Preaching Matthew 2:1-12
There was war in the lands of the magi one year ago. In the East, stars of a different sort were out and whined over darkened city skies. Tenacious and graphic reports by the various news media brought it all into our homes, so that we asked with those magi, "Where is He...?" (even Christ Jesus our Lord, the Prince of Peace). Disturbed "Herods" and subjects alike perhaps foresee some sort of new order in the offing. It is, at any rate, a far cry from the tranquility portrayed by St. Matthew's Gospel account and etched into the fabric of our familial celebrations of the event.
We need to make the journey with the magi and see the outcome, so that we might traverse this world and our lives with their blockades and land mines--all that would keep us from the peace of Christ to which today's Holy Gospel leads us.
How eager were those magi to follow the heavenly potent? They were not fleeing the homelands, not refugees fleeing from the madness of another. They were following a future, only to return with that future--their future--God's future--filled to overflowing.
Perhaps the more serious question is how eager are we to follow? For following, as did the magi, means risking something of who we are--or at least something of whom we think we are.
Such following, such risking, puts our selves and our profession as preachers into a new light. Suddenly, we are not so eager to be as to see. To come into the house where Jesus is, the Child with Mary his mother and Joseph, his presumed father, is to put aside all pretense of office, status, and wealth. It is to offer presents that define self: Our substance (gold), our worship (frankincense), our humanity (death/myrrh).
There, in that house, to kneel down, worship, and adore. There in that house to acknowledge the One to whom the heavenly portent led, the One sent from the Father. There in that house to touch that body, flesh of our flesh, and say, "He is King!" There in this house to take that same body broken (crucified/risen/ascended), that same blood poured out for our salvation, and eating and drinking of that bread and cup to acknowledge him toward whom the entire cosmos (not just a two-time star, Mt 2:2 & 9) points--even Jesus Christ our Lord.
In her book, Jerusalem Inn, Martha Grimes' hero, Scotland Yard Superintendent, Richard Jury, visits the Jerusalem Inn just before Christmas. The inn is a lower class pub with a roped off nativity scene in need of both repair and another wise man. And its Christ Child was not quite right. Jury's conversation with a young girl who had washed and replaced the baby Jesus leads to a discussion of swaddling cloths and how they would be more appropriate than the little doll's dress the babe was wearing. Grimes concludes the scene:
She turned and ran through the door, probably to search for the swaddling clothes.1
To search for that which might be better--to search for that which might spruce up the scenes of life and make them livelier--to search for meaningfulness in the midst of the poverty of her life.
(For her mother had admonished her, "`Chrissie! Put the baby Jesus back, lass. How many times must I tell you?'" [p. 49].) To search for another Christ Child in the hope that she might hold to her young breast again, Alice. (For that was her doll's name who had replaced the creche's original Infant that got "smushed" in a pub brawl.) And in holding that which was dear
to her, was to find meaning, stability, and wholeness again. Even as in the Pieta a mother holds the Crucified One; and Joseph of Arimathea buries in his own tomb the One who would be raised by the Father.
There is wisdom in all of that somehow.
Finally, it was time to leave. Finally the magi has to "put the baby Jesus back" into the arms of his mother.
And Caspar said, "Goodbye!" And Melchoir said, "Goodbye!" and wished he could stay. And Balthazar said, "Farewell!" And Mary and Joseph said, "Thank you for the gifts!" And the Christ Child, sitting on the lap of the Blessed Virgin, raised a hand in blessing.
Well, I suppose it could have happened that way I suppose--But the magi did go home--by another way--in another mode of being, if you will, having seen and heard the new King whom they had come so far to see. Changed, they went home to a newness of life.
Even as we go out of this house and go home in another way, to be as the wise who follow the Eternal One.
Peter S. Hoyer South Plainfield, New Jersey
1. Martha Grimes, Jerusalem Inn (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), p. 50.