Tag Archives: Magi

Keeping Watch with the Magi

Third Sunday of Advent 2012

by Marjorie George

 

star xmasBy now, the Magi are likely on their journey.  Coming from the “East,” Matthew tells us, they are following a star. It is a journey of at least several months, and they know only that they are looking for a king – the “king of the Jews” they say.

In actuality, we know very little about the Magi – the Three Wise Men, as we have come to call them. We do not even know for certain that they were three in number; that assumption is based on Matthew’s story that the Magi presented three gifts to the Christ child – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They probably did not arrive at the manger scene when Christ was born, for Matthew says they “entered the house” where Jesus and his mother were.  Perhaps Jesus was as old as two.

Of the gospel writers, only Matthew even mentions the Magi, telling the entire story in the opening 12 verses of chapter two of his gospel. Historians tell us the Magi were probably from Persia (modern-day Iran) and were part scientist, part priest, part astronomer/astrologer. That would not have seemed strange at the time. They were interpreters of dreams and may have been responsible for crowning new rulers who came to power.

Their journey, if they had followed the main trade route of the era, would have taken them along the Euphrates River through what is now Iraq, crossing over the harsh and desolate Syrian desert, and passing through the lush Jordan Valley before arriving at the gates of Jerusalem. They would have gone through small towns and large cities where they didn’t speak the local language. They would have found themselves to be foreigners, and they might have been met with hostility as likely as with hospitality.

They had set out not really knowing for whom they were searching, where they were going, what they would find, or how long it would take.  But they had seen a star, and they couldn’t not follow it. 

The question for us is – What is the star that each of us follows? What is the dream we have been given? What’s the voice that beckons us forward to something unexplainable that we know in our heart of hearts is the path to which we are called? For what are we willing to set out on a journey we know not where it leads? For that is the journey of the soul in search of God.

Thomas Merton’s famous poem begins, “Mr Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot be certain where it will end . . .” (click here for the entire poem). The spiritual journey, someone has said, is like driving at night.   You can only see as far as the headlamps, but you can make the entire trip that way.

Our journey may take us to places we would rather not go where the people around us no longer understand what we are saying nor we them. There may be mountains and valleys and harsh, dry deserts along the way. The journey may take so much longer than we had planned for it to be.

What would be worth such a journey? If it is anything less than to see the person of Christ himself, we might ask ourselves if this is the path we really want to be on.

Whatever their reason for seeking the one to whom the star beckoned them – and it might have been political or diplomatic, not at all religious or spiritual – when the star stopped, the Magi were overjoyed. Then they entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, and “they knelt down and paid him homage” and gave to him from their treasure chests. When they returned home, they took another way than that by which they had arrived.  For their lives had been changed. They had met the Christ; the culmination of the journey had far surpassed anything that even these wise and holy men could have imagined.

As we approach the manger of the Christ child, now in a little more than a week, may we also be watchful for the star that God has set over us and which he beckons us to follow. May we have strength and courage for the journey and make it in the sure and certain knowledge that the One who leads us will bring us to himself; and that is all the journey we ever need to make.

 

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

 

Coming Home Another Way

Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2012

By Marjorie George

Here come the three wise men — third or fourth graders, usually — in the annual church Epiphany pageant, adorned in majestic robes that are a tad musty from being stored in a box in the Christian ed closet  for the past year. Often, a band of angels, four-year olds who stumble over their too-long white tunics cut from bed sheets, accompanies them down the church aisle, along with some shepherds clad in flannel bathrobes and roped-cinched kitchen towels for headgear. They make their way toward the altar/manger where a baby doll rests in a wooden trough, being gazed upon by his beaming teenage parents. No matter that angels and shepherds do not appear in the biblical telling of the visit of the Magi to the Christ child; the story of the revelation of Christ to the gentile Magi is the story of the revelation of Christ to all mankind (See Matthew 2:1-12). Everything else is just details.

Cameras flash, grandmas lean forward in their pews, and every mother’s child is the cutest one in the Epiphany pageant. It’s a sweet memory for parents, a lesson about gifts for Baby Jesus for the kids.

Of course it’s pretty far from the facts of the actual visit of the Magi two thousand years ago. T.S. Eliot, in his memorable poem “The Journey of the Magi,” is more realistic in describing that trek:
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”

Certainly, for the Jewish people at the time of Christ’s birth, the times were anything but sweet and pretty. They lived in an occupied land with few freedoms, their religion tolerated only to keep the peace. The ruler, Herod, dealt ruthlessly with real or suspected opponents (he had three of his sons and his wife Mariamne murdered), and when he learned from the Magi of the birth of Jesus, he slaughtered every Jewish child in the land under the age of two to prevent any threat to his throne.

But however we arrive at the Feast of the Epiphany, there is a piece of the telling that we cannot overlook. Do you remember what the Magi did after they paid homage to the child and recognized him for who he was? “They went home by another road” (Matthew 2:12).

Matthew, the only gospel writer to record the Magi’s visit, has it that they took an alternate route so as to protect the child from Herod, having been warned by God in a dream. But perhaps there is something else at work here. For it is my experience that whenever someone encounters the Christ and recognizes him for who he truly is, there is a call to go home by a different road. To encounter Christ is to be changed; it is to take up the challenge to live our lives in new ways.

And it is not always the easy road. The old road we know – we are familiar with the potholes, we know the speed bumps, we can navigate our way home with comfort and certainty. But that is not the way of the untraveled road or the untraveled life. A new road, an alternate route, presents us with unknown challenges. What kinds of demons may lurk behind roadside bushes? How many side roads might we be enticed to follow that ultimately lead to dead ends? Where are the turns, when will the pavement become a dirt road?

Then again, perhaps this new road will lead to horizons we have never before seen, take us to places we never knew existed, provide us with companions along the way we had never before known.

Matthew does not record if the Magi made it home safely. T. S. Eliot imagines that they did, but not unchanged.
“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation”

Eliot’s Magi experience their Christ-encounter as both a birth and a death. And it always is. God-in-Christ becomes real for us – whether we meet Him in a sweet manger or in the midst of a harsh winter – when we see him for ourselves. It is not sufficient to send a messenger and wait for the news to arrive; we ourselves must mount up and persist in seeking him. We must see him manifest in our very lives, bring him the gift of ourselves, shed ourselves of outworn ways, and accept the revelation he shows to us.

We would be fortunate if God would warn us in dreams when the old road has become more deadly than a new route is life-giving. And perhaps he does, if we will only see the signs.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org, or leave a comment below.