We talked a bit about the wisdom of the magi at our scripture study this morning – and after reflecting on the details of their story, I found myself appreciating their acumen in a whole new light.
A fair amount of mystery surrounds these dudes ‘from the east.’ St. Matthew calls them ‘magi’ – essentially, a title for someone who’s skilled at reading the stars. I grew up hearing them referred to as ‘kings’…and I was pretty confident there were three of them, although you really can’t confirm that particular detail from the gospel passage.
But in reflecting on the story this morning, what struck me is how they ended up demonstrating their wisdom in their encounter with Christ. Note that, like any accomplished professional, they relied on their skill and training to direct their steps initially.
Matthew says they saw the king’s star at its rising, and followed it to Judea. Then the magi did what reasonable people do if you’re looking for a king: They went to the palace. Imagine their disappointment when Herod told them no newborn king could be found in his vicinity. And more: Imagine their surprise when they heard they’d have to go to Bethlehem to complete their quest.
Bethlehem – nothing more than a wide spot in the road. And there, they’d find this child nestled in a feeding trough, and under the care of powerless peasants.
It must have taken an incredible act of will for the magi to set aside their preconceived notions about the newborn king of the Jews. How hard it must have been, to see the regal potential in One so helpless. Yet, Matthew assures us that they did: Upon seeing the Christ child, ‘they prostrated themselves and did him homage.’
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is much like the journey we are asked to take as we grow in faith. We spend years in training for our careers, and pour untold energy into raising our families. After all that effort, we tend to get invested in a very specific set of hopes and plans and expectations. But all too often, life asks us to set all that aside – to consider the possibility that perhaps we don’t have every answer, or that we might have to depart from our plans…and travel to our ultimate destinations ‘by another way.’
So in celebrating Epiphany this year, perhaps we would do well to take a lesson from the wise guys in the gospel story. It could be that the wisdom of the magi has less to do with how accomplished they were at reading the stars…and more with their openness to the stirrings of the Spirit in their lives.