Preacher: Seeker, come listen to the story of the Magi coming to the infant Jesus. This is one of the foundational stories of Epiphany. Receive it as a child would, for you are a child of the Divine. And if you are moved, speak as the Spirit leads you. And rejoice in this story!
Seeker: Preacher, I am glad to have this invitation. And I will respond as the Spirit prompts and moves within my thinking.
Preacher: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:1 – 2)
Seeker: They were seeking Jesus, the Messiah. But they did not know him as such; only what they had heard from faraway. Astronomers, maybe. Or mystics discerning the heavens and its movement. The Lord God calls many, in many different ways.
Preacher: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” (Verses 3 – 6)
Seeker: Oh, this does not bode well. Herod would not welcome any rival to his leadership and authority. I would not trust him! Surely the mystical Magi did not trust him either! I note that Herod did not have this information but relied on others to inform him. Were those chief priests and scribes leaders in the temple or synagogue, and of the same ilk that Jesus confronted in his lifetime? Oh no! This does not bode well at all!
Preacher: “Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Verses 7 – 11)
Seeker: There are many components to this section. First, Herod is disguising his true purpose. We know what his intent might be, but the wise men did not. How typical of worldly wisdom, that it knows great facts but does not know the hearts and minds of the human spirit. And the wise men entered a house? Not a stable? The writer of Matthew seems to have written a slightly different story in his account. And the gifts they brought were more suited for a king in a mighty palace, and not an infant child in lowly housing. Yet maybe this windfall helped Joseph and Mary; like a nest egg or a down payment on a better life for their child. How the Divine works things out, right Preacher? I have heard the three gifts have significance, especially myrrh. Foreshadowing to be sure. And sweet Mary took all of this in, I am sure, and pondered it in her heart.
Preacher: You are delightful, Seeker! Just the sort of responses and thoughts I was hoping for! Let us finish this story. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Verse 12)
Seeker: Yeah! The wise men got wise and outsmarted Herod! I am sure that frustrated him greatly! But I also know how he took out his frustrations. That is tragic. Often, too often, with a gain there is also loss. What a legacy to launch the infant Jesus!
Preacher: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1 – 3)
Seeker: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.” (Psalm 72:1 – 3)
Preacher: “Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. (Isaiah 60:4)
Seeker: “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. (Isaiah 60:5)
Preacher: The writer of Isaiah seems to have foreseen the honor that would come to the infant Jesus.
Seeker: That seems to be true. However, as you well know Preacher, honor of the highest order would have been given whoever the Divine sent. On the other hand, the writer of Isaiah does seem to have seen to the future. “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:6)
Preacher: You are also correct, Seeker, on both counts. The Messiah that the Jews of Jesus’ time expected was, and was not, foretold. “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.(Psalm 72: 4 – 7)
Seeker: Epiphany is the revelation that within Jesus Christ was the imprint of the Divine, more exact in him than in anyone before or since. I know, Preacher, that is understating the case. In actuality and reality Jesus was the Divine. The praise that the writer of Isaiah and the Psalms gives great praise to the revealed Jesus. While I hesitate to say it, I think it is not enough praise.
Preacher: “May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.” (Psalm 72: 10 11)
Seeker: That is the Magi. An accurate foretelling yes, but could also be seen as kings from afar coming to the court of the new king to curry favor.
Preacher: You give pointed critique to the psalmist. I think you have learned that from me. The psalmist was right in the next verses though. “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72: 11 – 14)
Seeker: Yes, the psalmist has seen into the heart of Jesus. Or, assumes that a King and Lord who will be appointed by the Divine will have higher standards than any other king. He was right in that. And we are right to use such passages for this time of Epiphany. But let us not forget that any human praise will fall short of completely describing the Divine.
Preacher: Because we are only human and limited in our understanding of the Lord God who is unlimited. And yet the Divine came to us in a form that would fit into our limited understanding, and then gave opportunity for our understanding to grow. You yourself are proof of this Seeker. Your understanding has grown. With the words of the writers of the Bible we can expand our praise, adoration, and worship, and in that way bring us ever closer to the Divine.
Seeker: Shalom & Selah, Preacher. Shalom & Selah!