They were different-strangers, foreigners, outsiders. With odd ways and weird customs and after travel may have in fact appeared anything but majestic. Why on earth would God give them a special message or purpose?
No one reading or hearing Matthew’s gospel or living in the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry would expect these things. And maybe that’s a word for us this day too.
Here’s the thing-when we look at what we actually find in the gospel this year I was struck by something that is almost anti-climactic. There in a book I have looked at more times than I can recall by a man who is a scholar on the Gospel of Matthew, there in this story I have heard even more times than that, there is this …
“The magi observed what anyone could have observed.” (Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins )
This is not some angel throng in the sky, or some vision. It’s a star in the sky, brighter than before. That anyone could observe. Anyone could.
But seemingly, no one else does.
They observe it and respond to the light.
They don’t form committees to study it, or teach high minded theories about it. They don't even know it's totality. They do one thing. They look into this star that is a mystery. Anyone could have.
BUT… they are motivated enough to come, to give themselves over to the journey. A people no one would connect to God’s Son, connects.
In their culture such a star means something. They are not using insider information, for they are as “outside” as it gets. This star shines not in the center of power, where they first went. It shines in the almost unnoticeable.
Somehow by God's uncommon power in the common world they begin to recognize that this star announces someone new.
And so they come. And then God's revealing leads them to discern that they should worship this One. They not only have given their time and energy to this journey. They give things they have brought for this One upon whom the light shines. The gifts they offer though exotic to us were more common than we think. The spices were common to them. And frankly so was the gold. They didn’t bring jewels and treasures uncommon. They gave what they had.
When they left, I imagine eyes gleaming and they surely knew more, but still not everything. So much was yet to be revealed. We don’t know much after that except a couple things.
They were told by the powers that be to come back and give a full account. And when you get that kind of directive from a real king and military ruler, you’d think you ought to follow the expectations.
BUT… though they could have done what most would do, before returning to business as usual, they were different. Different now.
After they encountered this One, and this light. They gave themselves over to something new- they could have bowed to wishes of one they would have been worldly wise enough to know was not rejoicing at a new king. Anyone could have.
BUT…they rejoiced and they traveled differently instead.
Encountering the light and the One of whom the star foretold they carried something of that encounter and walked differently.
It almost sounds easy, this walking.
Sisters and brothers, still today the light comes. Shining in our world. Still today God enters in ways we can observe. In people and places and events anyone could see, calling us to notice.
But…perhaps by looking for the grand, we overlook the simple yet powerful witness -That the Christ has come-The light shines. To lead us to give ourselves over to the new and joyful possible before us. Leading us to walk differently and shine as ones who have been touched by this light. Because in Christ we can.
I close with words of Walter Brueggeman written for this day:
We are still the people walking.
We are still people in the dark,
and the darkness looms large around us,
beset as we are by fear,
a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.
We are — we could be — people of your light.
So we pray for the light of your glorious presence
as we wait for your appearing;
we pray for the light of your wondrous grace
as we exhaust our coping capacity;
we pray for your gift of newness that
will override our weariness;
we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust
in your good rule.
That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact
your rule through the demands of this day.
We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope. AMEN