The Adoration of the Magi is a familiar theme in Western art. Any number of painters have depicted the scene of Mary holding the baby Jesus, Joseph at her side, and the three wise men kneeling before her adoring the child and presenting their gifts. Though the settings vary—from stables with only the animals in attendance to medieval cities with throngs of people watching—the scene is usually a pastoral, loving one.
In the archbishop’s palace next door to Reims Cathedral, there is a medieval tapestry depicting the event with Mary, child, and the three kneeling men. But Joseph is off at a table in the back of the room opening the gifts. Is he there to claim the gifts for himself and abandon his child-bride and her illegitimate child? Perhaps, but that is too cynical. Or is he there with a sense of relief that now he, Mary, and the child will have enough money to make the arduous journey to Egypt, which he knows is coming very soon? I much prefer this, but I am sure there are other possibilities as well.
Who knows what the artist had in mind? As with all great art, much is in the eye of the beholder, and we see different things at different times, perhaps depending on our moods, perhaps on what is going on in the world around us.
I don’t think it too much of a stretch to find this subjectivity as we look at Emmanuel. Do the more cynical among us see a diminished parish, one which has had three rectors in a relatively short period, one which is much less filled with worshippers than in the heyday of the ’50s with Dr. Starrat’s stirring preaching? Do we see a parish turned in upon itself, fraying at the edges? It is not difficult to find those who see Emmanuel from this perspective.
But I, an admiring and at times adoring outsider, see it differently. Yes, there have been three rectors in a short period, but their stories are all different and they left for reasons which do not indict Emmanuel. Are we as full as we were in the ’50’s? Not by a long shot, but then neither are most mainline congregations. After a dip in the early part of this year, our attendance is slowly increasing; people are engaging the life of the parish; there is a sense of unity if not uniformity; and we are moving ahead, hopeful abut the future.
As The Book of Common Prayer says, “open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.” (372) I hope that more of us will open our eyes and hearts to see God at work as we move ahead at Emmanuel, trusting in the Spirit of the Lord to lead us into the days ahead.