The celebration on 6th January focuses on the story in Matthew's Gospel of strange outsiders from the east, the magi, people obsessed by study and interpretation of the movements of planets and stars. They followed the direction of a new star, expecting to find a new special king. What they found was a toddler with his parents, in an ordinary house in Bethlehem, on what was presumably for Mary, Joseph and their son Jesus, an ordinary day. And they were overwhelmed with joy.
Something wonderful was revealed to those mysterious strangers that the locals didn't see. They experienced an 'epiphany', a moment of revelation. They glimpsed the glory of God in the face of the child Jesus. You can read the story in Matthew's gospel here and you might notice that unlike most nativity plays there are no camels, no kings, no stable and the number of magi isn't specified.
Because the 'wise men' presented 3 gifts to Jesus, tradition tends to say there were 3 magi, but there could have been more, as I point out in 'Epiphany: the Fourth Wise Man' which includes an imaginative story about a 4th wise man who set out with the others but arrived late. The power of the story is in the reasons why he arrived late.
Do wise people still seek the Christ child? And if we do, what is it that we really seek?
Christine McIntosh wrote a poem about the wise men of our day. I think in fact it us about all of us, humanity 'plodding through a desert of our own making...knowing everything and nothing' and wondering if we dare to follow 'where the starlight leads'. I found it on her blog 'Blethers' in a post of several years ago entitled A Cold Coming. I find it very thought provoking. What do you think?
We are plodding through a desert
of our own making. We,
the wise men of our time, knowing
everything and nothing, search for what
we do not understand.
The mysteries of time and space are
hidden from us no longer, but
inner space defeats us.
The vacancy offends our
proud mastery of life and death.
We who cure and kill with
profligate ease cannot bear
such painful uncertainty.
And so with each
turning year we mount our
star-led beasts and seek again
the strange child, desperately.
And some are seeking kindness
or the fleeting warmth of joy,
and some the distant music
of a half-remembered song.
But do we dare to follow
where that star-light leads,
clutching tawdry gifts as
the proof of our intent?
far beyond the stable where the
child becomes the man
the swift breath of love's passing bears
the wood scent and the tears
and the guideless journey onward
from the weeping and the tomb.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons