Thursday, January 7, 2010

The danger of living

One of the lesser detailed aspects of the Christmas story is in Matthew's gospel - it is the flight of Joseph, Mary and their infant Jesus to Egypt because of the warning of the angel of the Lord that Herod was going to seek the "king of the Jews" that the Magi had come to seek.
The account is in Matthew 2:13-15 (NASB):
Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him."
So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.
He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON."

A contemporary of Martin Luther, a German artist/engraver by the name of Albrecht Durer, engraved with interesting detail the story of their flight into Egypt. The halo surrounding Mary and the baby Jesus are very typical for Renaissance art, but Joseph looks very common. Joseph walks, Mary rides on the donkey with Jesus in her arms...and a bit of wind is blowing her scarf back. It's an interesting piece to reflect on this journey that they undertake so soon after Jesus' birth.

The story in scripture seems to carry us immediately into the life of Jesus. His life is not going to be one of a "King" of royalty who will be served, who will have what he wants when he wants it - the kind of life I often dream "wouldn't it be nice if only...." His life begins with a flight and emphasizes the danger of living. It is not going to be easy, it is filled with spiritual warfare - visible and invisible. It is a reminder that we are to "watch", "be alert", be "awake" all around us for we have (as Luther so eloquently reminded) "one who seeks to do us harm."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Journey of the Magi

The journey of the MAGI (it was "wise men" when I was a kid) is one of the most traditional parts of the Christmas story, even though it probably takes place months after Jesus' birth.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw 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.
Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
Matthew 2:1-5 (NASB)

The word "magos" in the text indicates a group of people who were not Jewish - i.e., Gentiles - who came inquiring about the birth of a King.

Up until this point in the Jesus story, little public impact has been made. Some shepherds came in response to the angelic visit, but that would hardly cause the nation to pay much attention. But an entourage of Magi traveling by camels from the east made King Herod sit up and take notice.

It does not say, as our tradition has stated, that there were three, even though we sing "We Three Kings of Orient Are..." There were three gifts given, but that does not mean there were three Magi. The ancient church gave the Magi three names: Gaspar, Melchior and Bathasar. We simply don't know who they were, but at least we have a hint of "what" they were.

The Magi were probably from Persia, and followers of an ancient religion called Zorastrianism which believed in Astrology as a way of foretelling present and future events.
I'll look at the story some more tomorrow, or Monday, but for now, think about this...why? why did Matthew share this account when neither of the other gospel writers include it?

It's a highly symbolic and prophetic story. Jesus came into the world - a Jew, yes, but not just a Jew. He came to demonstrate that God's purposes were world-wide. Jesus came as a Jewish man to demonstrate to the Jewish nation God's purposes for their role among the nations. Jesus came to demonstrate the reality of the Kingdom of God coming not only upon Israel, but also to the nations of the earth. Perhaps it wasn't "we three Kings", but it certainly was prophetic that they came searching for the "King of the Jews".