January 5, 2015
"King of kings, lord of lords, and he shall reign forever and ever."
(George Frideric Handel)
We have here the story of two kings and the Magi -
King Herod - powerful, recognized by the Roman Senate as King of the Jews, despised by the Jews of Judea for his decadence and his cruelty.
Jesus the Christ, a babe in a manger, the Messiah clothed in swadling, worshipped by shepherds just come in from the fields in their muddy, smelly glory. A babe, born naked to a young woman barely past her own childhood, vulnerable as only a newborn is.
"King of kings, lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever."
A powerful earthly King and the vulnerable, newborn who is the Lord of All Creation. Bound together by the Magi.
We call these men kings but they are of a different sort - Three crazy astrologers or magicians, some say they are Gentiles and some say not, traipsing across the desert on camels chasing a star. Not kings with a kingdom - strangers, aliens. Three crazy Gentiles following a star.
Two Jewish kings and three crazy Gentiles.
King Herod was not considered by the Jews of Judea to be one of their own. He was Edomite. He was different His rule was steeped in the values of power, of lording over. He was no servant King in the tradition of the Israelite kings.
Jesus' own followers struggled throughout Jesus' life to figure out who and what he was. It seemed at times that only the demons and the broken could see his Holiness; only those who were worst off recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah.
Three Crazy Gentiles followed a star that told them, "here is the King of Creation," and they came seeking the Jewish king and bringing the finest earthly gifts.
What news do they bring, what is the good news of these magicians on camels chasing a star. Here it is:
From the beginning, this child born in a barn opened the kingdom of heaven to all comers. There's a place in this parade for me.!
In David Lose's words: "Perhaps it’s also simply that the presence of these three magi and their quest for God’s messiah announce that the world is changing, that God is approaching, and that nothing can remain the same in the presence of God’s messiah. The arrival of these wondering astrologers signals that the reach of God’s embrace is broadening considerably, that there is no longer 'insider' and 'outsider,' but that all are included in God’s plan for salvation. This isn’t a new theme in Judaism, as from the very beginning of the story God promises to bless Abraham that he may, in turn, be a blessing from the world. But now it is happening – all distinctions between people of different ethnicities and religions is dissolving. All are becoming one in Christ, and who knows what may change next." (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1509)
Three crazy magicians, or maybe one or maybe five. We don't know for sure; we only know they brought three gifts. Some crazy men from the East, astrologers or magicians - they were dressed funny, you know. They didn't look like the shepherds or the Inn keeper. Their skin color was different and their clothing was different. Aliens from far away with different accents and habits...following a star to find a king bedded in a manger, a king with no armies or protectors. Jesus came naked just like us, born with no mark to declare his kingdom but this star.
I have a picture of me at the age of about six or seven watching in shocked disbelief as my stepfather opens the present I have longed for the whole season - a spinning wheel with magical properties and possibilities. I remember that moment when I thought someone else was going to receive the one and only thing I could ever remember desiring. I remember the horror and the sadness and wondering whatever my stepfather would want a spinning wheel for... and then the recognition...understanding...that this thing most desired was truly mine.
I wonder if the shepherds stood back, watching the Magi, with the same disbelief. Were they wondering who are these people who come with such majesty. Who are these people bringing sweet smells of incense rather than the sweaty smells of dirty clothes and sheep. Why are they at the front of the manger crowding us out? What gift do I have that is as valuable as this gold and incense? Can't people see that these are strangers, aliens; that they don't belong here. This isn't their Jesus - he doesn't even look like them! This is my Jesus.
All the while the star shines overhead, lighting the room as we worship and even as we quarrel. Here we are, then...shepherds and wise men, rich and poor, some brought here by the glory of angels and some by a bright shining star. Every one a follower...every one a seeker of life and light and the glory of God... and there in that barn, every one joining Jesus in the manger, bowing to a king naked in a manger and becoming unclothed...losing the distinctions of our professions and taking on the vulnerability of a babe in a manger...prostrating ourselves every one.
And Herod rises. Disturbed. In recognition. This Jesus, this baby vulnerable in a barn threatens his kingdom as it has never been threatened before. Herod rises in my heart even as I bow at the manger, my forehead resting on straw, awed by the light and the life before me. Even then Herod rises in my heart - Surely you won't give up your position and your wealth for this - for a baby in a manger surrounded by dirty smelly shepherds. Surely you are called to better things, to a life of leadership and recognition. Surely God will recognize Your Giftedness. Herod rises in my heart even as I bow at the manger, calling me away.
When you see the star overhead, will you follow? Or will you hold back and see if someone else won't go first? When the angels in their fearful majesty plunk themselves down in your back yard, will you stop and listen rather than running the other direction for dear life? When Jesus calls you to do something you never considered, something that sounds crazy or stupid, will you stop and listen before you say no?
Will Herod rise and call you away or will you go with the Magi, following the star?
Will Herod rise and distract you or will you go with the shepherds to find the baby sleeping?
Will Herod rise and make you his own or will you give your heart to that tiny baby?
I want to go with the Magi to find the baby Jesus.
I want to follow that star across the desert that my life sometimes becomes. I want to settle down in the hay with the wise men and the shepherds. I want to celebrate this moment that was and is always - when God was born human so that I might be borne to God.