The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Year C - Christmas 2 - January 3, 2016
|#magionthemove picture shared from the Rev. Jenny Cooper Gettys|
Here we are, it’s the 10th day of Christmas and we pick up the story of the nativity of Jesus this morning with a visit from eastern strangers. The reading calls them “wise men.” Some translations call them Magi – from which we get the word Magic. They are speculated to be from as far east - as far as the orient, or from as near east as near as Persia (which is modern day Iran). We don’t exactly know how wise they were, but we do know that they knew something that the rest of the world hadn’t figured out yet. They were scholars who studied the stars in the western sky and decided to take a chance that one particular star they saw might lead them to something significant.
The Jewish world at the time was looking for and waiting for a messiah (a savior). The special “anointed one” of God that was promised by the prophets to come and heal and restore Israel…
Promise made, much like the ones we heard from Jeremiah, about a scattered and forgotten people being gathered together - the blind and lame being healed and led back to right relationship with God. Led back to a rejoicing community that will sing praises of joy and gladness because they were redeemed and delivered from the hands of their oppressors.
The people of Israel knew what they were looking for, they knew what they were praying for and they got it, but they didn’t even realize it.
What is significant to the story is that these different people com from a different land, a foreign land, and even though they were not Jews, they knew who this special child was and they came to pay their respects and worship him.
When Herod the Great heard about the strangers and what they were doing, he was terrified - afraid that his political life was over, and that he and the Herodian Kingdom would be overthrown. Afraid that somehow the Davidic Kingdom was being restored. We know that Herod didn’t want to worship Jesus. Herod wanted to kill him and selfishly protect his own power.
We can only imagine how everyone in the house felt when those eastern strangers showed up knocking on doors. Strangers asking questions, wondering where the baby was who was born to be “King of the Jews.” They finally find Jesus in a house in Bethlehem, and they knelt down and worshipped him. These strangers from a strange land. And these wise eastern strangers, these men brought with them gifts to present to the child… Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
There’s an old joke going around, we know that these were wise MEN, because if they were wise WOMEN, they would have brought more practical gifts.
However, there are some interesting things about this story that we probably need to pay some closer attention to…
The first thing is not readily noticed. Probably because the song has more lore in it than scriptural fact. It is the number of these strangers. The scripture doesn’t say how many there were. We know that there was more than one, and that in itself is significant. This wasn’t a random act of one confused traveler. This was an intentional journey. For these strangers, this journey was a pilgrimage of discovery and hope. Hope in a restored Israel with a righteous King, and hope in a renewed and restored world.
We do know that these strangers brought 3 gifts with them. Maybe that’s where they got the three from. Because it wouldn’t be hospitable to show up empty handed.
Over the years, theologians and scholars have thought that these gifts were significant to who these eastern strangers thought Jesus was.
They say that Gold is important because it was associated with Kings. Herod certainly had his share of Gold. It would be only natural for someone regarded as a king to be presented with Gold.
Frankincense is the incense used in worship. Incense that is still used in worship. Originally, we can imagine it was used to ward off the stench of the carcasses of dead animals that were sacrificed and possibly the bodily odors of others. But it’s so much more than that. Burning incense symbolizes our prayers and offerings as the smoke rises to the heavens… We know and are reminded that God is there to hear us and receive our prayers and show us grace and favor. So it would be natural to give incense to someone who was thought to be righteous and faithful.
Myrrh is a precious perfumed oil that is used to anoint a dead body. Care for the deceased is a sacred act in most every culture. Scholars speculate that the gift of Myrrh is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ tragic death.
We don’t know what the reason for the gifts, we just know what they are. We can only speculate why these eastern strangers brought them and presented them to Jesus. These eastern strangers… the magi… the wise men, who may have been wiser than we realize.
Wise enough to look for God and follow the signs that they recognized in order to find the perfect manifestation of God’s self the person of Jesus the Anointed one – the Christ.
Wise enough to seek God out amid struggles and stresses of the journey of life. They didn’t come because it was convenient. They came from far away and made a difficult long journey just to have an opportunity to kneel for a minute and worship this newborn righteous King.
Wise enough to honor God with gifts of wealth and symbols of worship and honor and respect… Representations of human livelihood and vitality.
We don’t know who these Eastern Strangers were. The scriptures leaves it very vague. Their only appearance is in the Gospel according to Matthew, and it is still somewhat a mystery.
A mystery which shows us that the reign of the living God is much bigger than just the nation of Israel…
A mystery that shows us that strangers… those that don’t look like us or act like us, sometimes know more about what’s going on than we do…
A mystery which allows us to have hope, have hope and rejoice in the possibility of a renewed and restored world.
It’s amazing how a simple story of 12 sentences can reveal to us a God who not only loves us but will make everything right that we have made wrong. It’s the part of the Christmas story that the modern church has lumped in with the Shepherds and the stable, instead of it owning its own respected place as it relates to the mystery of the incarnation.
I have a friend from seminary that is on social media. I remember her as super creative, and I loved what she has been doing recently with her posts, so I thought I would share it with you. It’s called “magi on the move.” Since Christmas, she has been posting a group of figurines representing the magi, much like the figures we have here in our crèche.
The fun part is that there isn’t just 3 of them nor are any of them the same. In one picture there has got to be 10 or 14 big and tall, short and small. And, much like the flat Jesus photos that we took over the summer, these magi figures can be seen at different places on their journey… even at a visitor’s center asking for directions… searching for the one who was to be the ruler and shepherd of God’s people. Probably much like we know that those wise men did so long ago in search of a child that they knew would deliver Israel and restore the world.
My friend and colleague was pretty wise herself. And, in this fun expressive way, came up with a method to remind us what we all seem to have forgotten.
That like those eastern strangers of old, we need to be wise again.
We have forgotten how to search for God. We need to be wise enough to keep seeking and searching for God. And then we need to let God show up in those unexpected places.
We need to wise enough let God into this dysfunctional world and let God restore it with equity, truth, and peace.
We need to be wise enough to give of our resources in order to help continue the mission of restoration, so that not only us, but future generations will benefit from knowing God’s love.
We are called to be wise ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, bringing about restoration in our own lives… but not just our own lives, we need to be about the loving work God has given us to do and help restore the lives of others.
So that the WHOLE human race will be restored and will know the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.