Is 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-7, 10-14; Eph 3:1-12; MT 2:1-12
Lead us to your presence, O God, where we may see your glory face to face.
“Those magic men, the Magi,
Some people call them wise
Or Oriental, even kings
Well anyway, those guys
They visited with Jesus
They sure enjoyed their stay
Then, warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
They went home by another way” Timothy Mayer and James Taylor’s freely adapted today’s Gospel here, while we also hear, “Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
Both help begin this new season of Epiphany. We hear again the story of the Magi, whoever they were, and whyever they had set out to follow the star, and their journey towards light. They arrived at the place where Jesus, a tiny baby was, and saw in him, in that child, the wonder of G*d made manifest. For the next five Sundays we’ll hear stories in the life of Jesus in which someone, some group of people, saw, understood, were persuaded, were enlightened that in the life of this one particular person, that G*d was there, a living, breathing person, a real presence in their lives. Their lives were forever changed with that new realization, and they wanted to spread that word and keep on telling generations that joyful news. We understand this is the Babe was, so we annually anchor ourselves in the new year, starting from Epiphany, this time of the making manifest of G*d’s glory in the world.
There are, however, many, many questions one might ask about today’s Gospel, most of them unanswerable. Who were the Magi? Where exactly did they come from? Why were they looking for a star? Why did they follow that star? How did they follow that or any star? What did they see? How did they know they’d reached their destination? Did the star really stop right over the place where Jesus lay? How did they recognize in that baby, with his parents, that they were in the presence of G*d? What did the “glory of the Lord shining ‘round them” look like? Are those the questions? More? Are there satisfactory answers for any of them? If there were solid answers would they elucidate the story any better than the various poems and narratives that attempt to convey the experience of recognizing that something was new, different, special, real, astonishing, believable, and could and did transform those individuals and subsequent peoples to think and know that G*d was alive and living in the world? I doubt it. Would it really be helpful to know that some Seers traveled X many miles, or was it Y many kilometers, or Z many parsangs right to the place where Jesus lay? I’d bet people would quibble about how many exactly, and which route did they take, and on and on, rather than “They visited with Jesus, they sure enjoyed the stay.” That’s the point. How did they know? What did they know?
This week I had lunch with a friend. She grew up in a church-going family, and on holidays with them whether in Minnesota, Philadelphia, or Florida, she’s apt to go to church with her brothers and families. She doesn’t particularly go when she’s at home. She doesn’t mind going, but she’s unclear why she goes or not. She’s reaching towards something, but she doesn’t know what. She, like the rest of us, wants what she’s reaching for, not to be a projection of her wants and needs—at least not an obvious one. She said that she was made uneasy whenever people say to her, “I’ll pray for you.” What do they mean, and why should their prayers alter what’s happening to her or not. Why should their prayers for her change the will or mind of G*d?
Starting with that question first, if we take this understanding of prayer, that it is a response to G*d, not the initiating call, then G*d is already in the conversation, on the job. If we begin with G*d created us—whoever you include in “us,” maybe all creatures, living things, and the created world—and G*d loves the whole creation and holds it all as good, and wants what’s good and best for all of it, then any prayer for someone or some situation is a highlighting of it. If someone is ill, and I pray for them, I am joining in G*d’s attentiveness to that situation—or hope or work for it— on the side of the good, or something like that.
The Magi, or whoever they were, Caspar, Melchior, or Balthazar—why not—were reaching towards something outside themselves. How does any of us explain why or how we head out of our own finitude towards something bigger, better, more good, more aligned with the creator and the creation than just our own selves? Why not towards “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect sight.” Why not “star of light,” or for that matter, why “westward,” because it’s John Henry Hopkins Jr.’s poem—that’s at least an easy answer. Think of the array of star lines of poetry about this event. We’ll sing many of them in these next weeks. Some of us will hear them as historical descriptions and accounts of this journey to the Christ child, while others will hear them as the closest we can get to a way people approach and live with the mystery of the Incarnation and/or the mystery of accepting belief.
Helena muses to herself about the Magi, in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, “Like me… you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars.
“How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!”
Norma Farber, Kathryn Piccard reminds me, also described the scene with other latecomers. “”The Queens came late, but the Queens were there/With gifts in their hands and crowns in their hair./ They’d come, these three, like the Kings, from far, /Following, yes, that guiding star./ They’d left their ladies, linens, looms,/ Their children playing in nursery rooms,/And told their sitters,/ ‘Take charge! For this/ is a marvelous sight we must not miss!’/ The Queens came late, but not too late /To see the animals small and great,/ Feathered and furred, domestic and wild,/Gathered to gaze at a mother and child./ And rather than frankincense and myrrh/ And gold for the babe, they brought for her/Who held him a homespun gown of blue,/ And chicken soup—with noodles, too—/ And a lingering, lasting, cradle-song./ The Queens came late and stayed not long,/ For their thoughts already were straining far-/ Past manger and mother and guiding star/ And a child aglow as a morning sun-/Toward home and children and chores undone.”
Back to Waugh’s Helena addressing the late-arriving Magi, “Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family, than the ox or the ass.
“You are my especial patrons,” said Helena, and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.”
It’s no wonder those Magic Men, the Magi, Helena, the Queens, my lunching friend, and the rest of us, all fixate on a star, a star of wonder, whenever we can glimpse one, up and ahead. As this week’s fine meditation put it, “All these thousands of years later, even in the form of all this cheap plastic and LED spectacle, I find profound hope knowing that humans have not lost their instinct for following the light. The wise men found the Christ by no magic or special knowledge other that this: the entirely primitive, entirely human fascination with lights in the sky. We share this instinct with almost every other living creature on earth, including plants and algae. We find God by doing what life does: looking for the light, and growing toward it. And behold, in awe, along with the Magi, the source of all light, shining in the darkness is here. Arise shine for your light has come.” When, and as, we follow the stars, and catch glimpse of the Child, we are forever changed, marked as Christ’s own forever. We are different and so home is different. Then “It’s best to be home by another way/Home by another way/We got this far by a lucky star/But tomorrow is another day/We can make it another way/Safe home as they used to say/Keep a weather eye to the chart on high/And go home by another way.” Good News. AMEN.
© Katharine C Black C Epiphany 6 January 2013
C EPIPHANY DATES 2013
In the year of our Savior Jesus Christ, the year 2013 today is Epiphany and Easter is March 31.
If Easter is March 31, then Ash Wednesday is February 13.
If Easter is March 31, then Good Friday is March 29th.
If Easter is March 31, then Pentecost is May 19.
In this year 2013, Easter is March 31 and the 1st Sunday of Advent is December 1st.
In this year 2013, our Annual Meeting is on Sunday January 27 and the Super Bowl is on February 3.
In this year of 2013, Truck Day is Tuesday February 5, the Season opener is on Easter Day, March 31 and
Our Home Opener is April 8, alleluia and we’re through winter
In this year of 2013, Easter is March 31st,
Memorial Day is May 27, Labor Day is September 2nd, and Thanksgiving Day is November 28
In this year of 2013 Easter is on March 31, Ash Wednesday is February 13 and Pentecost is May 19.