which they so much believed that they embarked on a long journey at the worst time of the year, when the ways were deep and the weather sharp: the very dead of winter.
Many a time they must have wearied of the endless miles of trackless desert, regretting they had ever left their summer palaces, with their sunny fruit-filled fragrant terraces, and silken maid-servants bringing them refreshing sherbet. And how refractory the camels! how coarse the camel-men cursing and grumbling! how disquieting the night fires going out! how inadequate the shelters, making it possible for them to sleep only in snatches! Cities, when they met them, could be hostile, towns unfriendly, and villages dirty - and all of them greedy to charge exorbitant prices for the things the travellers needed. A hard time they had of it, indeed, but they were never in doubt about the rightness of it, for always ahead of them shone the star, dancing up the orient and leading them to the new-born king who would fulfil their destiny.
In the light of that silent star that shone on the desert sea,
The Wise Men had 'heard the Loom of the Weaver' and, like Silas Marner, had come to know that 'there's dealings with us - there's dealings'. In both the stories of Silas Marner and the Wise Men, it was a child that brought the message home. There is nothing more important than a child, although you wouldn't think that by the way we treat children. Child poverty in our society, for example, is very far from being eradicated, although we live at a time of unparalleled affluence. And material poverty typically goes hand in hand with social poverty: broken families; depressed neighbourhoods; absence of community spirit; failing schools; overburdened, overstretched social services. Children born into and brought up in these kinds of conditions are robbed of the very thing every child needs and deserves, namely hope. No child should ever feel that he or she has no future: yet how many of our children feel exactly that. And not just in Britain - how much worse it is for children in other parts of the world, who have no homes, no food, no health, no hope.
As Christian people, we have just spent the best part of the past fortnight celebrating the birth of a Child, a child whose life was threatened, whose home was disrupted, who was taken from his native country to become a refugee, and who eventually returned to his homeland only to grow up under the harsh regime of a military occupation. Such things shouldn't have happened to children then, and they shouldn't happen to children now. And if at the turn of the year you found yourself wondering just what would make a really good New Year's Resolution, well, here it is: to do everything in your power, by whatever influence you may be able to exert, whatever means you may have at your disposal, whatever prayers you may be able faithfully to offer, to remove the scandal of the way we treat our children.
The child in both the stories of Silas Marner and the Wise Men was cherished and protected. And perhaps that was because both Silas Marner and the Wise Men in their relationship with their child shared a secret, a secret we all need to learn, and one which extends far beyond our attitude to children. For most of the time, we live on the mere surface of things, and hear little but the sound of daily business. We tend to be so pre-occupied by the sheer business of living that we don't give full value to such vital things as the call of conscience, the voice of duty, the appeal of beauty and goodness and truth. We are so immersed in the rush and bustle of everyday living that we forget there's
a world beyond our earthly things,
Not so Silas Marner and the Wise Men. They discerned the world beyond our earthly things; they knew the golden moments; they saw the city white like lime; they gazed each day on its high bright towers. For them, life was not about playing their own game and pandering to their own desires. They recognised there was something bigger than their own comfort and ease. They believed there was a purpose for the world and for themselves within the world, a purpose that was being worked out every day they lived. They had a sense of the eternal, a sense that they were living out their lives under other eyes than those of their fellow men, a sense that there was Someone with them who meant them nothing but good. It is surely significant that as the Wise Men pressed onwards, they continually gazed upwards, searching the sky for their sign of hope. The upward look is what counts in life.
It was said of Corot, the French artist, that he began every picture by first of all painting in the sky. Once he got the sky right, he felt every other bit of the picture would fall into its right place. Here, then, is a second New Year's Resolution, to get the sky right, every day of this new year. Before we do anything else, let us start each day with an upward look sweeping the sky to see our star, craning our necks to see the city, opening our hearts to catch the golden moment. For we can be sure of this: 'There's dealings with us - there's dealings'.
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