Musings on the Magi (and Jesus in the Mess)

Dec 23 2012

This is a Jesusy post. For those of you who don’t identify with Christianity and who’ve been reading here for a long time anyway, can I just say? Thank you for sticking around. Thank you for trusting me to be kind. Thank you for being my friend and believing the best of me. That’s not an easy thing to do when the news is often full of Christians who say cruel things, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate you.

I didn’t write this as a blog post. I wrote this for my church, at their invitation to share this Sunday-before-Christmas some reflections about the Magi. The Wise Men. The Three Kings who may not have been three in number and almost certainly weren’t kings. So I want to say thank you to my church family, too. Thank you for allowing me to speak the Truth as honestly as I can. Thank you for accepting me even though the path I travel to Jesus is sometimes weird and wonky and off-kilter. And, most especially, thank you for actively believing that the Light of God exists in all people. You guys are weirdos — honest, open, thoughtful, wise weirdos — which is why I love you very much.

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Musings on the Magi (and Jesus in the Mess)

Advent is the one time of year I’m relieved of my spiritual doubt. Or maybe doubt isn’t the best word to describe my constant questions the rest of the year. My ongoing analysis of faith. My perpetual testing and trying and weighing and measuring.

But Advent arrives just when my soul is at its weariest, and I suppose it’s not strange at all to find rest in this season. To find myself deep inside the winter’s darkness and to perform that most human and Godly act which is to believe against all outward evidence that the Light is coming.

The story of the Magi is an odd one to appear at the beginning of the Gospels. We land in Chapter 2 of Matthew – chapter 2 of the entire New Testament – and in wander the pagans. Right at the start. Like they belong there. Matthew says they came from “the east.” Scholars have speculated they came from Persia, Arabia, possibly India, and although the word “Magi” refers to a Persian religious caste, when this gospel was written the term was loosely used for astrologers, seers, or fortunetellers.

If we look at the players in the Nativity story, the people who knew what was happening, most learned by angelic proclamation what was going on. Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and the shepherds – they got angels. And specific information. And do not be afraids. Elizabeth knew without an angel appearing; we don’t know how. And the Magi knew. The only explanation, the one they gave as they wandered around Jerusalem chatting people up is this: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

We saw his star, they said.

That’s it.

We saw his star. And they recognized the Light for what it was.

They put together an expedition to find the king of the Jews. But the how of it all? How they knew the star was his? That part’s not answered. We don’t know. We just know they showed up as soon as they could after the King did. That, whatever they saw in the stars, it was too good to miss. So good, in fact, that when the star led them to a humble house and into the presence of a carpenter’s small son, they fell down and worshiped.

And I wonder. What must their suspension of disbelief have been like? How enormous their choice to have faith? How clear their celestial message? To buy into that modest and foreign scene so thoroughly as to follow through and worship Jesus as King?

For those of us in the Church, the path they took toward the Light and the Truth –astrology, astronomy, the coming of a King written in outer space — that’s not a path we recognize. Certainly not one that makes us comfortable, I think. At best, it’s a wonky, weird, off-kilter path to Jesus. At worst, it hits on taboos we’re taught to reject and avoid.

And yet what strikes me every year in the Jesus story – every year in a different way, every year through a different player – is the fact that no matter how much we try to sanitize God, to simplify the Bible, to create strict boundaries and rules so our faith can make sense and so everyone will just behave, Jesus insists on being made manifest in mess.

This life we live is complicated. Horrible. Beautiful. Triumphant. But it’s a mess. And the Light enters in.

We’ve all heard people say, “Close the door! Were you born in a barn?” Maybe the reason Jesus doesn’t close the door on us is because he was born in a barn — a real, dirty, grimy, non-glamorous barn – and so he understands our mess.

 “And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

God knew.

God knew about the mess.

God knew that becoming God With Us meant inserting Jesus into the muck and the mire, right into the gooey, sticky center of life. It meant sending a baby — The Baby — to be born in a barn and it meant leaving the barn door all the way open so a wild cast of misfit characters could show us the way.

This is what I know:

Jesus is made manifest in the mess, friends. Jesus was made manifest in the mess then. Jesus is made manifest in the mess now.

And this is what I don’t know, but I’m beginning to suspect:

I suspect that the people who are making their way toward the Light are not always the people we expect.

I suspect we have fellow Truth Seekers who are not necessarily traveling a spiritual path we recognize but who are as sincere as we are in their dogged pursuit of the Light of the World.

And I suspect they could teach us a thing or two about Seeking and Finding and then falling down to worship at the feet of a tiny king. If only we’d be on the lookout and welcome them through the barn door.

This is the season of Advent.

This is the season of the Light piercing the darkness.

This is the season of belief despite doubt.

This is the season of the Baby – the teeny, tiny baby that held all of Divinity inside of him – and this is the part I find no trouble believing at all because I am a mother and I know what it is to look into the face of a child and see the Divine looking back at me.

Advent arrives just when my soul is at its weariest, friends, and I suppose it’s not strange at all to find rest in this season. To find myself deep inside the winter’s darkness and to perform that most human and most Godly act which is to believe, like the Magi, that the Light is coming. That the Light, in fact, is already here. In this mess. Waiting with an open door.

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bright star in space image credit nuttakit at freedigitalphotos.net