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We consider this evening some of the most familiar words in religious literature, probably because every elementary school in the West has a Christmas play every year.  Although we might be numb to these words, I can assure you the story struck the first readers in a very fresh and challenging way.  Matthew is writing to Jewish believers, yet the very first people to “get” who Jesus really was were not Jewish.  The Magi were not like Protestants are to Catholics or Jews are to Christians.  The Magi were way out on the margins with a totally different approach to God.  They were the last folks who should be able to “get” the good news.  But they did.

In Matthew’s day the story had a lot of punch in that Matthew’s Jewish/Christian community was being forced out of the synagogue and into greater contact with Gentile Christians.  They were being warned in this text not to be like the Jewish leaders and scholars in the story who knew the right answer to the religious question, but did not join the Magi in the search for an encounter with God.  Let’s see if the story still has punch today as we search for ourselves in the story.

Disdain, Fear or Laziness?

Did it strike you as odd how the Jewish faith community responds to the Magi?  The Magi have incredible news and the whole community is disturbed.  They have a big bible study to see where the Messiah is to be born.  They conclude it is Bethlehem, which fits with the Magi’s story and the star in the sky.  Bethlehem is only 5.5 miles from Jerusalem but NOBODY GOES!  The Magi have travelled hundreds of miles for this encounter and the religious elite would not even go to the suburbs.  They basically tell the Magi go off on their own and let them know if they find anything!

Where does this lack of energy come from?  Perhaps they had disdain for the pagan Magi and did not want to believe them.  Perhaps they did not want their static little world disrupted.  Whatever the source, this lack of energy and curiosity is still with the church.  Four big examples jump to mind in just the last few decades:

1)         Magi came from the South speaking Spanish about Liberation Theology claiming God was encountered in the very act of liberation.  God is grieved when any of God’s children are robbed of dignity.  The institutional churches listened and had respectful bible studies.  A few called them Marxists, but most just sent them on their way and saying call us if you find something;

2)         Magi from the East came talking about seeing Buddha in Jesus.  They reminded us that Jesus that said the “Kingdom of God is within you,” and challenged us to free ourselves from this fearful, moralistic God of black and white and saved and unsaved.  They exclaimed “You don’t have to earn it, it is already given within.”  Again books were written, conferences held but the structure of the religious establishment was not changed;

3)         Magi from astronomy told the Christian church that the universe is not a clock winding down with unchangeable rules.  Rather the universe is still being created and it is expanding at a greater rate.  They asked who is God of this kind of universe that is still in process?  The gospel is not primarily a rescue story, rather it is an ongoing creation story.  The theology schools got into it but the institutional churches are saying “Good luck with that.”

4)         Magi from the world of quantum physics came to the Christian church saying something incredible – at the smallest of levels, consciousness changes how matter behaves.  These magi wondered if it is God’s consciousness of us that inspires us, they wonder if every prayer is an expression of consciousness that affects matter, they wonder if every conversation engaged in with true consciousness changes the participants?  Again, a few books are written, conferences held but the people running the religious show basically said let us know if you find anything.

Embracing Magi Energy

Of course I am exaggerating and simplifying here, and institutions by nature move slowly, but I think this text still lives.  Communities of faith will always be tempted to “stay put” through distrust of the messenger or fear of change.  However, we here must be particularly vigilant.  Stamped into our young DNA is a core belief that the Word can come from anywhere and anyone.  The word “ecumenical” in our name, and in the name of our Communion, tells the world that we want to be a people that scan the horizon for magi and give reverence to their testimony.  We want to follow modern magi to Christ in the world and be part of ongoing creation.  There will be some dead ends and we will make some mistakes, but if we stick with it we will evolve.

We cannot leave this text without also asking the mystical question: am I, are you, a magi for someone, for this community?  We may feel on the margins, that our input does not matter, but indeed we may have the word for that day.   Conversely, where are the Magi in my spiritual journey?  Are there voices that have touched my heart that I have not listened deeply to?  Are there spiritual leads I have not followed up?  Are there voices I discount because they come from the margins?  Am I giving my spontaneous contemplative experiences proper attention?

May this Eucharist inspire us to not miss out, inspire us to go with the magi in our lives to Bethlehem.  May we as a people live out the promise of our name and look expectantly to the margins.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Homily – Voices From the Margins
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Feast of the Epiphany
Saturday Evening, January 5, 2013
Focus text: Matthew 2:1-12 (the journey of the Magi)

Photo by Victoria Pickering on flickr.com

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