Monday, December 28, 2015

Wise in the Way...



THE EPIPHANY was a sign of recognition. However, from this text we read that the Gospel According to Saint Matthew revealed that though some in Israel had anxiously waited, watched and sought the Messiah, the Deliverer… and were rewarded.. others deeply feared and rejected our Lord's arrival. This realization comes to us as we read that jealous world powers took note of his arrival.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

"And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.  (Matthew 2:1-12)

Enlightened and Troubled!
Our author wrote primarily for the early churches surrounding the area of Antioch in Syria, relating to them concerning the journey of the Magi. The geographic arena cited is important. Here the text we find it revealed that the travelers came from an unspecified eastern realm. This was most likely Persia. They were royalty, who were learned and practiced in astronomy. The men sought the child Jesus, saying that they were looking for the king of the Jews.
 As related by the church of Matthew, these wise men eventually arrived at the home of our Lord and honored the birth of the child who had been announced by the appearance of a star in the heavens. While tradition holds that there were only three wise men present who were steeped in astrology, in reality we consider that they may have been part of a greater caravan. Their appearance, though somewhat casually mentioned here, caused great repercussions among the powerful. We see that their arrival at the court of Herod the King caused quite an upheaval.
 By their inquiry, made innocently, Herod was made aware of a perceived threat to his tumultuous rule. The king, being very active in public works in that he had founded many cities and municipal projects, was historically noted for brutalities in maintaining his power. We are reminded, that this is the king who committed fratricide, entered into an illicit political marriage, and sexually pursued his niece. He was eventually the man responsible for the death of John the Baptist.
 The inquiry of the wise men spurred the suspicious ruler to inquire of ancient Jewish prophecy. He sought prophetic wisdom from his close ties with others having much to lose. The religious hierarchy of the day taught him of the legendary predictions. Proof was not difficult to find. From the Pentateuch we read that in the midst of the sin and turmoil in the ancient world, the Hebrew scripture said that Balaam had spoken these words concerning a star…

I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not nigh:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab,
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed,
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed,
while Israel does valiantly.
By Jacob shall dominion be exercised,
and the survivors of cities be destroyed!”
                                 (Numbers 24:17)

Thus we may confidently calculate that the magi had come as predicted by scripture. Their journey had been predicted by the historical record of Israel. The scriptures elsewhere told of those who would praise God from a foreign land…

A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
                                          (Isaiah 60:6)

 We read also in the text highlights provided from the prophet Micah, for Matthew tells us that Herod specifically sent the wise men to Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2). In reading the scriptures rightly like the authorities of old, we find that the wise men were informed not only by the guiding star they saw in the heavens, but were further sent by the inquiring malice of Herod. The text, however, relates that the magi discerned his motive as revealed dreams. In this sensitivity, they intuitively factored that Herod was a jealous ruler who would harm the child that they sought.

Wisely Done…
In this text, therefore, Matthew reveals several facts to us. First occurs in that the revelation of Jesus’ birth as King of the Jews was meant for far more than just the Jews. Those considered as being learned in heavenly signs were informed of his coming. Creation told of his coming! This witnessed amid the Jewish populace of Syria that even those steeped in Gentile mystery religions, especially Eastern Zoroastrianism, saw that our Lord’s birth had been historically foretold. Jesus was born according both to Jewish prophecy and natural sign.
 Second, but no less important, is that the text tells us of the receptivity within humanity at the time of his birth. The powers of this world were sinfully, jealously, and habitually anchored against him. He was preserved, protected by God through many dangers, until the proper time. This is revealed by the gospel author as Matthew stressed the foretold pattern. Jesus, the Light of God's love, was in God's time, purposefully caught in the darkness of unfolding rejection. He was destined to be crucified and killed as the Sent One unduly convicted for the salvation of those who would believe in him. But the darkness could not smother the Light.
 This text reveals to us that from the beginning God created all things, and from that time had planned for our preservation from evil. In spite of our dark distance from him, much like the spans of space known to be present between stars, we as readers of the magi's travels and prophet’s words gave us light. We now need only to apprehend the greatness and eternal loving nature of God. We may by this revelation grasp the meaning of his gift.
 You see, hearing this good news concerning the Messiah of God, we may be brought to understand and receive the gift of faith. We may then confess our previous, sinful unbelief. This may yet be done by those living and working in the modern world. We are then, through the gift, be forgiven our trespass against God's intent.
 Indeed, we have been granted guidance of Light like those wise men long ago. The scriptural evidence in Matthew states that they who believed and looked for his comingwill not perish. As proof so that you may follow in their footsteps, I offer that the wise men are still with us... for we still hear their testimony, Thus in the Spirit we are granted the power to wholly receive grace upon grace. Thanks be to God!

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