We are now in the season of Epiphany.
The word Epiphany has the sense of making known, revealing. The commonest understanding of our passage is that the visit of the Magi showed Jesus as the one who would reveal God to humankind.
The Magi were visitors from the East. Although tradition now gives us three of them, our reading makes no such claim. It is interesting that for Matthew this is one of the significant events surrounding the nativity . . . no stories of the actual birth of Jesus, no mention of the stable, no shepherds watching their sheep by night. Interestingly, Matthew simply records the prophecy to Joseph that the child Mary is carrying will be the Messiah followed immediately by the Magi confirming this.
So who were these Magi?
The Encyclopedia Britannica says
magus plural Magi, member of an ancient Persian clan specializing in cultic activities. The name is the Latinized form of magoi (e.g., in Herodotus 1:101), the ancient Greek transliteration of the Iranian original. From it the word magic is derived.
Various theories have them travelling from Babylon (Iraq), Persia(Iran) or Arabia. They would not have wandered randomly to reach Bethlehem, but would have come via the ancient trade routes. Probably using horses initially and switching to camels for the desert. It was a journey of about a thousand miles and would take some considerable time. The infant Jesus would certainly have been well over a year old by the time they arrived.
As I read, again, the story of the visit of the Magi I see the values of inclusion and hospitality. (We will visit these concepts as we continue our journey through the Understandings)
This would have been an amazing occurrence . . .
God was doing something new and strangers were pointing the way.
Matthew, writing for a Jewish readership, tells how “outsiders” revealed the Sovereign One who was the God of glory.
This is a radical message the Magi are presenting “all are welcome”
To ponder . . .
if we had been present, would we have welcomed a bunch of strangers from Iraq or Iran even ones bearing gifts?
How would we have reacted . . .
Would we have been like Herod and wanted to kill them?
Would we have been like Mary and invited them into our home?
Hospitality is one of our community values. However, when I read this passage I realised our view is often too narrow, too small. It is not just about welcoming those who we know and like, but those who are radically different, total opposites. Those who we may consider ‘outsiders’ (Outside our faith, outside our values, outside our standards, outside our way of life, etc., etc. ) Yet, we never know, they may come bearing valuable gifts!
So we are here at the beginning of 2011. The years seem to be going by so quickly.
I pray that for each of us Jesus will be our star throughout this year. The one we follow, the one who guides and leads us. The journey may not be easy, may have some hazards along the way. (We may meet a Herod!). The journey may have unexpected turns and pauses. We may be given gifts by strangers. (Let us be like Mary and welcome them!)
My prayer is that we will all enjoy our journey and recognise those unexpected gifts in whatever way they are brought to us.