•Isaiah 60:1-6 • Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 • Matthew 2:1-12•
We know the narrative well. “Magi from the east followed the star to Jerusalem and on toBethlehem.” We know it so well and it is so familiar to most of us that we commonly misunderstand it as a fairy tale or an historical event. It is neither. Matthew gave us a poetic and metaphorical narrative filled with significant theological truth!
Here is one of those metaphors. The Magi told king Herod, “we saw his star.” Stars can be seen only in the darkest time of night. When Jesus was born, it was the darkest of times in Palestine. Roman legions oppressed and exploited the local population.
Matthew’s tale of the Magi is the story of all who experience darkness of some form in their life journey. We live in a time of increasing doubt and darkness. As our perception of the cosmos changes, so much of what is familiar in our economic and political systems and even in our churches seems to be breaking down. Since we all see only from where we stand at any given moment, evolution is a frustrating creative process.
This is not something new. The Great Depression, World War II and the Cuban missile crisis were moments of darkness. Such moments in human history have been filled with possibilities of new and unimagined life!
John Sivalon is a Maryknoll priest born and raised in Butte. Here is a great insight he recently shared with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious:
“We are in a period where a reality that we knew, understood, and were able to operate in has disintegrated, and we are now in a space where we really don’t know what is going to happen down the road. We know we are moving toward something, but have no idea what it really is.”
I think Sivalon’s words connect the message of the Magi with our present circumstances at this point in our history. Waves of refugees, making long and dangerous journeys to escape the devastating conditions of their homelands, are symbolic of all of us!
It has always been true that to find our way through challenging and troubling times, we need guidance. Fifty years ago the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner wrote this:
“God is the darkness that is light ….
… to those who let themselves be swallowed unconditionally ….
… by the One who is beyond all names.”
His words require pondering. So please allow me to repeat them. (Repeat)
Here is another metaphor in Matthew’s narrative. “Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem.” There is no indication of numbers, gender or ethnic heritage!
When he composed his gospel there were only two kinds of people: Jews and Gentiles. People “from the east” were Gentiles, foreigners – symbolic representatives of the entire Gentile population. Matthew is telling us it is God’s intent or purpose that all people are to share equally in the “Kingdom of God.” “God’s new reality” is emerging among us and embracing all of us!!
Paul understood this even before Matthew composed his gospel. Paul reminded his communities and us that, “in Christ there are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free.” All peoples of Earth, all peoples of the cosmos are called to share in “the kingdom of God”. In “God’s new reality” there are no Christians, no Muslims, no Jews, no whites, no blacks, or browns. There is only the one Living Body of Christ!
The story of the Magi is a bold statement that this world and cosmos are created and being drawn forward, by the One who is beyond all names, to an unknown future of rich and unimagined possibilities. Matthew’s metaphors call us to be people of faith. Follow the star!!