The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Year A - Christmas II - January 5, 2014
One of the greatest Bible study techniques that I know of is to put yourself in the context of the story as one of the characters. This way you can become one of the characters, see the landscape from their prospective and live the story as if you were them. I find this most helpful when we’re dealing with stories we know very well, or think we know very well. This method helps us gain a deeper understanding of what the story may be telling us.
There are a few characters in today’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew that we can use as our lens through which to view the world around us… The obvious are the Magi or ‘wise men’… I am not sure why the church (or the carols of the season) call them Kings. Maybe it was to fulfill the prophecy that “All kings will bow before him.” (Psalm 72:11)
Nothing from the scripture leads us to believe that these guys were royals. They were, however, obviously foreigners – believed by scholars to be Astrologers – Zoroastrians from the east… followers of Zoroaster, the ancient religion of Persia that still exists today. Our scripture doesn’t give them names or tell us how many there were… it just says that they brought with them 3 gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh and were in search of a child that was born who they knew to be the King of the Jews. They didn’t know his name, or where he was to be born, but they followed a bright star (or comet) that led them to Jerusalem, the land of the Jews.
Then we have King Herod Antipas, who was the son of Herod the Great. Antipas was a puppet king, put on the throne by Caesar Augustus and ruled Judah as a client state for the Roman Empire. He wasn’t a very popular character as he was always on guard for people who were seeking to assassinate him or have him disgraced and removed from power.
The scripture tells us that he even needed to call together the chief priest and scribes in order to find out where this child might have been born, who was thought to be the messiah. A child called “King” by the strangers, a child that could be a threat to his throne.
This morning, for our consideration, I would like to put ourselves in the position of the strangers, the wise men… the Magi… I saw an interesting sign in a yard the other day… it said “wise men still seek him.”
If we put ourselves in the story as the strangers… (the foreigners, the magi)… we find ourselves on a journey to find someone. Someone who we know is worthy of our respect (or homage.) Someone to whom we should go to and welcome… Someone worth our time and effort to bring gifts and enter into relationship. This person’s worthiness has been revealed to us by our study of the heavens – the stars. We have located a bright star that directed our path and brought us to a foreign land – the land of the Jews.
When we got there, we asked their King, King Herod, where we might find this newborn child, worthy of our respect, who was born to be King of the Jews. He was extremely surprised, and we were shocked that the current King didn’t know of anyone who was born to be king. He acts peculiar and seems to be in great fear of the news… But we follow his guidance and head out toward Bethlehem to find the child.
The great star continues to be our guide and it lingers over the place where we found the child and his mother. We are so glad to be able to pay our respects and offer our gifts to this great child who is to one day rule the nation of Israel.
The strangest thing, though… We were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, so we returned home by another road…
There are a few things we can learn from our focus on the magi this morning… We can learn that God’s revelation comes sometimes through outsiders. In this case God was revealed to strangers from another land not the Jews. Revealed to gentiles, folks outside the realm of God’s chosen people. God revealed God’s self to strangers in a foreign land and sets them out on a journey.
What is somewhat ironic for us who hear this information today, is that these strangers are from an area of the world at odds and at war with our country today. These magi were more than likely from the area where the modern countries of Iran and Iraq exist today. So there is something else for us to think about… God’s revelation doesn’t just come through strangers in this case… but God’s revelation may come through enemies or those we may deem unworthy of God’s love.
It seems to me that the Jewish leaders, King Herod and the scribes and priests, have closed their hearts and minds off from God’s revelation. So, we in turn should learn to keep our hearts and minds open in order to fully receive and understand God’s love and how God may be working through us and among us. God’s revelation comes through in ways that sometimes defy our own religious and cultural norms: we should realize that even outsiders can be bearers of God’s revelation.
We also learn that God speaks through the non-human as well as human world. Many things reveal God’s truth: the heavens above, the deer walking in the snowy woods, the flying eagle, or our own animals – like my cat curled up next to the fireplace. The whole earth reveals God’s presence. Science as well as scripture can reveal divine truth.
God even speaks to the magi through dreams… God can speaks through the unconscious as well as conscious mind. Every aspect of our being can become a vehicle for God’s divine revelation and God’s divine grace.
Finally, we learn that the magi return home by another road. In response to God’s inspiration and revelation in a dream, the wise men take an alternative journey home. Many of us, as a new calendar year begins, are not where we thought we would be, and some of us may not think we are where we should be. We are all struggling with many different changes and challenges in our families, in the economy, our health, and our relationships. We are all traveling by different roads, different roads than we expected to be on.
However, we, like the magi, can experience divine revelation in these different, alternative, and often challenging pathways of our life.
I believe what it says on that sign, that “wise men, still seek him.” And in order to find him, we should remain open to the revelations of God’s love that exist in the world all around us…
Today is the 12th day of Christmas and tomorrow is January 6th - the Feast of the Epiphany. The wise men from the east had an Epiphany… a revelation and realization that there was a great thing happening in this ordinary world… And they understood, and they watched and they followed… In the coming season that follows today, we are called to do the same… to seek to understand, and to watch, and to follow. Because the glory of God has been revealed to us, so let us rejoice and be glad in it.