Happy New Year Everyone!
Finding the Magi In Us
My dad has this odd tendency to drive home a different route from the way he came. When I was a kid, if we went by the post office on the way to school, we’d go by Curt’s house on the way back. On the way to the ice cream place we’d go by the Lutheran church, but on the way back we’d pass by the park instead. Mom always said that he did it so that she wouldn’t know her way around town when they first moved there, but over the years I’ve noticed that Dad’s desire to go a different way isn’t limited to roads. Dad is always looking for a different way to do things. He’s always looking for a better way to do something, a solution no one has thought of yet. He isn’t just looking to try a different road, he’s looking to go a different way.
Our story for today is about some magicians who come to see Jesus. Astrologers, horoscope writers, wise men if that’s what you want to call them, they were pagans whose study of the skies had led them to believe that something important was happening in Palestine. They wanted to be a part of this great thing they saw happening, so they hopped on their camels without much thought as to how they might find it when they got there.
Traditionally they have been known as the Three Kings, but we can be sure that kings they were not. Even the densest of kings would have the sense not to waltz into a king’s throne room and ask him where a new king would be born. Herod’s as politically calculating as they come. If the Messiah is coming, that will mean that he is out of a job. And a palace, and fine robes, and probably his life. He cannot let such a thing come to pass. But he’s sly as a fox, so he smiles sweetly and feigns interest and tells them he’s following right behind, he just needs to get his gifts together. “Let me know when you find him,” he says, “so that I can go worship him.” But Herod is planning no such thing.
Most of us think of us associate the story of the Magi with children. We think of children dressed in their father’s bathrobes with paper crowns and glitter covered boxes, adorable little kings bringing gifts for the babe. But like the story of Noah’s ark, this story is only kid-friendly on the surface. The story of the Magi reminds us that from birth the infant child had enemies. The scene at the manger, where heaven and earth rejoice in the birth of the baby king is only part of the story. Not everyone rejoices at the thought of a new king entering into the world. And as Mary’s song reminded us weeks ago, good news for the poor and humble is bad news for the rich and the powerful. So while the magi rejoice at the idea of the coming king, Herod plots a way to prevent it.
What goes on in this story is also a little bit what goes on in us. There is a part of us that welcomes the newborn king, but there is also a part of us that resists. We can do the math as well as Herod. If Jesus is Lord, then we most definitely are not. To welcome the reign of God means relinquishing our own kingdoms: our desires, our dreams, our fears, even our ideas about how the world is. And it is often far easier to hang on to those kingdoms than it is to let our worlds be rocked by the new lives we are offered in Christ. So we let the Herod in us reign. We ask forgiveness for sins knowing we will commit them again the next day. We go over the good book with a fine-tooth comb for loopholes and work-arounds. We promise obedience we never mean to give.
The Magi, on the other hand, show us a different way. If Herod is the paragon of someone who should be looking for the Messiah but is not, the Magi are the opposite. They aren’t Jews, they are foreigners. They know nothing of the struggle of the Hebrew people or the prophecies of a Messiah. They only knew that their star charts seemed to be pointing to a new king in Judea. If anything, we should learn from them that you don’t have to have the Bible memorized or the confessions mastered to find your way to the manger. Jesus tells us that if no one proclaimed God’s salvation the very stones would cry out God’s name. And so it was for the Magi, the natural world proclaimed that a savior was coming.
The revelation to the Magi reveals to us the scope of God’s work in Jesus Christ. Jesus hasn’t come just for the Judeans but for the whole world. The magi weren’t supposed to be a part of this story but here they are. Half-crazy dreamers who go on a road trip and discover that their dreams have come true. The skies pointed them to Palestine and the scholars pointed them to Bethlehem. They might have been a little naïve to think that Herod would be just as excited as they were about a new king, but isn’t that the truth of the Gospel? It is good news for everyone, even those who see it as bad.
The Magi know something huge is coming and they want to be there when it happens. The stars were a sign to them that this boy was special. And they in turn are a sign to us that this man is more than just a good man. Jesus would be a savior for the whole world. When they arrive they kneel and pay homage. What else could they do? He is a heavenly king and he is in a carpenter’s house, born of a carpenter’s wife. How could you not want to know how that turns out? They aren’t afraid that this might ruin their lives, they are excited that it might ruin their lives. They bring their gifts and offer them up because they want to be a part of this incredible thing that is happening.
We have a lot to learn from the Magi. Whether we believe it or not, the presence of Christ in our world is good news. We should look be looking for Christ, because we will not find Him holed up in our homes. We should be willing to give up the little kingdoms that we have built around ourselves to be a part of this incredible adventure that is life in Christ. Giving our treasures may mean having less to call our own but will also mean storing up treasures in a greater kingdom.
Matthew tells us that the wise men were warned in a dream to go home by another way. It tells us they took another road, so they would not pass by Herod’s palace and reveal the location of the child. But the Way was also one of the earliest phrases that people used to describe Christians. Christians were called followers of the way. I don’t know, but I can’t help thinking that after seeing the heavens bend towards this infant child, that their encounter with the risen Christ led them to go home by another Way as well.
It is my hope, that we too might seek Jesus where we find him, whether in scripture or in the stars. And that we might be brave enough to go looking for him to offer up our gifts, so that we can be a part of this great adventure. And that knowing the Good News and the bad news of the story, we might find ourselves taking that Way too.