Saturday, 3 January 2015

Seeking Wisdom.

A family took a walk in the time between Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany to get a closer look at the nativity scene a few streets away from their house. Mary was, as was usual, dressed in blue. Jesus, who looked about two years old, was wearing pyjamas—not the normal translation for “swaddling clothes.” Joseph and the sole shepherd could have been twins. Apparently the shepherd wasn’t good at his job; there was only one sheep. An angel playing a harp was leaning against the flagpole. Santa Claus was shimmying down a rope while four reindeer waited on the roof. Over to the side, the turbaned wise men stood in line. The magi or wise men were bringing, according to the families children, a jewellery box, a golden football, and a silver sausage. The visitors from the east looked at least as out of place as Santa.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew’s there comes a dramatic shift: exit shepherds, enter wise men; exit stable, enter palace; exit poverty, enter wealth; exit angels, enter dreams; exit Mary’s lullaby, enter Rachel’s crying. One of the few things Matthew and Luke agree on is an emphasis on traveling. The story is about people making trips or journeys: from Nazareth to Bethlehem; from the fields to the manger; from Judea to Egypt. The best known, longest, and most unlikely of the journeys is from Persia to Palestine, a trip for which Google wouldn’t even try to give directions for.

What could have possibly started them on this seemingly unreasonable trip? Matthew implies that the trip began with an unexplainable longing. Something unaccountable within their hearts led them to follow a light without knowing where it would take them. The wise men are described as “magi” or “astrologers.” The word magi is the root from which we get our word magician. Something like magic may be the point. In a book called “Ordinary Magic,” John Welwood writes: “Magic . . . is a sudden opening of the mind to the wonder of existence. It is a sense that there is much more to life than we usually recognise . . . that life contains many dimensions, depths, textures, and meanings extending far beyond our familiar beliefs and concepts.”

Matthew wants us to see something beyond the familiar. Every one of us has a longing for God deep within us. We don’t always recognise this desire for what it is, but we feel it. Our spirits hunger for meaning, our souls for hope, and our hearts for love. Why over the Christmastide are we at church? Why do we go? Maybe it is in response to a longing even if we can’t name it. We have been called forth like the magi, led by the light of a star. We have felt the pull of God’s love. The longing is so deep and the voice so distant. It’s less frightening to stay where we are than it is to move toward a light that we’re not absolutely certain we saw.

For every far-seeing, truly wise person, there are a hundred who won’t see beyond their noses. Most of us are too practical to chase stars. The appearance of Jesus disturbs the status quo for everyone. The baby grew up and changed all the rules. Jesus taught a revolutionary ethic of unconditional love, stubborn forgiveness and radical hospitality to those who were marginalised in his society. Jesus got into a lot of trouble for teaching and living out his notion of what God’s kingdom looks like.

None of us wants to lose that to which we have grown accustomed. Yet, God invites us to spend less money on ourselves and more on those in need. God calls us to waste less time amusing ourselves and give more time to our family, friends, and strangers. God tries to gently persuade us to turn our attention from the temporary to the permanent—from passing time to investing in eternity. We probably know far more about God’s invitations than we would like to admit. Are we courageous enough to seek God in the common questions of ordinary life? Are we instead tempted to lie at anchor when we are meant to sail with the wind; tempted to hide in the darkness, when we’re called to follow the light.

 The wise men followed even though it seemed foolish. They wanted to see Jesus more than they wanted to keep their treasures, more than they wanted to play it safe, and more than they feared the difficulties of the journey. The Christian faith is not a set of beliefs and rigid rules as some would have us believe, but a willingness to travel, to pursue God’s gentle light. Christianity is not a place to stand, but a direction in which to move. God invites us to follow the star.

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