When pondering the journey of the Magi this week, I recalled a history book called “What Went Wrong?” about the stagnation that hit the Muslim world in the 15th century after centuries of dominance in virtually every area of life. The author contrasts this stagnation with the tiny country of Portugal, which during this same period, evolved at a remarkable rate, with ambassadors all over the world, robust trade, and the most advanced fleet of ships in the world.

This contrast between stagnation and evolution is the core message in today’s famous gospel. Matthew contrasts the adventurous Magi with the passive and suspicious leaders in Jerusalem. Of course, both energies are present in us as well. Perhaps by shining a light on these two energies we can have a personal epiphany on this Feast of the Epiphany.

The Tale of Two Energies

The story of the Magi is so familiar that we forget how incredible it is. These guys are way out there, both in terms of geography and world view. They have no grounding in the Jewish tradition, yet they are awakened to the monotheistic God of the Jews though science, the study of the stars. Through great sacrifice and expense they travelled to Jerusalem and eventually Bethlehem. They don’t find the “royalty” they are looking for. Mary and Joseph provide no validation for their journey in the form of credentials or other evidence of authority. They recognize Jesus anyway, have a spiritual dream and head home. What a ride!

In contrast we have the energy of Herod and the religious establishment. This is comical. These strange Gentiles come from the margins with important information about THEIR religion. They convene a big bible study to answer the Magi’s questions. The whole town of Jerusalem is a buzz, but it is just an intellectual exercise. They send the Magi off to Bethlehem, which is a mere 5.5 miles away. Nobody goes with them! “Let us know if you find something” they say!

Was it disdain for the gentile Magi? Was it fear that their little lives would be disrupted? Herod, we know, was personally threatened by the possibility of a new King, but what about the others? Where is the curiosity and the passion?

The Edge

Evolution is a rich image for Magi energy, and evolution happens at the margins. To get a picture in your head about “evolving on the edge,” let’s look at an example of how evolution works. Imagine with me a colony of seals on an island in the ocean. In the large group one young seal looked different – she had more freckles than the others. Her mother was a little embarrassed and sometimes the other seals made fun of her. But as time went by it seemed our seal with more freckles escaped the sharks better than other seals. It seemed the sharks and other predators could not see her quite as well in the swirling waters. She had litter after litter of baby seals and after a while the freckled seals were everywhere. For seals escaping predators, freckles were an evolutionary edge.

What are your spiritual “freckles?” Where is your edge?

This question hit me like a ton of bricks at the ECC Synod last October. I was in the middle of giving a workshop on preaching to a diverse group from beginners to grizzled veterans. My talk had to do with a methodology for preparation, but I found myself at the end going off script and imploring them and me to find the evolutionary edge in their communities and in their own spiritual journey. If we are going to be a Communion of great preachers we have to preach from that fresh edge where there are more questions than answers, where we are growing, where we are evolving.

What is your evolutionary edge? If you are not sure, do not despair because Magi from the margins tend to show up. Nobody had Ferguson on their radar, yet the racial tensions of these months gives all of us a profound edge to explore. We can, like those stuck in Jerusalem, avoid this edge with disdain or fear, but there it is. The intersection of science and spirituality was an edge for the Magi and it remains an edge for many today. Last Sunday we celebrated the life of Dorothy Ambruster, and justice for the poor was a life-long edge on which she kept evolving for 90 years. I will hazard a guess and suggest that meditation and silence is an edge for Pastor Frank. These things may be just a few of the possible edges of spiritual evolution in your story.

So let’s be a people in 2015 who treasure the wise voices from the edge that pass our way. Let’s be a people in 2015 ever on the lookout for evolving edges in our own experience. Whether the Magi voice comes to us from the outside or within us these days, let’s follow them to the edge, to Bethlehem and beyond.


George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Feast of the Epiphany
Saturday Evening, January 3, 2015
Focus text – Matthew 2:1-12 (The Star and the Magi)

Photo by Chuck Whitney on flickr.com