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Reflection on Following

A sermon on Matthew 2:1-12. For an audio recording, click here. Photo by Miguel Will on Unsplash.

Can you imagine disrupting your entire life to travel to a foreign country in search of a child whose name and family you don’t even know (other than a general impression of royalty), all because you saw a new star in the sky?

I’m guessing the answer is “no.”

Of course, none of us are Persian court astrologers, meaning such behavior would be wildly unconventional, but what if I updated the context?

Can you imagine seeing a news report from your most trusted media outlet about the birth of child who would be important to world events, and putting your life on hold for an unspecified period of time in order to travel and meet that child? 

I’m guess the answer is still “no.”

To be clear, I don’t think there’s any shame in that answer. It’s my answer too.

Even in the ancient context where there were such people as court astrologers who looked to the heavens for signs to help them interpret the events of their time… I don’t really get the reason for the journey of the Magi.

I mean, beyond bringing gifts with symbolic significance (frankincense for priesthood; myrrh for healing; and gold for kingship) they don’t actually accomplish anything important to the story of Jesus.

Or rather, their impact is negative, because they clue King Herod into the birth of a potential rival, which spurs him to order a truly horrific mass murder of infants and toddlers in an effort to eliminate Jesus.

So, it makes me wonder. Couldn’t God have signaled the specialness of Jesus some other way? There were already those hosts of angels that the shepherds witnessed singing God’s praise and promise. Wasn’t that enough?

From the perspective of the story as a whole, the magi just seem like a bit of an extravagant cameo – blinking in and out over the course of one scene, never to be heard from again.

And yet, their story initiates one of the longest seasons of the church year: Epiphany.

The season of light, of realization, or revelation.

And I find something encouraging in that.

In the fact that a group of unnamed foreigners…

who were not born in the right context to have any clear understanding about the workings of the God whose story the Bible tells…

who set off on a journey without a concrete destination and had to ask directions on the way…

who, in doing so, actually set in motion a horrible act of violence…

and whose only achievement in the end was to offer some (mostly impractical) gifts and adoration before heading home…

I find it deeply encouraging that such a group could still be associated with revelation.

Thousands of years later, they are known as “wise” – despite all the limits of their understanding – because they chose to follow the guidance available to them… even when it did not tell them everything they might have wanted to know.

So, as our congregation ends this church year on a discernment journey to an unknown destination, and as many members of our community are dealing with a variety of challenges and unknowns…

I am grateful for this story of a wisdom that looks like a simple willingness to follow a path that is only partially illuminated…

And for the reminder that revelation doesn’t have to mean having all the answers. It just means knowing that our goal is to glorify Jesus.

Thanks be to God.


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