Saturday, December 17, 2011

Journeys of Christmas 4

Fourth Sunday in Advent
            As we reach the last Sunday in Advent, you may be making final (and even frantic) plans to travel. If so, you join the biblical characters who journeyed to participate in the first Christmas.
            We’ve already considered the angel Gabriel, Mary, and Bethlehem’s shepherds.
            Today we’ll investigate the wise men, or magi, whose voyage is shrouded in mystery. We long for more details than Matthew gives us in his Gospel. Who were the magi? How many traveled to Bethlehem? Where did they come from? How long was their journey? What exactly was the star they followed?
            The magi may have been Zoroastrian priests from Persia. They may have been advisers to their government, somewhat like the Old Testament prophet Daniel, who served the rulers of Babylon and Persia. Or perhaps they came from Arabia. They could have trekked from seven hundred to over one thousand miles.
            Where history falls short, legends have grown.
            From catacomb walls to church mosaics, works of art have depicted as few as two and as many as twelve magi. Three emerged as the favored number because they presented three gifts. Over the years the magi were given names and specific nations of origin, representing Asians, white Europeans, and black Africans. By the tenth century, they had become kings.
            Where legend falls short, science steps in.
Theories abound about the identity of the star: Saturn and Jupiter appearing together…or Venus and Jupiter…or a supernova…a comet…a meteor.
            We may never know the true identity and origin of these wise men or their guiding star, but we do know their purpose and destination. These mysterious men searched for a king, a newborn king of the Jews. They came to worship him and give him treasures worthy of royalty.
            We can excuse their error of first looking for a king in a grand palace in a nation’s capital. We would have done the same. When redirected to nearby Bethlehem, a small village with less than a thousand residents, they rejoiced enthusiastically. In Bethlehem the magi found no splendor, no servants, no semblance of royalty—just a simple dwelling, a young mother, and her son. Recognizing young Jesus as king of the Jews, they bowed with their faces to the ground and worshiped him.
            What insight can we glean from the magi’s Christmas journey?
            Perhaps the very riddle of their identity and origin reminds us that it doesn’t matter who we are or where we’re from. It only matters that we kneel before Jesus. They compel us to recognize him as king. They were not deceived by the humble surroundings of the Christ child, and we must not be distracted by the extravagant trappings of modern Christmas celebrations.
            May the magi’s example guide us to seek Jesus with eagerness and determination and to worship him as lord and king. And may we approach this week as the king’s ambassadors, inviting all to become citizens of his kingdom.

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