Monday, January 6, 2014

Making of our destination a journey and of our journey, a destination

Thinking on Matthew 2.1-12 and wandering magi:

Some wise guys came to town, causing a stir, and I’ve got some questions . . .

Why did the star take the wise guys to Herod and Jerusalem in the first place?  They were following the star, they presumed and so do we, to the new king, to Jesus.  But there’s a detour, as they end up at the first not in Bethlehem, but in Jerusalem.  Why Jerusalem?  Why does God lead these seekers there?  Why give Herod a heads up?  Why place Jesus in such danger?  Maybe they just got lost – following a star as your navigational guide isn’t as exact as GPS.  Judea is a pretty small place and Bethlehem is only about 6 miles from the heart of Jerusalem.  So perhaps it wasn’t divine guidance but human inexactitude that led them to Jerusalem.  Maybe the significance of the star’s leading was only understood in hindsight, as Jesus’ followers sought to find meaning and understanding in all these strange events.  Or maybe it happened just as God planned, with God throwing down on the powers and principalities right from the start – here I am, now what are you going to do? 

Why did the wise men’s news so frighten not only Herod, but all of Jerusalem as well?  Various versions of the Bible in English translate Herod’s (and Jerusalem’s) response in verse 3 to the arrival of the new king as . . . troubled . . . agitated . . . disturbed . . . upset . . . frightened . . . terrified . . . 

Some preachers and scholars say they reacted in this way because the people of Jerusalem (by their conduct) simply weren’t ready for the Messiah, so his coming scared the pants off them.  Others that the coming of the Messiah would interfere with their human plans and they weren’t having any of it.  Maybe.   Maybe any news of change inconvenienced or scared them.

Whatever the cause, what is clear is that the arrival of the Messiah was greeted not as the good news it was, but as bad news – very bad news indeed.  Perhaps the question begs to be asked: for whom is Jesus’ arrival bad news?  And why?

What was the other road by which they left for home?  They were to leave by another road (than the one by which they came).  At its simplest, it’s obvious, isn’t it?  The men so wise they would seek a messiah not their own over many miles and through many lands could not possibly return the same way they had come because they themselves were no longer the same.  They had been fundamentally changed by their encounter and in their changing, their journey, their path, had changed as well.  They came one way and left another.  It’s a beautifully simply way to understand the human experience of Jesus – we come to him one way and we depart from him totally other.  In this sense, the journey of the wise men becomes a metaphor for our own journeys of faith – meeting Jesus changes our trajectory, our direction.  It has to – for who can stand in the presence of the divine and not be changed?

What was the wise men’s true destination?  What was the destination of the wise men?  Was it Bethlehem?  Maybe.  They certainly thought so.  But perhaps their true destination was Jerusalem, where they brought the news of the one to be born.  Maybe their destination, their ending, was back at their own homes, where they would certainly tell of all they had seen, all that had happened.  Maybe the wise men were the first evangelists – proclaimers of Messiah’s arrival.

In a very real sense, the wise men’s destination was Jesus himself.  But their arrival is not an ending; rather it is a beginning – for Jesus, for them, for us.  The journey to Jesus had been important and the arrival – oh, bliss.  But it’s the afterward – the what they did with what they learned, the part of the story that we don’t know, that’s most important, I suspect.

Once a mystery is solved, the story ends.  Not so here . . . for once the mystery has been ‘solved’, once Jesus has been arrived at, the journey to him has come to an end, but the journey for and with him has just begun.

So it was for the wise men, so for us . . . we have come once again to Jesus and so we must surely depart by another road . . . I wonder where it will take us?

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