Sunday, January 4, 2009
Epiphany is often portrayed as an odd, exotic sort of birthday party for Jesus. There are the foreign men in strange costumes with their camels and odd gifts. This seems to fit somehow with the Disney-esque picture of cute animals and the perfect family in the curiously antiseptic stable.
The point of Matthew’s Gospel though is much different. The wise men, the Magi from the East, are a disturbing, threatening presence to all who think they understand how God is working in the world.
The first to recognize and pay homage to the new King of the Jews are not Jews. The Magi are pagan magicians who do not know or recognize the God of Israel. For Matthew to have them come and pay obeisance to the infant Jesus was a deeply cutting statement that Jesus was not recognized by his own people.
And here is where we as modern people start to fall. If we see this point in historical context, in terms of Jews and Gentiles, we will miss the point if we wonder why those people backs then could have been so blind as to not recognize Jesus. Our problem is that it is always those people who don’t understand. We are never the ones to fail to see the point, to fail to recognize Christ in our midst.
Perhaps we would come closer to understanding the point Luke was making if we think of a group of people within our own Christian tradition who we strongly, fundamentally disagree with. Most of have some people whom we think are on the wrong track, who don’t understand or live out key Christian values.
Now, take that group of people and insert them into Matthew’s story in the role of the Magi. In other words, it is the people whom you most dislike, whose basic tenets of belief you question, they are the ones who are the ones who really recognize Christ.
It’s an insulting thought isn’t it? I think Matthew meant to be provocative. The Gospels are intended to shake us out of our easy complacency. The Gospels tell us that God will use whoever God chooses to proclaim the Good News of salvation to the world. God can even use the people outside our definition of what is proper faith in order to be a witness to those of who think we have the answers.
So maybe in this season we can be aware of the unexpected Wise Men in our lives who come in the guise of the most unlikely people bearing the gift of a new way to recognize the Christ in our midst.