Home by Another Way (Midrash for Three Magi)

“Opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, 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: 11-12

*Midrash (midˊ-rash) n. from a root meaning “to study,” “to seek out” or “to investigate.” Stories elaborating on incidents in scripture, to derive a principle or provide a moral lesson.

I. GOLD

It was a foolish gesture.

But the whole idea was crazy to begin with, so the way things ended made a certain sense.A foolish end, to a fool’s errand.

We began the journey full of anticipation. We were convinced that all of history had been leading up to this moment of time – our moment of time. We were expecting a great tide to wash away all that had come before. God’s second flood.

None of us counted on the waiting. We walked, and we looked; but nothing, anywhere, had changed for the better. I’m not even sure when I stopped expecting anything. Right up until that last day, I tried to silence the thought: What if nothing happens?

Just before our roads divided, my two traveling companions and I came upon a poor family sheltering in a stable. The young woman had just given birth; the baby was sleeping in a feeding trough.

That was where we left our riches, the gifts we had brought to honor the start of the new age. We didn’t really discuss it. It just seemed the obvious thing to do. Our prettily packaged gifts looked a bit ridiculous, sitting there on that bare earth. And, to tell the truth, I felt a bit ridiculous.

Here we were, looking for signs and wonders, when most of the world was just looking for a safe place to sleep.

II. FRANKINCENSE

I am a learned man. I have read the classics. I have studied the scriptures. I have observed the heavens. I have deduced the theorems. I am a philosopher, a teacher, a scientist, a sage.  I have been called “a wise man.”

And I knew.

I read the signs, I calculated the location, I predicted the time. I set out confidently, sure of my route, secure in my analysis. The journey was long, it’s true, but I would have traveled twice as far to prove my theory. To prove that this was, indeed, The Moment.

The Messiah was coming, and I knew. I would be the first to kneel before God’s chosen one. I would be the first to deliver the good news to the child’s parents.

But when I arrived I found the good news had already come, delivered instead by some passing shepherds. Shepherds! How could they have known? How could these uneducated illiterates have preceded us to the manger? They came, not through wisdom, but through foolishness: music, heard on a hillside. While I measured the stars, they listened to the angels sing.

All my wisdom had not taught me to hear the song they heard. I learned that day, there are many paths to God.

III. MYRRH

Shall I tell you what we found?

At the end of our journey, the star led us to a child. No, not even a child: a baby. We found an infant, in its mother’s arms. We were expecting a King, but we found — a baby.

I had assumed that God’s chosen one would be a born leader, a king from birth. But as I looked at this baby, I didn’t see a king. I didn’t see a mighty warrior-to-be, or a future ruler of the nation. I saw a baby. Tiny, powerless, vulnerable, trusting; just a baby.

And yet — as I looked into the baby’s face, I saw the face of God. Not the face of God’s chosen king, but the face of God. God looked at me through the eyes of that baby.

How could I confess such blasphemy to my two companions? or to Herod?And so I returned home by another way.

But shall I tell you a greater blasphemy still? Since that day, I see the face of God in the face of every baby.

 

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by Rev. Liza B. Knapp, 1.3.2019
permission given for use in worship
all other rights reserved

photo: Three Kings procession in the streets of Northampton, Massachusetts, 2007. Puppets by the youth members of the First Churches of Northampton.

Risk Offering: for Epiphany

We don’t know much about the Magi,
and so we don’t really know how costly their offerings were.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were expensive
and would have seemed precious to the poor family receiving them;
but we don’t know how accustomed the Magi were to such extravagance,
or if these gifts represented any real sacrifice for them.
But we do know that the act of giving was in itself costly.
The Magi made a pilgrimage to a strange and unfamiliar land,
and risked both ridicule and retribution from Herod,
in order to pay their respects to the most unlikely of Messiahs.
Every time we make an offering to the church, or to the poor,
there is more at stake than the money in the envelope;
because in the eyes of the world,
every pilgrimage is a fool’s errand.

Prayer
Holy One, some of us have traveled far to find you,
and some of us have long roads ahead.
But we step forward in faith, O God,
that at the end of all our journeying
we shall find you waiting for us.
You are our beginning, and our ending, God,
and all our days we dedicate to you.
May the offerings of our hands,
the prayers of our heart,
and the steps of our feet,
bring us ever closer to that kingdom
where Love reigns over all.

Amen.