Today is Epiphany and we have a choice: to let ourselves be overly troubled by power politics and react– or be filled with joy and wonder at the revelation of King Jesus and enlist. The story of the magis’ pilgrimage to find and worship baby Jesus is followed by their and Joseph’s recruitment into alternative kingdom not of this world. This story has caught my interest, inspiring me into expectancy of new adventures in 2021.
The Gospel of Matthew recounts how “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,” asking “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.”
This inquiry from foreigner pilgrims as to his whereabouts of the newly born King of the Jews, together with talk of “his star,” and their desire to worship him “troubled” king Herod “and all Jerusalem with him.”
Today in America our current president is likewise troubled by another who has been elected to replace him—and many in America are troubled with him (or against him). Herod’s highly problematic and eventually death-dealing next moves are revelatory of what can and is happening in our world today.
King Herod quickly “gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born” (Mt 2:4). The Greek verb used here, sunago, in the one describing the positive action of gathering as believers for worship, prayer and teaching (Mt 13:2; 18:20; Acts 4:31; 11:26; 13:44; 14:27).
However, the verb is also used to describe gatherings against Jesus and his followers (Mt 22:32; 26:3, 57; 27:27; Acts 4:5), and that’s what’s happening here. When political and religious leaders gather together in Scripture, it’s always negative. These gatherings represent the counter or false kingdom of God and are anti-Christ. Unity is often achieved over and against true spiritual authority, which they seek to suppress if not destroy (Mt 27:62; 28:12; Psalm 2:1-2; Acts 4:25-28).
Here the spiritual leaders of God’s people allow themselves to be gathered by the head of state, and why? To share Herod’s power? To benefit from his favor? To avoid his wrath? Herod uses them, requesting information he needs to mount his offensive against the God’s elected King Jesus, who threatened his power. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they tell him citing Micah 5:2-4 and 2 Samuel 5:2, prophecies of a future leader, the Messiah who will shepherd God’s people.
The scribes and chief priests provide assistance and insider information to the head of State rather than withholding it. In so doing they fail to protect their Messiah Jesus, the incoming King, and all the baby boys of Bethlehem from the volatile, tyrant king. Maybe their collusion is due to ignorance regarding the timing of God’s intervention in the world. Their Messiah has appeared! Their indifference is evident in their failure to join the magi to meet and worship their Messiah. Their ignorance leads to a massacre, as they both gave Herod the information he needed and failed to warn or protect their Bethlehem flock. What damage is happening now due to the indifference and ignorance of Christians, and outright collusion with power!
In contrast, the magi foreigners, (whose equivalents now might include astrologers, scientists or even fortunetellers), know God’s King has been born. They’ve been following the spiritual star that is leading them to pledge their allegiance in worship. Herod has no special star leading pilgrims to him, and he likely coveted their and everybody’s worship.
King Herod then calls these magi together secretly, determining from them “the exact time the star appeared.” We as Matthew’s readers are let in on this secret meeting as part of our spiritual and political education. We learn that Herod or any future political power monger cannot be trusted. He’s gathering intelligence to stop any would-be threats to his power and we can expect the same to happen now. Herod opportunistically commissions these magi and anyone like them: “Go and search carefully for the child; and when you have found him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship him.”
After hearing the king and going their way, the star which the magi had seen in the east goes before them. In contrast to the troubled king and all who inhabit Jerusalem, when the magi see the star, “they rejoice exceedingly with great joy.” They are being led by the Master of the Universe to meet his Son, the Eternal King.
“After coming into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped him.” Then, opening their treasures, they present to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—fulfilling Isaiah 60:1-7’s powerful prophesy.
These magi inspire me greatly this day when US Senators and Congress gather together, and many are troubled about a contested election. I feel led to turn my gaze take to the King of kings.
The magi are warned in a dream to not return to Herod—and so they return to their country by another way. They refuse any further collaboration with the powers that be. Instead, they tune into a higher power, who leads them by means of the star and speaks to them in dreams.
Joseph too, like the earlier Joseph in Genesis is given a dream where an angel of the Lord appears to him, telling him: “Get up! Take the child and his mother while it is still night and flee to Egypt. Joseph follows the divine orders, getting up and taking the child and his mother to flee to Egypt, where they remain until after Herod died.
What might it look like for God’s people now to refuse collusion with the powers and tune into God’s communiques– whether they be stars, dreams, visions or Scripture? I want to “rejoice exceedingly with great joy” and fall on the ground in worship, pledging my allegiance to Jesus, the only legitimate king.
May we resist what troubles the powerful and their subjects, and refuse all collusion that comes from devotion to nation, party and political leader. May we fully join and stay enlisted in Jesus’ movement, taking our orders from the highest and most loving shepherd, experiencing the protection and the escape routes given to us by the Spirit. In this way we can be about the work of the true and eternal Kingdom of God.
Listen to Gracie’s sermon “Humble Seekers Find Jesus”