January 1

A Turn to Grace

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 2: 1-12


At the turn of the year we may have more time to listen, to listen among others to the voices of children.

It is my turn….It is your turn…Whose turn is it?…Take your turn…

Teaching a new comer to English can provide a challenge or two, as in these turns of phrase.

A turn is a chance, an opportunity, an opening.  Her turn…

Our New Testament, beloved and holy, our Holy Scripture, beloved and lovely, carries such a sense of opening, its gospel itself a turn to grace.   Metanoia, repentance, means to turn around.  The wisdom of the east comes in a narrative about turning around, following a star, offering gifts, and turning again to go home by another way.

At the turn of the year, are you ready to make a turn to grace?


We notice that these wise men, unnumbered in Scripture, though by tradition three, are from afar.  They are Gentiles, representing the longing of all the world for the wisdom of all the world across the people of all the world turning to the God of all the world.  For a gospel usually understood, or misunderstood, to be oriented to Judaism, pride of place at the manger is given here to the Gentiles.  This should caution us about what we assume in Matthew.

Love is for the wise, our story says.   Astounding birth befits the wisdom of the ages, as such birth narratives acclaim in all religious traditions.   Herod…star rising…Messiah…prophetic lineage….homage….joy….gold, frankincense, myrrh…dream

Sages leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar, seek the great desire of nations, ye have seen his natal star, come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the new born King

They turn to the gratuitous kindness, the epiphany, the light, revelation, shining star.

And we?


One of our dear Marsh chapel members is in hospital.  We visited her on Wednesday at Beth Israel Deaconess.  She heals, hour by hour.  How grateful we are for the skill and care of doctors and nurses there.  The best wisdom of the reason, the finest attention to efficient detail, the steady combat, as in every hospital, against infection—these we again prized, this Christmastide.

After conversation and prayer, the elevator brought us again to the first floor.  As the door opened, something…A wondrous note, an audible epiphany, a gratuitous kindness…the sonorous notes of a harp.  To the gifts of medicine, there were added the gifts of music.  Deep, resonant, lovely.  Something else.  Something transcendent.  A gratuitous kindness, calling us up and calling us out.  How fitting that harp note.  A gift not strictly necessary, but utterly meaningful.

Walking away, one heard something, something deeply about being human or becoming fully human.  We will not reach our height, become who we are, only by rationality and efficiency, as crucial, as saving as they are.  To become who we are we shall need a turn to grace, that chord of depth and height and breadth and love, resounding from the nimble fingers of someone making a gift of gratuitous kindness.


Borden Parker Bowne, a legendary Boston University professor, who had studied in East, famously said:  Philosophy begins in wonder.

The gospel of the nativity, at the turn of the year, the gospel of epiphany, at the turn of the year, reminds us so.  To be fully human, we shall need to seek the star, listen for the grace note, and practice the habits of gratuitous kindness.

We come to visit you, to honor your New England poetic heritage.   I am a simple country preacher translated to the finesse of Boston.  North of Boston, already you have seen your star and heard of its rising.

It asks of us a certain height so when at times the mob is swayed to carry praise or blame to far we may take something like as star to stay our minds on and be staid (Frost)…

Hear is the musical voice, the call of the ages, to you.  It is not in this instance a voice of authority calling out obedience, as important as that legal voice can be.  That is Moses, the Law, the Prophets.  But you are beckoned to make a turn to grace, the voice not of authority to obedience but of wisdom to happiness, of wisdom to happiness, of wisdom to happiness.


The whole creation is groaning together until now, awaiting the revealing of the children of God (Rom. 8)

Years ago…13 billion the Big Bang…4 Billion a solar system…2Billion oxygen…500million a Cambrian explosion…250 million dinosaurs, extinct at 60 million…4 million a hominid…100,000 homo sapiens…30,000 years of art and culture

Above it all a star in the East, a wondrous star, beckoning us to a certain height, to a turn to grace, to the music of the harp, to a practice of the habits of gratuitous kindness.


Imagine the realm of the possible, the fullness of being in the fullness of time.

There is a longing for God that emerges clearly in the candle light of Christmas eve and in the morning light of New Year’s day.      A longing for the love that came down at Christmas.

You know his bridge.  His prayer?

I heard the bells on Christmas day their old familiar carols play and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth good will to men.  But then in grief I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.  Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth he sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, of peace on earth good will to men.

Will there be space, this year, will there be time, this year, will there be a resolution, this year, a turn to grace?


Will there be a longing in us, those of us who have sat long at table, to offer others, first comers, a first helping, a first serving of faith?

Will there be a willingness, once a week, to imagine and offer a gratuitous kindness?  Not something in the job description, nor something to which you are obliged by friendship or family or history or tradition, nor something contractually obligated, nor something expected.  Something like the music of a harp, unexpected and gracious and kind?

A long letter to an old friend?  A rising up for a righteous cause?   A call to lonely neighbor?  An invitation:  join me in worship?  A gift as generous as it was unsolicited?

Such a gratuitous kindness would be a marker on the journey, a signpost at the turn to grace

When the song of the angels is stilled….

-The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

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