Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-3, 5-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12
My seven year old grandnephew sits safely in the back seat of my car on occasions when I am visiting, and he knows the neighborhood better than I do, especially the way home from school and to Target and the Dollar General Store. He knows that I do not always get it right when I am taking them somewhere so he sits back there imitating the voice on the GPS system amazingly well. Problems occur when he does not speak up soon enough for me to make the turns he announces in his mechanical voice. When I miss, he says: “At the next opportunity, make a legal U turn.” I am not sure he knows what a “legal U Turn is, but he does know that we have to go back. In thinking about this familiar and imaginative Gospel story, I wonder if those Magi might have done better to have had a GPS strapped to the back of the camel. It would have at least kept them away from Herod.
That word “Magi” has the same root as our word, “Magic”, and their story is certainly a magic one in which the entire summary of the Gospel message unfolds with Matthew’s skillful story telling. The first two chapters of his Gospel contain the Good News of Salvation and the proclamation of Jesus as savior of the world. In these chapters, Matthew establishes God’s universal concern, the divine origins of Jesus and his authority as Messiah along with the necessity of the worldwide mission of the church. Consequently this is not just a wonderful story to tell again and again, but it is a piece of revelation through which God reveals the plan for salvation, and the one who will be savior. Magicians force us to look at things and to look for things. “How did you do that?” is always the question. While we are wondering about it, we are looking, looking at things in a different way. It has always seemed to me that this three Magicians are still doing that to us, exciting us enough to look at things in a new way. They looked a little child apparently born in poverty, and they say a king. They looked at Jesus in Bethlehem and remembered the prophet’s words about that place, and they saw the Messiah. They looked into the face of Mary and Joseph and saw what they would one day see: the divine presence, Immanuel, in people who heard the Word of God and kept it. By the standards of this world they brought riches far greater than what they found. By divine standards they found wealth beyond imagining.
While Matthew tells the story of a magical star, it is not really the star that leads the Magi. It is faith. Faith is what inspired them, motivated them, and brought them to foot of the Messiah. It was faith and hope that made them look for the star and gave them the courage to follow the star. It was the Love they encountered there that inspired them to return another way diverting the evil of Herod’s power. Matthew says nothing more about a star for their return. Perhaps that is because having seen the Light of the World they needed nothing more to lead them home.