January 6, 2005 - Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12

2 • 1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, during the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem. 2 They asked, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw the rising of his star in the east and have come to honor him."

3 When Herod heard this he was greatly disturbed and with him all Jerusalem. 4 He immediately called a meeting of all high-ranking priests and the scribes, and asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

5 "In the town of Bethlehem in Judea," they told him, "for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the clans of Judah, for from you will come a leader, the one who is to shepherd my people Israel."

7 Then Herod secretly called the wise men and asked them the precise time the star appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem with the instruction, "Go and get precise information about the child. As soon as you have found him, report to me, so that I too may go and honor him."

9 After the meeting with the king, they set out. The star that they had seen in the East went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 The wise men were overjoyed on seeing the star again. 11 They went into the house and when they saw the child with Mary his mother, they knelt and worshiped him. They opened their bags and offered him their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

12 In a dream they were warned not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their home country by another way.

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• 2.1 From the first Christian generations there have been popular narratives trying to relate all that was not known about Jesus and not part of the Gospel. These closely resembled the Jewish stories of the childhood of Abraham and Moses. The wise men, the star and the massacre of the children of Bethlehem have sprung directly from those stories and it is useless today to study astronomical maps to find a comet that was visible at that time.

In this chapter then, Matthew uses these stories without the slightest problem about their authenticity. He uses them to show how Jesus lived in his own way what his people had undergone. That accounts for the quotations from the Old Testament with each one repeating the phrase: "in this way… was fulfilled…." It is a way of saying that the texts should be reread. They spoke of the people, and at the same time they announced the coming of Jesus. In a way, he would live what had already been lived – journeying, searching, rejoicing, grieving – but with him all would have a new meaning.

The Wise Men could have been respected priests and seers of Zoroastrian religion. Here they stand for all the non-biblical religions. While the Jewish priests, chiefs of the people of God, do not receive notice of the birth of Jesus, God communicates the news to some of his friends in the pagan world. This lesson is good for all times: Jesus is the Savior of all people, and not only of those who belong to the Church.

The star reminds us that God calls each one according to his or her own personality. Jesus calls the fishermen of Galilee after a miraculous catch of fish; the pagans who look at the stars, God calls by means of a star. God knows how to communicate with us by means of events and through our own ideals, which guide us as stars. Whatever be the way, it will lead us to the one who is the light of God.

[The Community Christian Bible]

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1. A major challenge to us is to "reread" the old familiar stories. They will mean more to us as we add to their meaning, reading by reading, connecting them to our present experience. It is difficult to get past the pageants we have seen to see this one strand of scripture story on its own. However, when we don't have to mix shepherds into the mix or insist that all time is contracted into one moment of birth but plays out over moments and days and weeks and years and lifetimes, then meaning upon meaning can add to the beauty of the story. Additionally we can start our journey toward newness whenever and get there whenever and share our gifts as we have them, even if it is simply the gift of our heart.

2. In rereading we find connections not glimpsed before. Even though the Magi were following their own insight or star, when it becomes less clear or stops they are wise enough to ask about. "Where is the newborn?" Since being newborn is not a good thing in Herod's court where power and control demand repeating the same old same old formulas (like "cut taxes" as the only acceptable mantra) even the king had to ask about, "Hey, priest, where would a newborn leader come from, other than here, and there aren't any here?" And so Herod comes to pick up the question process to find out a when (time) to go with his new found where (space) -- but there is a difference between asking a real question and one with an agenda.

Three times questions are asked and then at the end there is no question, only a response to a question that should have been asked, "Why would someone so obviously needing to be in charge want to know about one who would be even more in charge?"

3. What questions are you asking about your life, the life of the world around you, and your rereadings? Hopefully these questions, coming from the events we experience and our own ideals will lead us again and again to question where self-interest lies and where we might step beyond it to something more truthful.

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