On 6th January, as our brothers and sisters in many other churches of the world were celebrating Christmas Eve, the Anglican church celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. The Magi had travelled around our sim getting closer and closer to our Christmas stable and arrived safely as we prepared to think about their journey and what we can learn from them some 2000 years after they followed the star to Bethlehem in their search for the new King of the Jews.
Our readings were Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-15 and Matthew 2:1-12. My reflection is given below.
Today for us in the Anglican Church and in many other churches, we remember the journey of the Magi to find Jesus. This is the 12th day of Christmas and for many other churches it is Christmas Eve. Sadly for some of those churches it’s a time when increased vigilance and security is needed in case those attending church services find themselves the victims of some kind of attack by those opposed to Christianity.
I’m sure the Magi would have been familiar with the precarious nature of life, as many of our Christian brothers and sisters are. Journeys could expose people to the risk of attack from robbers and this is no doubt something they took into account when planning their journey. I can make this assumption based on what we know of life 2000 years ago in that part of the world.
Actually, with regard to the Magi, we make a whole set of assumptions all built on the flimsiest of evidence and perhaps a wish to fill out the story with a few more details. How do we know that there were three men who made this journey? We assume it from the number of gifts they brought. We often call them kings and give them names but where do they introduce themselves? I suppose the reading from Isaiah today and the Psalm have given rise to this tradition of their kingly nature.
I wonder what the reaction might be from those watching a nativity play if they found there were 4, 7, 10, even 15 wise men represented! What if they came in dressed in less than sumptuous clothes (no old gold curtains pressed into service, no paper crowns on their heads)? What might happen if we didn’t add a few camels to the nativity scene in church but instead added more donkeys, a bullock cart, or a few sets of walking boots? All we know is that these people were Magi, ‘wise men from the east’. The fact that they had observed the star rising points to their being astronomers or astrologers who carefully studied the heavens for signs of what was to happen on earth.
Despite the sketchy details, these men can teach us something even after all this time had elapsed. One thing we can be sure of is that they were looking for a new king of the Jews – they said as much to Herod. Nowadays we might not believe that a bright star means that, but within the light of the wisdom they had at that time, probably having also read some prophecy, they had responded and set off on a journey. Something had convinced them that this was a journey worth making. Sometimes that’s all we can do, to set off as far as the current knowledge we have will take us, if we are convinced we should, trusting in God to help us along. God gives us light to follow; maybe not a star, but possibly someone who shines in some way for us and guides us onward.
The wise men didn’t just rely on their own knowledge in order to find Jesus. We’re told that they went to see Herod in Jerusalem to check exactly where they might find this new king. It was Herod’s advisors who knew the Scriptures who pinpointed Bethlehem for the Magi. Only once armed with that knowledge could the wise men complete their journey. We too may be travelling in the right general direction but without consulting the Scriptures or those who are experts in them, we could be wandering around for a long time and not actually find Jesus as we should.
Martin Luther called the Bible the cradle of our Lord. It’s the place to look to find Jesus. The more familiar you become with it, the more clearly you can see Jesus. In this new year, the year when the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible is celebrated, perhaps we each need to think how we can get closer to Jesus by absorbing more of the Bible’s message.
When the wise men finally found Jesus after their long journey and consulting the Scriptures, their response was to worship him. Whether they were kings or commoners, they recognized that they were in the presence of one greater than they, one who was God, and so they worshipped. They presented gifts as part of their response, precious gifts which were symbols of Jesus’ identity. Gold for his kingship; frankincense speaks of deity; myrrh for one who was going to die for all of us.
The Magi show us how to worship Jesus. To do so we honour him for who he is, something we can only do if we take the trouble to find that out. We give the best we have to offer, what is valuable to us, knowing that what we are given by him is so much greater than anything we can give.
Wherever you are on your journey, whether you are feeling tired or inspired, I pray that in this year you will continue to follow the light God gives you and find joy in coming closer to Jesus.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor