We began the Season of Advent by looking at John the Baptist and his message of our needing to ‘get ready’ for the birth of Christ. Last week we looked at the Shepherds as they were visited by the Angels, announcing Christ’s birth, and also at the townspeople who just missed that whole event. We looked at them in order to find what they may imply in terms of our ‘getting ready…’ Today we are doing the same thing with those three enigmatic characters described as ‘Magi’ or ‘Wise men’ in today’s reading from Matthew. What are we to ‘get’ about our readiness for Christ’s coming by Matthew’s specific mentioning of these enigmatic figures with their gifts? (…he is the only one who mentions them!)
Let’s start by asking who they were? We traditionally put them into the Nativity scene alongside the shepherds but we know that’s not historically correct, because that’s putting two quite separate scriptures together (1) Luke’s description of the shepherds and (2) Matthew’s writing about some unspecified number of magi/astrologers/wise men who came from somewhere in the east as a result of their astrological observations & calculations.
We’re also told they came to visit the newborn Christ in a house – not a stable – and only with his mother, Mary, specifically mentioned as being present. And as for them being called ‘Kings’, well, some say that’s based Ps.72:11[i] which reads “May all kings fall down before him”
What we do know is that they were intellectuals, probably of a priestly order whose practice of studying the stars was seen at that time as a very serious science. They were scientists, and very serious scholars.
And as for what they were doing? I think we can all agree that they were using their very best wisdom & logic to come into a personal realization of Christ’s birth. The key, for them, was to notice and to be reacting to that anomaly in the sky – the star that they were following – and to be open to embracing whatever & wherever that was leading them to…
But how does that help US in OUR getting ready for Christ’s birth? I mean, there are so many stars in the skies of our lives, things that demand our following – aren’t there? Our children/grandchildren, careers, our responsibilities, expenses, other people’s expectations, the things we do to avoid pain or hardship, our welfare… There are so many things that scream for our attention, that it’s almost impossible to notice which points us to Christ!
What are your guiding stars, and to what are you allowing those guiding stars primarily to point you?
Matthew tells us that those Magi knew not to be thrown off course by anything of any less importance than an encounter with the One being indicated by THAT particular star, not even the wickedly self-serving King Herod and all his fawning flattery. They were single-minded in their quest.
The tragic truth is that things that we get SO attached to serving, on which we spend so much of our time, energy, LIFE are seldom what matters most, and the things that often gets the least of our attention are so often what matters most!
And so, to ask again: WHAT STAR ARE IS YOUR LIFE CURRENTLY FOLLOWING…? To what is that star pointing: …to Christ & to all of the life-giving priorities that matter most or, Like Herod, is it just to our own, grubby aggrandizement?
And we can use our best logic to decide this! As we stop to assess ourselves and our motivations in this season of Advent, the lesson of these Magi is that we shouldn’t shrink from some very serious thought and good intentional logic. They go on to give us 3 clues as to what a most meaningful Christ-priority is. We see it in their gifts: Gold / Frankincense / Myrrh…
Think for a moment what they represent for you and your ‘getting ready’.
GOLD: Those travellers were recognizing that the Christ-child, despite his extremely humble life-circumstances, was royalty. Christ later elaborated on this in his reply to Pontius Pilate who wanted to know whether he was a king – answering just before he was crucified “My kingdom is not of this world”[ii] This surely suggests that, as we assess the stars that guide us, we need to ask how valuable is what they point us towards? Do we seriously consider what we devote so much of our lives to serving as THAT worthy? Just how intentional are we about the stars that we follow? Do our guiding life-goals have ‘royalty-status’ or are we actually chasing after infinitely cheaper ends…?
FRANKINCENSE: …which takes our discernment to a whole, other level. Frankincense was a perfume used not just to recognize a king but to mark the worship of God. Do we get it that THIS IS ACTUALLY GOD’s guidance that we being called to respond to? It’s that serious. Because if what we are focusing our life energy on is somehow less than holy and eternal – ultimately, we are wasting our lives! That’s true in terms of our faith and in every possible sense of waste…
MYRRH: …a balm for anointing the dead. This reminds us of how Jesus brings life through his death and resurrection. We embrace that life also – somehow – through our small ego-deaths and True Self resurrection in Him.
Does our ever finding what we are so focused on lead to the death of our less important small selves – releasing who we ACTUALLY ARE – or do most of our discoveries and achievements simply feed our egos?
Like those travelling Magi and their train of camels, so we are on the Advent-train to Christmas. We embrace this opportunity to ready ourselves for welcoming Christ’s birth in us, for us, and for others through us, whatever that means and wherever that may lead…
People get ready…
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[ii] John 18:36