Based on Matthew 2:1-12 January 4th 2015
The stories around Jesus’ birth were not told to give a biography of what happened – they were told to express the importance of what God was doing, through the birth, life and death, of a middle-eastern man likely called Joshua-bar-Joseph to his Jewish friends, or `Jesus’ in Greek, the one we also call the `Christ’ which means the Anointed One.
On Christmas Eve we heard Luke’s account of Jesus birth. Luke sets the scene of land under Roman occupation – where people’s lives were at the whim of a foreign Emperor, and where the poorest, the most common of peoples, shepherds, were given a heavenly invitation to see God bringing hope into the world through a baby born in an animal shelter.
By the time Matthew writes his gospel, somewhat later than Luke, he makes no mention of shepherds visiting on the night of Jesus birth, but he writes of Magi, traveling from somewhere in the east, where they saw a particular star. They arrived perhaps two years after the birth we celebrated on Christmas Eve. The Magi were not Jews. Matthew’s gospel proclaims that Gentiles will see something beautiful, holy and hopeful in the `new King.’ Matthew leans back on the opening words of Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Holy One will rise upon you, and god’s glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
Thus we get the song `We Three Kings’ which we sang this morning. The NRSV calls them Magi, the Message calls them scholars – whomever they were, the intent is to say these were people of importance, on a search for deeper knowledge, and they are drawn to the light present in the Christ child.
I like the familiarity of reading this passage from the older version, because I get to say things like “and lo, the star which they had seen in the East, went before them…”
I have read this passage all my life, but heard something new in it, reading from the translation `The Message’, a more contemporary version recently. Listen to Matthew 2:2 from The Message, where the Magi/scholars ask: “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.” Pilgrimage.
I hadn’t thought of the magi as on pilgrimage before! But of course they were – as I have been and will hopefully be again…
Last June I went on a pilgrimage along with Jim, Miriam, my Mom and forty others to learn about the melding of Celtic and Christian spirituality in Ireland, and later this month I will be sharing my Pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine with the congregation of Cordova Bay United Church, when I go to the Epiphany Explorations conference in Victoria.
Hear what Lynne and Gerald, our Pilgrimage leaders, have to say about the act of pilgrimage. “Travel is a metaphor for our being. Since time immemorial, people have journeyed to places that have special associations with the Sacred in order to explore, deepen, re-kindle their own faith. Often such pilgrims traveled in company. Together they sang, prayed and celebrated the events of the journey, as well as the joys of arrival at way stations, and the sense of accomplishment at journey’s end. Pilgrims were not people of special holiness; they were ordinary folk for the most part, looking to enrich their own journey through life and finding a new experience of the Holy in the course of their pilgrimage.”
Note the gospel doesn’t say that the Magi converted to Christianity or Judaism because of their journey, but it does imply that they found “a new experience of the Holy in the course of their pilgrimage.”
For me, at least, the idea of the Magi being on pilgrimage, just gives a richer meaning to the story than I had experienced before. Perhaps a more familiar aspect of the story, especially as it relates to our current Christmas practice, is the aspect of gift-giving. We see the gifts that the magi, or wise ones, gave to Jesus, as an acknowledgement of love and devotion, and we continue that practice with our loved ones today.
Joyce Rupp, one of my favourite spiritual writers has written a meditation called The Gift, and I would like to share it with you now – may it be a gift to you in this New Year…
The Gift: Out of the Ordinary by Joyce Rupp.
A summary: This is a guided meditation on seeing yourself as one of the wise Ones offering your gift – qualities of yourself that you most enjoy and appreciate…
See the gift received with love, joy, and delight…
You receive a gift, with a note-card from Jesus to you… receive the gift and ponder it’s significance for your life… Write your thought and feelings from this meditation…