Are you someone who enjoys mysteries, who-done-its? Are you a fan of Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Morse or Lewis? Perhaps you prefer NCIS? Obviously a number of us do watch them as they regularly appear on our screens in re-runs. Solving the mystery, spotting the clues, seems to provide programmes that we enjoy. The remarkable bit, the appeal of characters like Miss Marple and Poirot, is they are such unlikely characters to be solving murders, yet they are the observant ones who notice clues and details that the professionals overlook.
Todayʼs Gospel of the coming of the Magi, the wise men, the astrologers has many strands of mystery about it. Whether it all happened as it is told here is not the main point. The wise men, the kings are an image that appeals, just look at the number of cards, among the religious ones that depict the kings. There is the mystery of why is it that it is only in Matthew that we have this account? The same could be said of Luke, we only have his account of the birth and the shepherds. These star gazers, who some believe to be early Zoroastrians, picked up on a clue that their fellow astrologers had either missed or not picked up on, this new star that had risen. They put in a lot of commitment into following this star. They had been journeying for two years and as I think TS Eliot puts it powerfully in his poem, “The journey of the Magi”.
“A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.” Still they kept on. They persevered.
Matthewʼs account of Jesus birth is just this one line. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea”. Then we have the Magi arriving on the scene. it is perfectly reasonable for them to have come to Jerusalem, the capital, to look for the child, who has been born king of the Jews. You can imagine the apprehension their arrival caused at Herodʼs court. Herod, who was so paranoid that he had at least two members of his family murdered because he saw them as a threat, but who also wanted to be seen as a statesman, particularly in the eyes of Rome. Herod actually enables the next clue in the mystery, he calls together all the chief priests and teachers of the law to ask where the Christ was to be born. Without this knowledge “ In Bethlehem in Judea”, the magi would have been stuck and could well after wandering around Jerusalem looking for all the children born up to two years old, have eventually given up and gone home without finding the child.
While they were at the court, these wise men were doubtless picking up all sorts of information about what sort of a person Herod was and so when he called them secretly and asked them to find the child and come back and tell him where the child was, they would have been suspicious of his motives to say the least. Herod must have thought he had done a good job as he didnʼt have them followed. The dream the Magi had, warned them not to return but their intuition would have warned them also.
I think the Magiʼs servants, if not they themselves would have asked directions to Bethlehem which isnʼt far from Jerusalem. The star is there above them and when it stopped they went into a house, they were no longer in a stable. Joseph and Mary must have decided to stay on in Bethlehem for some reason as they were now in a house. The Magi paid homage to the child Jesus and offered their gifts.
After this amazing event, Joseph and Mary must have been worried as they too knew what sort of ruler Herod was. Their intuition would have been confirmed by Joseph's dream and they knew they had to get out of Bethlehem fast and not just Bethlehem but out of the country, out of Herodʼs jurisdiction, and reach.
We know the rest of the story, when Herod realizes that the Magi are not coming back, he has all the children, not just the boys, aged two and under slaughtered. The feast of Christmas is not all sweetness and light. On Boxing Day we have Stephen stoned to death. Terrible things continue to happen in our world and God is not removed from the suffering but in the midst of it. But what does this all mean to us, what is the meaning of all these clues. The main point that Matthew is trying to get across is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament. Joseph is important in Matthewʼs account. He gives Josephʼs family tree, proving that he was from the house of David. In having these men, Magi, astrologers coming to worship the child, this child, this Messiah is not only the fulfillment of the hope of the Jews, but of Gentiles as well. The signs of his coming have been picked up by outsiders, who have recognized him and have come to pay homage.
This extraordinary event, this festival we call Epiphany, God showing himself revealing himself, is a mixture of the extraordinary in the ordinary. God, Jesus reveals himself to us not just in the extraordinary events of our life, but the ordinary. Sometimes we are looking for God to act in extraordinary ways in our lives and are so concentrating on looking for that, that we miss the countless ways, the countless clues that God is giving us to pick up on all sorts of ways. God does show his love and care for us in countless ways, through other people and the things great and small that delight us and bring us joy and pleasure.
God is also inviting us to work with him in different ways, reaching out to that person, taking the time to listen, to notice, to show that a person matters. What direction does God want us to be taking in our lives? What star is God calling us to follow that leads to him? How is he calling us to enable others to come to know him? What does God want me to do today? Are we open to seeing the clues? Do we pray that God will help us to understand what he wants us to do, not in the extraordinary but the ordinary everyday. Each day can be an adventure if we ask to be able to pick up on Godʼs clues. If we focus on God not ourselves, then we will be able to see how God loves and cares for us while calling us to worship him and to reach out to others that they to may come to know themselves loved.
As we with the Magi, worship God and offer him the gifts of our lives, may this Eucharist enable us to be filled to overflowing with Godʼs peace, joy and love. May we be filled with their spirit of commitment and perseverance. Amen
Sister Anita CSC at All Saints, Clevedon