A reflection on the visit of Magi and other unorthodox strangers
THE LAST TO ARRIVE? It is likely that in most of our households the nativity crèche and figurines of the first Christmas story are by now stored away. But in some ancient Christian traditions, today is the day that the figures of three wise men, or Magi, are finally placed at the nativity scene. Their arrival, told in Matthew 2:1-12, completes the entourage of people who are drawn to the Christ child. In the fullness of Christmastide and in the light of the star, the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete.
FROM BEYOND THE REALM. The arrival of these mystery people from some distant place signals something new that has forever broadened, opened, and heightened the trajectory of grace. The trajectory of grace now emphatically includes Gentiles—all those not heretofore considered a part of the story of salvation. The advent of the Messiah, spoken of in Old Testament prophecies (like Isaiah 60) and in the Magi being led by a star to Bethlehem, signals that something long hoped-for and anticipated has come to be: the promise of grace and the way of grace is open and inclusive. From this day forward "whosoever will" may come.
UNLIKELY PEOPLE, UNUSUAL MEANS. Epiphany celebrates that God’s light draws unlikely people to grace by circuitous means. Perhaps now more often than not, people may see light and respond to grace from odd places and by unorthodox means. Praise God for people who have been reared within orthodoxy, who have for generations been brought near to Biblical faith, who are faithful to the means of grace as they have been taught. Praise God, also, for the fact that grace is just as likely to shine its light in unlikely places, on unlikely people, and bring them by unlikely paths to the foot of the Cross. Epiphany celebrates such "appearings," such small and great invasions and in-breakings of grace as part and parcel of the Kingdom.
WELCOME OR THREAT? Epiphany also celebrates the fact that the child is, in fact, born King of kings. This is signaled not only in the Old Testament (like Psalm 72), but in the declaration of the Magi and in the gift of gold they present. The prospect that a child has been born "king of the Jews" sends Herod’s regime into a search and seizure mode. The announcement that a new King is on the scene is simultaneously welcoming and threatening. For those living off the spoils of the present reign, who have invested in and count on the continuance of present power arrangements, the news of a new king is unsettling, threatening, undermining. For those who long for justice, for mercy, for inclusion, for place, for peace, for dignity, for a tomorrow, for equitable economy, for fairness, for a second chance, or for just a chance, the news of a new King is Good News, indeed.
IT WON'T BE COMPLETE WITHOUT YOU. I wrote earlier that the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete. Nearly. It is as nearly complete as our own trek and arrival. Have you made the journey in your heart? Place yourself among the unlikely figures who hear the Good News or who have been drawn by some light. You are no less out of place than anyone else. I am no more worthy of being there than the next person. But have we been drawn? If so, then let us do the only thing one can do in the presence of divinity, in the presence of unparalleled royalty—let us be silent, let us be grateful, let us bow in reverence, let us prepare ourselves to be forever changed. Let us be amazed at grace. And let us turn it inside out in a lifetime of bearing grace to all who are drawn to His light.
A BENEDICTION. May your journey ever lead you to the wonder of the God’s gracious gifts. May God’s light ever draw you, guide you, comfort you, challenge you, send you. May grace guide you from morning to evening, day by day, until, at last, either His Kingdom has come or you have come into His Kingdom. Amen.