Matthew 2:1-12 | Epiphany, Year B
The Yes of an Unbeliever
The gospel for Epiphany is the same every year because none of the other gospels mention the Magi. If only one-quarter of the gospel writers thought to mention the Magi, why does the Church celebrate them every year?
The Magi came from the East, meaning they weren’t Jewish but probably priests of Zoroastrianism from near present-day Iran. They’ve been ascribed the labels of “wise men” or “kings” but they were most likely astrologers, astronomers, and magicians. Their profession hints that they were comfortable with the unknowable. Despite being rooted in a different religion, they would most likely have felt right at home with angel visitations, the virgin birth, and the fulfillment of the scriptures in a most unlikely manner.
To follow a star anywhere, particularly by trekking from Iran to Judea on camels loaded with gold, frankincense, and myrrh, takes a certain level of comfort with the unknown. Maybe that also makes for the best Christians, a willingness to be uncomfortable with the unknowable, an understanding that the only certainty is after death.
In Scripture, certainty usually creates conflict. Jews who expected a warrior messiah had the hardest time accepting the itinerant Preacher they got instead. Those who held unbreakable the laws denoting acceptable food, acceptable practices, and acceptable acquaintances struggled the most when presented with the new covenant. Those who held tight to a sacrosanct membership within their religion fought hardest against the welcoming of the other, the outsider.
Yet, that’s what the Magi were, the other, the outsider, the not-yet believer. And yet they were among the earliest called by God to worship His Son. And even more impressively, despite all the odds against them doing so, they recognized the star as their calling and followed it. God’s chosen people don’t always do that.
Did the Magi return to their land converted Christ-followers? We don’t know. But we do know that seeing a baby in a manger (or likely a toddler in a small home) instead of in a palace didn’t throw them too much because they even listened to a second calling to return home by a different route, another time they obeyed without understanding why. The Magi were clearly ok with the unknown.
What do we hold as known and as a given? Are we willing to let those things go and follow a new star? Are we willing to reserve our judgment? To admit that we don’t (and won’t) always understand? Are we willing to let God be God and just be lowly instruments? Maybe the Magi’s yes is the very reason we celebrate them every year. Maybe we should work to emulate at least some of their ways.