*Theological reflections garnered from a recent conversation between two friends, The Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood, Dean of the New Theology School & The Rev. Dr. Kyle Sigmon, Associate Pastor of Worship at Faithbridge United Methodist Church (Boone, North Carolina).
Shepherds…that have never been anywhere…never seen anything…living on the wrong side of town…poor as dirt…who were working the night shift to make ends meet…get to see the heavens open up…a multitude of heavenly…and have a direct encounter with the incarnate God. This is some story.
But this is so God isn’t it? Showing up amongst a group of outcasts to proclaim a new liberation? The God who is here is the God who is free…and freeing.
The text will never be able to show us the fullness of God like the people can. The shepherds prove that. God is a grassroots movement born out of the longings of shepherds for more.
Christ is the great shepherd. Christ chooses to be born amongst the shepherds. Christ comes to us through the shepherds. If we want to know God, we must go and be with the shepherds.
If these shepherds came to your house for Christmas would you let them in? Why is it that we so often reject the shepherds? Unfortunately, fear often keeps us from a complete knowledge of God. Our knowledge of Christmas must start in the fields…not our living rooms. The shepherds were there to show us that.
Make no mistake, the shepherds got the first invitation. God’s invitation always go to the outs before the ins. If we choose to embrace such an economy, we will get to meet God too.
Go to the fields! Be with the shepherds! Look to the heavens! Obey what you hear! See God!
Mary and Joseph didn’t have a clue what was going on…that is…until they did. When we find ourselves in unexpected places, we can either choose to panic or to believe. Mary and Joseph chose to believe and got to be the parents of God.
The first blended family was not all that different from blended families today. Everybody was trying to figure out their role in the midst of new situations. Christmas is a time for grace in the midst of uncertainty. Mary and Joseph showed us that.
The incarnation of God didn’t happen in the perfect family…God made the imperfect family perfect for the incarnation of God. In the midst of all the issues we face, it is important to remember that God is still in the busines of making imperfect situations perfect. Mary was a teen mom. God used her…not in spite of her situation…but precisely because of it.
The miracle was in the mess.
The revolutionary transformation of all things happens because Mary and Joseph refused to leave the mess. Joseph probably didn’t know anything about birthing a child but he stayed. Mary had no idea that these shepherds were coming but she let them in. The entire situation is full of reasons to retreat…but Mary and Joseph chose to stay the course…Mary and Joseph chose to believe. Without their faith…there would be no God.
Will we choose to join Mary and Joseph? Will we choose the magic of believing? Will we choose to stay in the mess? Will we choose to be…the very incarnation of God?
While historically not at the nativity, the Magi seem to be included in every nativity scene that I come across…so, I think it’s important to give them room here. In fact, I think most people just assume they were there anyways. Regardless of the timing, they still are an important part of the story.
They studied about a coming star. They see the star. They started their journey. They arrived at where the star was. They found the one who’d been prophesied about. They delivered some gifts. The formula seems simple, right? But in the simplicity of it all…deeper questions remain.
How many Magi where there? Based upon the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we assume that there were only three. However, the text never says how many magi there were. Later revisions offer possible numbers (three being the most often used figure)…but, the original texts do not. Could there have been hundreds of people in the caravan? Maybe servants or even more Magi? We don’t know.
Where did the Magi come from? The original text only gives us the clue of the East. So, the Magi could have come from as far as China, India, Persia, Arabia or a whole host of other places. Later revisions single out Arabia and India, but the truth is that we just don’t know. In spite of such, I have often let myself dream of how the Magi might have influenced the Gospel narrative. Maybe these eastern sages brought eastern religion with them? Perhaps, the close connections to Buddhism (especially the importance of deep meditation and love of neighbor) in scripture came from the Magi.
While there is much we don’t know about the Magi, there is so much that we do know.
The Magi reveal God’s love for people of all faiths throughout the entire world. These folks traveled to exchange ideas. They did not travel to force their ideas upon others. This was the earliest interfaith encounter mentioned in the Gospels. It’s important to point out that the Magi didn’t change their religious practices. There encounter with God simply helped them to add to their own experiences. They carried God’s incarnation with them. The message of love can be found everywhere…because God is constantly revealing more to more. We must look beyond our own borders and boundaries. Sometimes, we must travel far…beyond the lines. The story of the Magi is the story of the long journey of faith.
The Magi reveal that the stars speak. For a long time, I hated astrology. I found it to be so silly. However, the Magi have caused me to somewhat change my mind. The stars…the position of the earth… does have real meaning for us. The tides. The seasons. The days. The nights. All sorts of things, right? The Magi were astrologists in a sense. They were not afraid to seek meaning in the stars. Why are we? God is still speaking to us through the stars.
The Magi reveal the imperative to seek a newer world. These folks left their comfort zone. They traveled guided only by a star. They took every step in faith.
What about the gifts? It seems like that’s what most people think about when they think about the Magi. They are the reason we get gifts. It’s sad that so many throughout history have sold the meaning of these folks so short. As if the only reason they matter is so that we can get the latest gadget or gizmo? The gold, frankincense and myrrh were symbolic of the journey not the reason for the journey. Christmas gifts are symbolic of our love for each other…not the reason for Christmas. Unfortunately, we often miss the message of the Magi’s gifts.
Can you imagine how much the Magi struggled in their attempts to get to Christ? Finding food to eat. Feeding the animals. Passing through different countries. Fears of being wrong. This journey had to be one of keeping hope…hope in Christ. They gave everything to complete the journey…and yet kept the faith. Why can’t we go and do likewise to share in the incarnation of God…to keep the faith?
Christ is out there. Go farther. Follow the way of the Magi.