Tag Archives: Wise Men

Going another Way

In the west, today is the Day of the Epiphany. An epiphany is an unexpected experience of an enlightenment, a new and deeper understanding of life. When the ‘wise men’ or Magi visited Jesus, they had an epiphany, and became even wiser. 

In the eastern churches, Christmas begins today at sunset. Happy Christmas to brothers and sisters who are about to celebrate this sacred Day!

 

Reading
Matthew 2.1–12

It might have been just someone else’s story;
Some chosen people get a special king,
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In palaces, found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice. — Malcolm Guite, ‘The Magi’ in Sounding the Seasons: Seventy sonnets for the Christian Year

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We call them ‘wise men’, but my guess is that most of us would discount their wisdom today. It was the so-called wisdom of astrology, seeing signs in the heavens, trying to predict the future from the wanderings of planets through the constellations. Yet this time, it seemed to have worked.

We call them wise men, but the name the scriptures give them is ‘magi’. Magi is like our words magic and magician. I’m going to call them magi.

The magi weren’t what we think of as magicians; they were part of a Persian priestly group whose astrological wisdom brought them mostly respect, but also some mockery. 

We know the story, how they saw a star that they interpreted to foretell the birth of a new king in Judea. So they followed this strange new star to—well, not to little Bethlehem. Not at first. When they arrived in Judaea, they went to the logical place, the place you’d expect a new king to be born. They went to the big smoke. Jerusalem. 

And in the big smoke, they saw the big man himself. Herod.

Who else would know about a new king, right?

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The mystery of God is among us (Epiphany, Year A, on 5 January 2014)

Readings
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12

Tomorrow, 6 January, is the Day of the Epiphany, which is the day we remember that once upon a time, wise men came across huge distances to worship Jesus. Epiphany is a kind of mystery story. There’s a clue: the Star of Bethlehem. There’s a dodgy villain: Herod the Great (his name even sounds dodgy, like he’s a hypnotist in a cheap nightclub). There’s no chase—but there’s a long journey from the ‘mysterious East’. And there’s mystery. There’s mystery in bucket loads.

The star is mysterious. It doesn’t behave like normal stars; it rises like a normal star but then it eventually stops—just like that!—when it gets to the place Jesus is. How does a star behave like that?

Herod tries to be mysterious, but he’s pretty transparent really. He is ‘King Herod the Great’, and no one is going to take his place. When the wise men come to ask where the recently-born ‘King of the Jews’ is, he bristles. His homicidal impulses were never far from the surface—he killed his wife Mariamne and one of his sons—and they were fully charged now. It was kill or be killed, and Herod preferred to kill.

The wise men, now they are mysterious. They come from God-alone-knows. Matthew may have pictured three, but we don’t know. They may have been astrologers or sorcerers or even priests of the Zoroastrian religion, to which the late Freddie Mercury belonged. We just don’t know. What do we know about them?—we know they weren’t members of the chosen people, they were Gentiles like most of us, and in Matthew’s story of Jesus they were the first to drop everything to find this new king.

The new king is mysterious. The story tells us that the star wasn’t specific enough to tell the wise men where the new king was, not at first. So they did what most people would do; they reported to head office. They went to the capital, to Jerusalem, to the palace, to Herod himself.

They didn’t imagine that the king would be in li’l ol’ Bethlehem. They didn’t think his parents would be ordinary folk. They had costly gifts, gold, myrrh, frankincense; this newborn king may have been better off with extra blankets for the winter, or a K-Mart gift voucher.

There are mysteries wherever you look in the Epiphany story. Not mysteries that we can solve; these are mysteries we can only wonder at.

St Paul also wondered at the central mystery of the Epiphany over fifty years after Jesus was born, even though there is no sign that he even knew about the story of the wise men. He wrote (Ephesians 3.6) that the mystery was this:

the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

In Matthew’s story of Jesus, the magi are the first Gentiles to share in the good news of Jesus—but they are far from the last.

Paul’s mission was to Gentiles, to people who hadn’t grown up in the Faith of Israel, to those who thought differently and lived very differently.

The Church is meant to be a body of diversity. There are old, young, black, white, male, female, gay, straight—and all are one in Christ.

The greatest mystery of Epiphany is that when God comes ‘down to earth’, God doesn’t come only to special people, chosen people, good people. God comes to everyone without exception. God becomes our neighbour, everyone’s neighbour.

God calls us to be keepers and heralds of this mystery: God leaves no one out, God excludes no one. We can exclude other people by our own self-righteousness, or by our fear of them; but God has come to reconcile and include people who think and live differently from one another. God’s grace is beyond our reach or our understanding.

In 2014, this congregation is called to be a place of inclusion, where no one is left out because of who they are. God welcomes all who will come and calls us to do the same—that’s the Christian mystery, that’s the wonder of God; that is our mission. Amen.

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Inclusive, welcoming and forgiving—Feast of the Epiphany, Year C (6 January, 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 60.1–6
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12 

Fifty years ago, back in 1963, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King said this:

We must face the sad fact that at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing…we stand in the most segregated hour in America.

In his gospel, Matthew tries to show us that God’s vision for his people is an inclusive one, which grows from Israel’s calling as the people of God.

It shows how the Gentiles are called to become a part of God’s chosen people. In other words, everyone—“Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3.28), black or white, left or right, gay or straight—is now an equal member of the chosen people.

Paul bears witness to this truth. He speaks of his ‘understanding of the mystery of Christ’:

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Unlike Paul, but like all the other gospel writers, Matthew speaks of this “mystery of Christ” by telling a story. We call it the story of the Three Wise Men, but I’m not convinced there were three. Or that they were all that wise, when they fall as they do for Herod’s machinations. And it’s not at all important that they were men.

Let’s call them what Matthew called them: the magi. We get our word ‘magic’ from ‘magi’. Magi were considered to be sorcerers, astrologers, interpreters of dreams, potion makers. They seem to belong more on the set of a Harry Potter movie than in the pages of the Bible. But here they are.

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