S. Epiphany (Observed).20 “Journey of the Magi” Matt. 2:13-23
I love ‘em—the Magi. They are my guys, because: of all the disciples of Christ in all the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments they are the ones I identify with the most, the ones I’d most like to be like. I know I’m not alone in this. T.S. Eliot, Lancelot Andrewes, Helena (Emperor Constantine’s mother), lots of Christians of different times and places have identified with them too. They are not the born and raised children of Israel, God’s insiders we expect to be at His right hand. They are the outsiders, the travelers, the ones that shouldn’t have speaking parts in the Christmas Pageant, and yet there they are! worshiping Christ at His birth. A little mystery and magic to them as well, a little “sparkle” the other characters in the Story sometimes lack.
They are “magi” too, BTW; literally “magicians” because they could do actual magic! That’s what the word meant in the bible and ancient world. Pharaoh had magi, and we see in Exodus they could do actual magic—think Jedi (but real!) and advanced in other ways (the Jedi couldn’t turn staffs into snakes, water into blood, or conjure magical frogs like the bible says the biblical magi could and did!). Yes, they are certainly wise men—you have to be wise a) to do magic; b) to recognize that “star” was the star of Christ and c) above all, to know you need to drop everything else you’re doing and make a long arduous journey of months, years, cosmic distances, in order to see and worship Christ the king.
It’s the last part, c) that is most important—knowing a journey of faith is required to find what is most necessary in this life. But since the magician thing seems cooler than the wisdom thing, I am annoyed the KJV, ESV, all modern English translations don’t literally translate the Greek μαγοι as “magicians” because that’s what the word says and means! I think there’s something important in realizing they were magicians—literally actual magical beings(!); something like this…
Most muggles think if only we could do real magic, our lives would have that sparkle or zest that they currently lack. This is why Harry Potter, “The Magicians”, “Narnia”, “Lord of the Rings” books, movies, TV shows are popular. But it turns out that even being a magician is not enough to fill the holes in our hearts and lives that we all struggle to mend or patch or deny. Rowling, Grossman, Lewis, and Tolkien all try to tell you this. But many people do not get that message (probably they only watch the movies, never read the books) and fail to see that magic is fun and all, but… it leaves you just as unhappy as non-magical people, in the end.
This is the first lesson the Magi have to teach us, because unlike those books named above, these Magi were real magicians not fictional characters. And if they dropped everything for a dangerous journey of months, years—cosmic distances—in order to see and worship an 8 pound 6 ounce baby King (cuter than Baby Yoda, yes! but still: the cuteness was not the real draw) then their journey shows us that even being magicians won’t bring the sparkle, the zest, our current lives lack…(!)
Plus, magic can be unreliable even for real magicians (maybe especially for real magicians!). Their magic, their wisdom, their secret arts only take them so far. I don’t know how exactly they lost track of the “star” (the Greek can mean any celestial object, and this one, the Magi recognized was no ordinary astral object!). I don’t know if it was operator error, or cloudy weather, or God messing with them. But magic not only did not make them truly happy—magic did not get them to Christ the King and Savior! Only God’s Word does that! Magic just got them nearly killed by Herod—got tons of baby boys in Bethlehem killed, as we heard last week. Lesson one: magic doesn’t make you happy or fulfilled—otherwise, why leave home? Why make the journey?
If even real magicians felt compelled to drop everything, leave home for months, years, maybe forever, at risk of life and limb, to go chasing a magical star, searching for a King who is God and Man, for Someone to worship, Someone who can actually save and fix the holes in your life—that tells us something, right?!
It’s why these are my guys. Every time I’m tempted (and I often am tempted) to settle down, settle for less, just accept what is, quit looking for Narnia, or some Undiscovered Country, quit complaining about how unsatisfactory the modern church’s idea of worship really is, quit wanting something more, something I can’t even name exactly, or picture, the Magi remind me: “Not all those who wander are lost”. If royal magicians with a nice life back in some ancient Shangri-La would drop it all, leave it all behind in a heartbeat because they see a Star that calls them to Another World, another Life, another Master, another Way, a new order of Worship that promises to be the end of them—a disturbing (but exciting!) new Beginning… well, what am I doing settling… down, in, for? The Magi get me going, moving in what I believe is the right direction.
They didn’t know, though, did they? The Journey of the Magi is a journey of Faith. And not the sort of “faith” you read about in Portals of Prayer (not that there’s anything wrong with Portals of Prayer; well… maybe there’s something a little wrong with it?). The Faith of the Magi is something desperate and dangerous, not comfortable or domesticated. It is more a wild hope than a pleasant certainty. It makes you more unhappy—with what is, with what you are—before it results in something beyond happiness, something, well… unnameable.
The Journey of the Magi is only undertaken by strangers and sojourners who know: on this earth we have no home, no abiding city. Happy people don’t drop everything and hit the road for Christ’s sake, now, do they? No! They don’t! Prodigal sons—who wake up one morning and realize: “They may be nice pigs, and I may be well paid for feeding them, and I may be able to do some occasional magic, but by golly, I’m feeding pigs and I hate it.” Which is another way of saying, “Yes, I think the Prodigal Son is a member of the Magi Order too.”!
After a close call in Herod’s palace (the Real King looks different than expected!) they see their star arising, and rejoice. At last, This Is The Way, again. They’re close. Bethlehem, they learn, is just a couple miles away. They get to the house—no, I don’t think they missed Christmas Day. I think they’re an hour behind the shepherds. The innkeeper sees they’re rich, brings them all into the house, just for a few minutes, and kicks them out the minute he discovers the Magi aren’t staying or paying…
They see the Child, realize: this must be the Place. They worship Him (pg. 15 just comes flowing off their lips like they’ve known it all their lives :-). The Child gives them the Words to say. The gifts are for a dying King—incense and myrrh are for bodies and tombs, uncanny places, sacred spaces, that look, feel, smell alien, otherworldly. Incense, Christian Worship isn’t supposed to make you feel at home, but yearn for Another…
We put up art in the lobby recently. The “Journey of the Magi”. Because, every time we head toward this sanctuary to worship, we are making the Magi’s Journey. We are leaving behind a world, a self, a way that has not satisfied. We’re giving up on our own magic for that of Christ our Savior—which starts with forgiveness of sins—a journey that leads to life, salvation, Peace, surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ our Newborn King. Amen.