Christmas on Location: Magi

There are a lot of ways to experience the Christmas season, but perhaps the best is through the eyes of children. Youth minister Rob shared this morning some of his own good memories of Christmas, and now some of the ways his daughter is experiencing it, too. In the end, it’s all about how we respond to the season. In the biblical account of the events surrounding Christmas, there were two parties who had an equal opportunity to respond…but they responded in exactly opposite ways.

Matthew 2:1-12 record the visit of the Magi from the east. Many of us know of the “wise men” or the “three kings,” but the word “magi” is less familiar. In English it shares its root with “magic.” Elsewhere in the New Testament the same word translated “magi” here is translated “sorcerer!” Imagine that — sorcerers in the Bible!

What makes that word study relevant and frankly shocking is the revelation that the Christ child was not private business, intended only for the people already in covenant relationship with God. Rather, Christ came for the entire world, even those whom, in the view of first century Judeans, would be as far outside of God’s covenant community as possible. (There is a lot we can learn even from the motif of “east” as it’s used throughout the Old Testament and now alluded to here by Matthew.)

So the magi are the first “party” in this passage to have a chance to respond to the announcement that God has anointed a new king. And their famous response is to bring gifts, and of course, to worship the new king. And remember, they would not have known all the stories of the Jews, or the prophecies of the messiah. They were outsiders. And this is what makes the other party’s response ironic.

King Herod was actually not of Jewish descent but had been appointed king of Judea by Caesar. So not only did he not share their bloodlines, he was also in cahoots with their occupier, Rome. Moreover, Herod was paranoid and power hungry, even to the extent of putting three of his own sons to death to avoid dissent. Nevertheless, Herod represents someone with high status and power, who had license to do whatever he pleased throughout Judea. He was an insider. So much so that he got to define who the insiders and outsiders were in his region. His reaction to the newborn king is exactly the opposite of the magi, despite being an “insider.” Rather than worshiping Jesus, Herod plots to have him killed, to the dismay of many grieving parents later who lost their sons to his bloody decree.

There are many things we could make of the dichotomy between the magi’s and Herod’s responses to Jesus’ birth. Certainly one of the most obvious is to ask ourselves: “How will I respond?” Will you acknowledge Jesus’ kingship, worship him, give him your life, and trust that as your King he will preserve your life and show the way of living as you were meant to live? Or will you deny Jesus’ kingship, cling to your life, and trust only yourself to determine the life you should live?

Another challenge from this passage is for today’s “insiders,” i.e. the Church. We must consider whether or not we have the courage to let God offer Jesus to whomever God will, regardless of if they fit our paradigm for God’s people. Are there “sorcerers” in your neighborhoods, workplaces, even congregations, whom you can’t imagine God would include in the kingdom?

Finally, it is helpful to remember that God is already on the move. God invites his Church to participate in living and sharing the Gospel (“good news”) of Jesus, but God doesn’t “need” us, per se. So as the new year approaches, let us humbly respond to the ways God is already working in our midst to invite the world into a covenant relationship with Him.

For reflection:
– It is said that “power corrupts.” How does that sentiment influence your understanding of today’s story?
– Why is power such a temptation? Why is it so hard to relinquish power?
– PRAY: When you pray, consider asking God to show you your blind spots, i.e., the people whom you might otherwise not realize God loves and wants in the family of faith.
– STUDY JESUS: When you read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), take it slow and meditate on the character of Jesus. Who were his friends? Who did he scold? In what ways did Jesus’ life reflect the great reversal of expectations we see in the magi’s visit?
– GIVE: Perhaps the most powerful way to experience the Holy Spirit in our midst is to give of ourselves. Where can your pour your treasure, time, and talent in this new year?

Blessings
MM

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