Who are these Magi?

Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72: 1-7, Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

The hymn, “We Three Kings” is often sung over the Christmas season. Albeit, that it is more about Epiphany, which is officially celebrated on Jan. 6, than Christmas, it was written as a Christmas gift by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857. We could blame this hymn for some of the mythology around the three kings but in actual fact the thought that there were three and that they were kings was a long established tradition by the time the hymn was written. Actually the celebration of Epiphany is older than Christmas in terms of liturgical traditions. In fact originally epiphany used to also include the story of the birth of Christ as a sidebar. The term epiphany stems from the Greek epiphaneia which literally means “revelation of God”. As a result it is quite appropriate that we include the story of the magi in this revelation. God revealed to them the birth of a king. Popular culture and centuries of myths have created images for us that are less accurate than most literalists would like. Good thing I hardly call myself a literalist. But that is the mystery of epiphanies, they are mysterious, hard to explain, often very personal and over time sound more like legends than reality.
Despite these popular myths this story is an important narrative in the function of the Gospel of Matthew and who Jesus is in all the Gospels. Understanding the language and where some of these myths come from is important. The Bible does not state how many wise men there were. It could have been three or thirty, but as early as an Alexandrian manuscript it was interpreted that there were 3 and they even had names, Bithisarea, who later became Balthazaar, Melchior and Gaspar. In the medieval period theologians concluded that each magi represented three of the then known races of humanity as descended from the three sons of Noah. They became kings because their gifts were only afforded by the richest of men. The term magi is the Greek word for wise men but is also the root of words like magicians and magic. We often interpret the magi to be astronomers, due to the fact that they were obviously looking at the sky and noted a change in the constellations but they likely were also adept in various occult arts such as astrology, fortune telling and the interpreting of dreams. What is important about these magi is that they take on the role and represent Gentiles who came to worship Jesus. Also, their paying homage reflects the bringing of gifts to the Messiah found in our psalm reading. God reveals part of the plan to these foreigners, these gentiles, in modern day language we might even call them heretics or heathens. God reveals to them a king and enlightens them with an epiphany. God illuminates a dark world with not only the presence of Jesus Christ but the opportunity for these people to truly encounter him and worship him.
Along with the magi, the star, a light in the sky, is central. The magi are from the “East”. The Greek word is anatolai which is really the root for the verb “to rise” and literally means the region of the rising sun. The word the “orient” comes from the Latin oriens and it has the same meaning. The idea that these magi came from the place where the sun rises is important. The rising of the sun implies the image of light and light was often associated with salvation in the Bible. In fact the passage from Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” uses the same verb. The word arise is anatetalken in Greek. Isaiah’s vision of salvation includes a pilgrimage of the nations to Israel’s light. These Gentile magi are fulfilling this prophecy. Making a pilgrimage from the place where God’s creation rises each day to the light of the world.
The sincerity of the magi’s worship is contrasted with Herod’s insincere pledge to worship Jesus. When the magi ask where is this king of the Jews they ask it with delight and privilege. The next time that term “king of the Jews” is used is much later in Matthew, close to the end of his Gospel. Jesus is charged with claiming to be king of the Jews and is eventually crucified for having such a title. Matthew wrote his Gospel already knowing the end of the story. He already had Jesus’ death in view when he has the magi refer to Jesus as the king of the Jews. This is not only a foreshadowing of what is to come but reflects so much of our world today. How do we reconcile our understanding that Jesus is the light to the world, the personification of hope and salvation, when there is still so much darkness in our world.
Who are the magi today? Who will make the pilgrimage? Who will present their gifts to the king of kings? Who will find light in today’s darkness? The year 2014, like so many years, included stories of tragedy, fear, pain and violence. We tend to focus on those news stories at this time of year. But there was a lot of light too. My personal favourite news story is that of the Olympics when a Canadian ski coach ran out and fixed the ski of a Russian Olympian so that he could finish the course with dignity. Who will share the glimpses of light, of God, in our midst?
The birth of Jesus alarms Herod. After all Jesus threatens to usurp Herod’s title as king of the Jews. Herod’s plot at the end of our passage constitutes the reason for the holy family’s flight to Egypt and return a few years later. The flight to and from Egypt reflects the story of the Exodus. Jesus’ experience early in his life reflects that of the nation of Israel. Later in Matthew Jesus further represents Israel when he embarks on a wilderness journey and remains faithful to God despite the many temptations. The difficult story of the flight to Egypt highlights that God is present in the pain and suffering of this world. That there is a flicker of light just waiting to light up the sky.
While Christmas may focus on the babe, Epiphany bursts open on that glowing moment of God with us. Foreigners travel, Herod feels threatened and stars move their course. The lesson of Epiphany seems to be that in no way is Christ’s birth a private matter; the manifestation of God’s presence in the world engages all aspects of our lives, political, cultural and natural realms. It’s a big news story. Perhaps we are the magi of today but we are often so busy looking at ourselves that we forget to see God. Isaiah calls the people of Israel to see that God will work to restore and redeem Israel through the resources and presence of those formerly known as outsiders. Through the power of God’s presence the community is a centre of life and justice. It’s time to let those outsiders in and shine the light on God’s grace, love, and redemption at work in our world. Amen

January 4, 2015
Preacher:

Passage:

Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72: 1-7, Matthew 2:1-12

Service Type:

The hymn, “We Three Kings” is often sung over the Christmas season. Albeit, that it is more about Epiphany, which is officially celebrated on Jan. 6, than Christmas, it was written as a Christmas gift by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857. We could blame this hymn for some of the mythology around the three kings but in actual fact the thought that there were three and that they were kings was a long established tradition by the time the hymn was written. Actually the celebration of Epiphany is older than Christmas in terms of liturgical traditions. In fact originally epiphany used to also include the story of the birth of Christ as a sidebar. The term epiphany stems from the Greek epiphaneia which literally means “revelation of God”. As a result it is quite appropriate that we include the story of the magi in this revelation. God revealed to them the birth of a king. Popular culture and centuries of myths have created images for us that are less accurate than most literalists would like. Good thing I hardly call myself a literalist. But that is the mystery of epiphanies, they are mysterious, hard to explain, often very personal and over time sound more like legends than reality.
Despite these popular myths this story is an important narrative in the function of the Gospel of Matthew and who Jesus is in all the Gospels. Understanding the language and where some of these myths come from is important. The Bible does not state how many wise men there were. It could have been three or thirty, but as early as an Alexandrian manuscript it was interpreted that there were 3 and they even had names, Bithisarea, who later became Balthazaar, Melchior and Gaspar. In the medieval period theologians concluded that each magi represented three of the then known races of humanity as descended from the three sons of Noah. They became kings because their gifts were only afforded by the richest of men. The term magi is the Greek word for wise men but is also the root of words like magicians and magic. We often interpret the magi to be astronomers, due to the fact that they were obviously looking at the sky and noted a change in the constellations but they likely were also adept in various occult arts such as astrology, fortune telling and the interpreting of dreams. What is important about these magi is that they take on the role and represent Gentiles who came to worship Jesus. Also, their paying homage reflects the bringing of gifts to the Messiah found in our psalm reading. God reveals part of the plan to these foreigners, these gentiles, in modern day language we might even call them heretics or heathens. God reveals to them a king and enlightens them with an epiphany. God illuminates a dark world with not only the presence of Jesus Christ but the opportunity for these people to truly encounter him and worship him.
Along with the magi, the star, a light in the sky, is central. The magi are from the “East”. The Greek word is anatolai which is really the root for the verb “to rise” and literally means the region of the rising sun. The word the “orient” comes from the Latin oriens and it has the same meaning. The idea that these magi came from the place where the sun rises is important. The rising of the sun implies the image of light and light was often associated with salvation in the Bible. In fact the passage from Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” uses the same verb. The word arise is anatetalken in Greek. Isaiah's vision of salvation includes a pilgrimage of the nations to Israel's light. These Gentile magi are fulfilling this prophecy. Making a pilgrimage from the place where God's creation rises each day to the light of the world.
The sincerity of the magi's worship is contrasted with Herod's insincere pledge to worship Jesus. When the magi ask where is this king of the Jews they ask it with delight and privilege. The next time that term “king of the Jews” is used is much later in Matthew, close to the end of his Gospel. Jesus is charged with claiming to be king of the Jews and is eventually crucified for having such a title. Matthew wrote his Gospel already knowing the end of the story. He already had Jesus' death in view when he has the magi refer to Jesus as the king of the Jews. This is not only a foreshadowing of what is to come but reflects so much of our world today. How do we reconcile our understanding that Jesus is the light to the world, the personification of hope and salvation, when there is still so much darkness in our world.
Who are the magi today? Who will make the pilgrimage? Who will present their gifts to the king of kings? Who will find light in today's darkness? The year 2014, like so many years, included stories of tragedy, fear, pain and violence. We tend to focus on those news stories at this time of year. But there was a lot of light too. My personal favourite news story is that of the Olympics when a Canadian ski coach ran out and fixed the ski of a Russian Olympian so that he could finish the course with dignity. Who will share the glimpses of light, of God, in our midst?
The birth of Jesus alarms Herod. After all Jesus threatens to usurp Herod's title as king of the Jews. Herod's plot at the end of our passage constitutes the reason for the holy family's flight to Egypt and return a few years later. The flight to and from Egypt reflects the story of the Exodus. Jesus' experience early in his life reflects that of the nation of Israel. Later in Matthew Jesus further represents Israel when he embarks on a wilderness journey and remains faithful to God despite the many temptations. The difficult story of the flight to Egypt highlights that God is present in the pain and suffering of this world. That there is a flicker of light just waiting to light up the sky.
While Christmas may focus on the babe, Epiphany bursts open on that glowing moment of God with us. Foreigners travel, Herod feels threatened and stars move their course. The lesson of Epiphany seems to be that in no way is Christ's birth a private matter; the manifestation of God's presence in the world engages all aspects of our lives, political, cultural and natural realms. It's a big news story. Perhaps we are the magi of today but we are often so busy looking at ourselves that we forget to see God. Isaiah calls the people of Israel to see that God will work to restore and redeem Israel through the resources and presence of those formerly known as outsiders. Through the power of God's presence the community is a centre of life and justice. It's time to let those outsiders in and shine the light on God's grace, love, and redemption at work in our world. Amen

Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72: 1-7, Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

The hymn, “We Three Kings” is often sung over the Christmas season. Albeit, that it is more about Epiphany, which is officially celebrated on Jan. 6, than Christmas, it was written as a Christmas gift by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857. We could blame this hymn for some of the mythology around the three kings but in actual fact the thought that there were three and that they were kings was a long established tradition by the time the hymn was written. Actually the celebration of Epiphany is older than Christmas in terms of liturgical traditions. In fact originally epiphany used to also include the story of the birth of Christ as a sidebar. The term epiphany stems from the Greek epiphaneia which literally means “revelation of God”. As a result it is quite appropriate that we include the story of the magi in this revelation. God revealed to them the birth of a king. Popular culture and centuries of myths have created images for us that are less accurate than most literalists would like. Good thing I hardly call myself a literalist. But that is the mystery of epiphanies, they are mysterious, hard to explain, often very personal and over time sound more like legends than reality.
Despite these popular myths this story is an important narrative in the function of the Gospel of Matthew and who Jesus is in all the Gospels. Understanding the language and where some of these myths come from is important. The Bible does not state how many wise men there were. It could have been three or thirty, but as early as an Alexandrian manuscript it was interpreted that there were 3 and they even had names, Bithisarea, who later became Balthazaar, Melchior and Gaspar. In the medieval period theologians concluded that each magi represented three of the then known races of humanity as descended from the three sons of Noah. They became kings because their gifts were only afforded by the richest of men. The term magi is the Greek word for wise men but is also the root of words like magicians and magic. We often interpret the magi to be astronomers, due to the fact that they were obviously looking at the sky and noted a change in the constellations but they likely were also adept in various occult arts such as astrology, fortune telling and the interpreting of dreams. What is important about these magi is that they take on the role and represent Gentiles who came to worship Jesus. Also, their paying homage reflects the bringing of gifts to the Messiah found in our psalm reading. God reveals part of the plan to these foreigners, these gentiles, in modern day language we might even call them heretics or heathens. God reveals to them a king and enlightens them with an epiphany. God illuminates a dark world with not only the presence of Jesus Christ but the opportunity for these people to truly encounter him and worship him.
Along with the magi, the star, a light in the sky, is central. The magi are from the “East”. The Greek word is anatolai which is really the root for the verb “to rise” and literally means the region of the rising sun. The word the “orient” comes from the Latin oriens and it has the same meaning. The idea that these magi came from the place where the sun rises is important. The rising of the sun implies the image of light and light was often associated with salvation in the Bible. In fact the passage from Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” uses the same verb. The word arise is anatetalken in Greek. Isaiah’s vision of salvation includes a pilgrimage of the nations to Israel’s light. These Gentile magi are fulfilling this prophecy. Making a pilgrimage from the place where God’s creation rises each day to the light of the world.
The sincerity of the magi’s worship is contrasted with Herod’s insincere pledge to worship Jesus. When the magi ask where is this king of the Jews they ask it with delight and privilege. The next time that term “king of the Jews” is used is much later in Matthew, close to the end of his Gospel. Jesus is charged with claiming to be king of the Jews and is eventually crucified for having such a title. Matthew wrote his Gospel already knowing the end of the story. He already had Jesus’ death in view when he has the magi refer to Jesus as the king of the Jews. This is not only a foreshadowing of what is to come but reflects so much of our world today. How do we reconcile our understanding that Jesus is the light to the world, the personification of hope and salvation, when there is still so much darkness in our world.
Who are the magi today? Who will make the pilgrimage? Who will present their gifts to the king of kings? Who will find light in today’s darkness? The year 2014, like so many years, included stories of tragedy, fear, pain and violence. We tend to focus on those news stories at this time of year. But there was a lot of light too. My personal favourite news story is that of the Olympics when a Canadian ski coach ran out and fixed the ski of a Russian Olympian so that he could finish the course with dignity. Who will share the glimpses of light, of God, in our midst?
The birth of Jesus alarms Herod. After all Jesus threatens to usurp Herod’s title as king of the Jews. Herod’s plot at the end of our passage constitutes the reason for the holy family’s flight to Egypt and return a few years later. The flight to and from Egypt reflects the story of the Exodus. Jesus’ experience early in his life reflects that of the nation of Israel. Later in Matthew Jesus further represents Israel when he embarks on a wilderness journey and remains faithful to God despite the many temptations. The difficult story of the flight to Egypt highlights that God is present in the pain and suffering of this world. That there is a flicker of light just waiting to light up the sky.
While Christmas may focus on the babe, Epiphany bursts open on that glowing moment of God with us. Foreigners travel, Herod feels threatened and stars move their course. The lesson of Epiphany seems to be that in no way is Christ’s birth a private matter; the manifestation of God’s presence in the world engages all aspects of our lives, political, cultural and natural realms. It’s a big news story. Perhaps we are the magi of today but we are often so busy looking at ourselves that we forget to see God. Isaiah calls the people of Israel to see that God will work to restore and redeem Israel through the resources and presence of those formerly known as outsiders. Through the power of God’s presence the community is a centre of life and justice. It’s time to let those outsiders in and shine the light on God’s grace, love, and redemption at work in our world. Amen