After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea … Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.
We begin Advent. I love this time of year. Advent calls us to a journey, not too unlike the one referenced above. Wise people searching for what God is doing in the world. Matthew probably intended us to understand them to be from Persia – or in those days: Parthia. They were called magi. We usually call them “Wise Men.” They were likely spiritual advisors, and in some traditions, even “kingmaker” advisors and overseers in the Parthian royal court. We don’t know how many there were, what they looked like or exactly where they originated. What we do know is:
1) They were not Jewish.
2) They were not Greek.
3) They were not Roman.
In other words, they were consummate outsiders.
The hopeful word of the magi quietly woven into Matthew’s birth narrative tells its own story. God is doing something beyond our personal agendas and circumstances. Far outside of our communities, God is at work in other lives, other cultures, other people, bringing about healing, hope and redemption. Through unknown actors from a distant place, God then and now offers new ways of seeing, thinking and being across boundaries and languages. While God inspires our journey of faith, God also inspires others we don’t know and will likely never meet. And if God can inspire Parthian/Persian astrologers/astronomers to see beyond their own surroundings and into a providential birth in Bethlehem, surely the obstacles in my life are less large than I imagine them to be.
This is not to say that our difficulties don’t matter. But in the broader scheme of things:
considering the depth and breadth and scope of history,
seeing with insight a new star on the dark horizon,
livingwith perspective in the difficult present,
recognizing touches of the eternal in the ordinary moments,
glimpsing God’s light within and beyond our current circumstance,
… all this and more offers a new way of viewing the world and our situation in it. Just as Jesus entered a world of complex troubles, so also into our world God offers still the same source of redemption, transformation, and hope. Claim that hope for your own journey this month – and live it.
Gratefully and with the hope of Advent,
Modern-day Iran. Parthia was the only empire around or close to the Roman Empire that the Romans had been unable to conquer. By telling the story in this way, Matthew was likely sending a not-so-subtle message to Rome: “Your enemies know the true king – so should you!”