We transition in worship this week from Shepherds and Angels – the Extras – to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We approach the mystery of Christmas together, hoping that the characters we have spent time with these last 4 weeks are more familiar to our community. Our scripture for Sunday brings us to the Magi in Matthew 2.1-12. We are calling this “The Second Act.”
The story of the magi and Herod has no relation or points of contact with the Lukan birth story, with which it is impossible to harmonize. With its setting among royalty, chief priests, and wealthy foreigners, it moves in a different world from the manger and shepherds, which form the ambiance of Luke’s birth narrative. Efforts to combine the stories miss the message of both. “Magi is the transliteration of the Greek which can also be translated “wise men,” or “astrologers” or, as in the only other NT occurrence (Acts 13:6,8) “magician” or “sorcerer”. The word has nothing to do with “kings” but designates a priestly class of…experts in the occult, and the interpretation of dreams. They represent Gentiles who, though they do not have the special revelation of the Torah, come to Jerusalem following the light they have seen. Their goal is to “worship”…(NIB Vol VIII pp. 141-42)
Matthew’s gospel invites us to “look back” and realize that even at the very beginning of Jesus’ life, one can see the dividing walls between races and cultures breaking down because the “magi” follow a star to see this child who has been born. Have you ever considered the possibility that this action of the Magi is a response to God’s initiative in the lives of persons outside the believing community? Or have you always thought of the Magi as “part of us.”?
When has God’s grace gone beyond your expected boundaries and included persons who you felt did not fit into your religious community? How is it for you to think about persons coming to your faith community who may not share any of your background, history and possibly even your reverence for the story of Jesus?