After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.” – Matthew 2:1-2 (CEB)
It seems appropriate that the magi followed a light to find the Light. Scholars argue whether it was actually a star, a comet, or some other heavenly light, but I think that misses the point. After all, we regular people call everything in the night sky a star (well, except for the moon). The reality is the magi saw something unusual and acted on it.
The magi were dedicated in their mission. They watched and followed for two to three years until they finally found their way to Jerusalem. During this time, I wonder what they expected to find when they found where the star led. Were the magi surprised when they met with Herod and found out no one else seemed to have noticed this star that had dominated their lives?
Was the star, the light, a purpose in itself, or simply a stopping point in some greater destination?
Or was it a sign pointing to something greater?
When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:10-11 (CEB)
Contrary to every sermon you’ll probably hear tomorrow, Epiphany Sunday, I’m not convinced the wise men got it. I preached this last Epiphany exhorting the church to follow the example of the shepherds rather than the magi. I still think the shepherds are the better example.
However, the magi may be a more realistic model.
You may think I have a problem with magi, after I have exiled them from my nativity. It’s true, I confess, that I have struggled with them being there these last five weeks, but I think that discomfort is good for me. I don’t choose my brothers and sisters in Christ but I am commanded to welcome them as Christ welcomed me and to love them as Jesus loves me.
These magi who seem to settle for momentary joy and then go on with their regular, daily life are not unlike most western Christians. We hear that we just need to pray a prayer to ask Jesus into our heart, and we’re in. But we know there’s more to a life of discipleship than that.
These magi experience the awesome presence of the Living God who took on flesh, but did they believe it? Have we not encountered these same ones who we tell them about Jesus but they cannot accept it? We may wonder what we did wrong or what we should have said. But maybe it just wasn’t their time.
The magi in my nativity remind me that not everyone comes to find Jesus the same way or at the same time. I am reminded that there may be members of the Body (including whole denominations) that I’d prefer not be here with me. I am reminded of the importance to be in community and to walk with new believers as they learn how to wear the mantle of discipleship. I am reminded that the Gospel I share may not seem to take hold of someone today or even in the foreseeable future.
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. – John 1:6:8 (CEB)
But all of this reminds me that God has a redemption plan of salvation for the world, and I see but a glimpse of it. For me, the magi are the promise that God’s redemptive work is taking place before and after my brief time with them. The magi remind me that I, we, the Church are not the Light. We are only a star shining and pointing to the Light. As the magi go home by another route, my prayer for them is that God continues to work in their lives until they know the fullness of joy and peace that Christ brings. My prayer for myself is that I would remember to be a light pointing to the true Light.
In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16 (CEB)
May your Epiphany this year continue to illuminate your light so that others may find the Light of the world.