Please don't read the title of this blog as

arrogant--my life is worth living because of something

much greater than me. While I have been richly blessed,

I am definitely not free of trouble, pain, or stress.

But I know through it all that life is still worth

living. Through this blog I hope to walk through

life with you... (and hopefully hone some book ideas.)

Thanks for joining in the journey!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Long Six Miles

When reading the story of the Magi's visit to the newly born Jesus we realize that the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem represented a very long journey...

The famous Christmas carol We Three Kings refers to the wise men as kings, but the word translated Magi more accurately refers to a group of philosophers, priests, or astrologers. They would have been devoted to astrology, religion, and/or medicine. Today's equivalent would be scientists or learned scholars. What is interesting is that the Gospel of Matthew never refers to them as kings, nor does it ever specify that there were three of them. Matthew does specify three gifts which over time has translated into a traditional belief that there were subsequently three Magi. There is actually very little that we know about the Magi. The Biblical account specifies that they were from the East, which is admittedly a bit vague. Most likely they would have come from Persia or Arabia, cultures that highly valued learning.

As far as we can tell the Magi were the first to alert Herod to the birth of the king of the Jews. Gifted astrologers, the Magi followed an out of place star that would eventually lead them to Jesus. Today when we hear the word astrology it is often said with a sneer. In fact, our contemporary words magic and magician are drawn from the same root word as Magi and are often used pejoratively. But in the ancient world astrologers were actually very respected. As previously noted, they were the scientists of their day.

It is very significant that Matthew chapter two speaks of God revealing His star to non-Jewish scientists as some of the primary recipients of His revelation. Interesting that God would choose to reveal Himself to people outside the fold... but more on that later...

The Magi made their way to Jerusalem to the court of King Herod to seek out where they might find the new king of the Jews. After consulting with the scribes Herod learned that prophesy had foretold that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod sent the Magi on to Bethlehem with the hopes of using the wise men to pinpoint the location of the Messiah. Herod acted out of nefarious motives hoping to destroy any threat to his political power.

The wise men did make it to Bethlehem and brought Jesus and His family their gifts of gold, appropriate for a king; frankincense, an incense proper for a priest; and myrrh, an embalming oil symbolic of death. Prior to leaving Bethlehem the Magi were warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, who was up to no good.

Samuel Wells is the Dean of the chapel at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Wells gave an incredible sermon on the theological significance of the story of the Magi. His primary argument was that science was able to get us to Jerusalem, but only divine revelation would get us the rest of way on the journey to Bethlehem. I know that sounds complicated, but let me see if I can unpack it for you...

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? Seen a rainbow? Stood on a cliff overlooking the ocean? Witnessed a vibrantly colorful sunset? Held a newborn baby? Whether you would call yourself a Christian or not, wouldn't it be at least hard to deny some type of divine power in the face of the glories of creation? Wells was saying that the wisdom of the world, or science, gets us to a place of at least embracing the idea of a god. (Not to give Wells too much credit for this theory, many theologians through the centuries have argued in a similar manner... not least of which the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.) Wells used this story to point out that God gave actual revelation to the Magi, leading them to Jerusalem, but only after Herod consulted the scribes and the prophetic scrolls were the wise men equipped with the full knowledge necessary to proceed further on in their journey toward Christ. Sometime along the way, somewhere between Jerusalem and their return back to their eastern home, the Magi came into a transformative encounter with Bethlehem, and the Messiah therein.

Not all, but many Christians deny that God is able to reveal Himself to those outside of their holy huddle. There is often a blanket assumption that none of the non-Christian religions hold any truth. There is a similar assumption that non-Christians are not able to have any knowledge of the divine. For those Christians I would ask them to reconcile those beliefs with the story of the Magi. God gave the wise men revelation before they were "believers". He led them to Jerusalem. Now I will agree that it was a very long journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, much longer than the geographical six miles. It was a life transformative journey then, and it still is today. But to deny that God has placed His truth, His image, and His revelation throughout the world is to overlook the glory of God's creation. "Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things that He has made." Romans 1:20.

Let me address my Christian readers for a minute... perhaps it behooves us as a group to listen more than to speak. If Paul was right about what he said in that verse from Romans then even those who we sometimes insultingly label as "pagans" might have something to teach us. We know the way to Bethlehem, but it doesn't mean that God might not have already gotten others to Jerusalem. Too often I fear that Christian arrogance pushes many seeking people right back to their eastern origins.

The story of the nativity is a story for all people. Our role is to find our place in the story and allow God to draw us further in the journey towards Him. Enjoy this week, revel in the light of the bright Star of Bethlehem that illuminates the way to life eternal.

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