Magi are star readers, folks believed to have special powers to manipulate the fate that the stars foretell, and were highly valued in ancient times as prophets and advisors to rulers and counsels.
Of course, the so-called birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are add-ons to the basic Gospel narrative of Mark, the earliest. The narratives are intended to emphasize the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, his exalted lineage, his humble beginnings and the astonished worshipful response of all who were privy to the event. In other words, they are fiction, and as such, have symbolic meaning and intent.
Why a manger, and a stable? Because it’s the lowliest place. And the shepherds in Luke’s version are among the lowliest possible receivers of the good news of peace on earth, goodwill towards all.
So, then, the Magi, the Wise Men, known in Luke’s version as the Three Kings, represent a very high order of society. So the Magi are high-end visitors to Bethlehem. What else can we say about them? They are pagans. They travel a long distance. They bring valuable gifts to Jesus. And they do not obey Herod in the end, although he has commissioned their journey. They are warned by a dream that fulfilling their mission would be undesirable, and presumably dangerous to the new baby and his family. So they have some kind of conversion experience, and return home in secret. Ultimately, they are mysterious strangers from, and in, and strange world. I come from and live in a sacramental tradition, one that values mystery, rather than being repelled or alarmed by it. The sacraments are infused with mystery. The Eucharist? Baptism? What’s clear and final about these rites? If you know, you’re way ahead of me.
And so, I admire these Magi. They are adventuresome and persistent; they travel a long distance to find something foreign. The Gospel tells us, when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy, and while perhaps they sensed something miraculous, they may also have been very weary after a long, arduous and probably dangerous journey.
They are both open-minded and reverent. They recognize the unlikely holiness of a Jewish baby in the humblest of circumstances, and they bow down to worship him. They value, I infer, compassion over obedience. We know from beyond this Gospel segment that Herod planned to, and did, kill many infants in a futile attempt to eliminate the prophesied Messiah. Presumably, that was what the Magi learned in their dream, and that was why they did not return to Herod and inform him of Jesus’ whereabouts.
Above all, they dwell in the realm of mystery. They have mysterious powers to begin with, they set off on a mysterious journey and they encounter the most mysterious birth ever known.
And that is the life we enter into as followers of Jesus. A life of mystery. A life of wonder. A life, at times, of overwhelming joy.
--The Rev. Anne Carroll Fowler
Republished with permsission from her blog: http://annecarrollfowler.vpweb.com/apps/blog
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