January 5, 2020
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright
I must confess that I have regularly dismissed the magi as pawns …
drug out of the East by the magnetic pull of an unusual star;
sent by Herod to find the baby as if they were errand-boys;
shaken awake by an angel who rerouted their way home;
as if they had no will of their own,
and had to be moved around the chessboard by others.
But I recently read a reflection on the text by Karoline Lewis1 and it has opened my eyes.
She asserts that the magi do more than simply respond.
She says they resist evil:
they witness to a truth that will challenge power;
they defy authority;
they trust YHWH’s angelic message over Herod’s.
It is a rather extraordinary way to look at them!
Over and over, they make difficult choices; they are the agents of their own destiny; they refuse the easy route.
Consider that they left their homes and families to follow a star – that was a choice!
They kept going when the way grew long and they were saddle-sore – that was a choice!
They refused to turn back in the face of fear or homesickness or doubt – that was a choice!
They were on a worthy path, a path trod by others.
Abraham left everything behind to follow a promise, and everyone calls him a hero.
Jesus left home and family, and we are impressed by his determination.
How are the magi any different? They should get more credit!
The star led them to Jerusalem where they encounter Herod.
They may have walked into the throne room naïve, focused on star charts and slide rules, but they must have picked up on …
Herod’s terrified response to the news that another king had been born,
or his desperation to learn the location of the baby,
or his slipperiness as he secretly tried to involve them in his plot.
They could have gone along. They chose not to.
In refusing to become Herod’s stooges, as Lewis puts it, “they embody holy resistance to those powers and empires that are threatened by everyone and everything that might very well call into question their carefully constructed, self-serving, and self-[adoring] administrations.”
That is not a choice easily made.
The powers of this world can be ruthless, demanding loyalty or your life.
Herod had climbed the ladder of success, from governor of Galilee, to joint ruler of Judea, to King, by impressing the right people, by backing the right side, by eliminating rivals. His hands were covered in blood. Even his own family had felt his wrath.
So failing to do as he requested meant the magi were risking their lives.
But when the angel warned them, it confirmed what they had sensed. So they chose to go home by another way. They chose to defy, to resist, to witness to the power of their growing faith.
What an interesting text with which to begin a year! A year that will provide plenty of opportunities to defy evil or knuckle under to it; to challenge injustice or stay silent; to take risks to witness to the depth of our faith or seek to save our skins, as every year does.
I don’t know who you usually turn to as your guide in such weighty times, maybe a parent or a poet or a prophet for our times, but I am here to suggest that you might consider the magi as role models.
Lewis puts it this way, “Following a star is never a blind endeavor. The story of these astrologists from the east reminds us that even something as simple as a star in the sky might lead us into places of risk, spaces of courage, and directions that demand trusting hearts.”
So let us begin this year by looking for the stars that God has placed in the night sky for us to follow; let’s listen for angels whispering warnings; and let’s be as courageous as the magi, choosing to stand up to every evil that would threaten God’s way in the world. Amen.
1 “Following a Star” at workingpreacher.com 1/1/19