The End of the Journey?
Based on Genesis 1:1-5, Ephesians 3:1-12, Mt 2:1-12
I have always been fascinated by maps and by compasses. I learned in my youth how to navigate using a compass and a map, and I was also fond of orienting my position by starlight and knowing the relative time of day by the position of the sun. My father made sure that whenever we went out into the woods we had a compass and that we knew how to get back to where the car was parked. This was a particularly useful skill at this time of the year in Minnesota – by the time I had been hunting all day in the cold, I was sure glad that I knew how to navigate my way back to the car.
In my later teens and early twenties I was intrigued by stories of ancient sailors who navigated across the featureless seas using stars, sun, moon, waves and birds. The book and movie about the drift voyage of Thor Heyerdahl aboard the Kon Tiki, and then the re-creation of ancient Polynesian voyages from Tahiti to Hawaii in the 1970’s to show that ancient navigators used their vast knowledge of sun, moon, stars and waves to navigate 2500 miles of open ocean were mind altering. You see, I had often wondered about the Magi and their journey from the East to meet the child king Jesus enabled and guided only by a star. What would make a group of priests undertake a perilous journey of many months to years, on the off chance that a certain star was going to lead them to a mighty king? Furthermore, what would make this group of non-Jewish priests, these Gentile priests, travel to pay homage to a king not of their land? What did these spiritual navigators know or strongly suspect that caused them to saddle their camels and make this unbelievable trip, and how would they know when the journey was finished? It seems a good time to ask God for some wisdom for our time and for our spiritual journeys…
The Bible starts with, “…In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,…” there was nothing but chaos and God spoke and brought order to it. For our musing today, it is interesting to note that the sun, moon and stars did not get placed until day #4 – humans until day #6. The celestial lights are very important to us not only as navigation tools, as I have alluded to in my opening, but also as a continual reminder of what happened on that very first day when God spoke light into being and separated light (day) from dark (night). Before the light of God, all had been encased in darkness, but now with the coming of light – God’s light, there would never be total darkness again.
The Magi come to Jerusalem, the capital city, following a star that had told them of the birth of a king. Three Gentile priests had come, but the child king was not in Jerusalem, rather he was in Bethlehem, approximately 7 miles to the south of the capital of Judea. King Herod hears that these Gentile priests are asking questions about where this king might be found. His own people tell him that from the Jewish prophetic scriptures, a king is to be born in the City of David, Bethlehem. Herod then calls the Magi to him and reorients their trip to the south – imploring them to come back to report on this king so that Herod can come and properly honor him. I suspect that our intrepid Magi were really glad to hear that after such a long trip they had only missed their destination by a handful of miles – pretty darned good navigation using only one star.
Paul is on a missionary trip (one of his three such trips) and is writing to the folks he left behind in Ephesus in what is now the country of Turkey. Paul lays out how the coming of Christ had made all the difference in the spiritual journeys of both himself, a Jew, and for all the Gentiles. In the second chapter he writes, “…But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us….” (verses 13 and 14, NRSV) In this way, Paul reveals the two mysteries in our scripture from this morning. The first that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for Jews AND Gentiles together, and secondly that, “…through the church the wisdom of God in all its rich variety might now be made known…” Paul finishes this section by noting that God intended this all along so that all humans could have, “…access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in…” Jesus.
So how do we navigate our scriptures for this Epiphany Sunday? Isn’t it interesting that God chose to introduce Jesus first to shepherds (persons on the margin of polite Jewish society) and to Gentile priests? One would think that the Jewish astrologers of the time would have noted the star blazing in the sky and would have discerned its portent. God chose to keep the Jewish intelligentsia in the dark (so to speak) and brought God’s light to those who were in need of the light. God brought light to the whole world, as we heard again today in the first creation story, and it seems that God intended to do the very same thing through Jesus.
Jesus would tell is disciples that they were to “first go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…” However, He himself would interact with Samaritans, the unclean, the marginalized, tax collectors and Roman soldiers – persons who showed him that they had the light of faith within them. However, it wasn’t until Jesus blinded Saul on the road to Damascus, with God’s great light, that the conversion of the Gentiles really kicked into gear. Saul/Paul had many arguments with the Jewish leadership of the new Jesus movement about his missionary trips to disciple the Gentiles. Yet it is clear from the first page of the Bible that the light of God…that the light of Jesus, was always intended for the whole world.
In later scriptures in the Gospels, we hear of miracles occurring with those who interacted with Jesus. How many of those who were made whole again sang praises to God and followed after Jesus. Yet, nothing is known of the fate of the Magi – we’re only told that they avoided Herod and left for their country by another route. Can that really be all that happened? Could they have traveled across many months and perils to simply drop their gifts and ride their camels off into the sunset? If they believed so much in the kingship of this child to make this journey, wouldn’t they have been changed in some meaningful way by the journey and their desire to worship Him?
I wish to think that the time with Jesus did change the Magi. I wish to believe that their journey wasn’t over when they had found Him and delivered their gifts and worship. I think that it is wholly consistent with the remainder of Matthew’s gospel that the Magi went back to their homes and became emissaries of the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”. I wish to think this because it is important for each of us who are making our way on our individual spiritual journeys. It is not enough to journey to worship Jesus and then return home like nothing happened. We have to understand that the journey to Jesus is a life-long journey filled with missteps, but always guided by the light of a love that never fails. God created light for all the world, God created Jesus to be the light in and of the world, and God created us to navigate our lives by being oriented to this divine light. God created us to use our spiritual compasses to find our way through the darkness of the world, across the trackless arc of our lives and back to the safety of God. God gives us comfort and sustenance on our way by surrounding us with others on the journey, and through the sacrament of Communion. How will we know when our journey ends? We will know we are finished when we have grown into the likeness and image of God within us – when we have developed the mind of Christ. When we have followed His mandate to go and make disciples of all the world – orienting all to the divine light of Jesus the Christ. Amen and amen!