ADVENT, DAY 8:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.
The Magi, or “The Wise Guys” as Rebekah likes to call them, are another set of key players in the Advent story. They’re especially helpful participants for those of us who like to think of ourselves as thinking believers, or who tend to be unsatisfied with tidy answers. Let me explain.
One day, sitting on the CPM (the Committee on Preparation for Ministry) in Tampa Bay Presbytery, I was involved in a preliminary examination for a young man looking for support and guidance as he embarked on his journey toward ordination as a Teaching Elder (Minister of Word and Sacrament).
He presented himself well, and shared a compelling testimony. But I was concerned about one aspect of the conversation; he seemed to have a penchant for neatly packaged, no-loose-ends, answers.
“My faith journey,” I observed, “is defined as much by good questions as it is with tidy answers. How is your comfort level with theological struggle?”
FOLLOW THE STAR: The Wise Guys from the East only found their way to Jesus because they were unafraid to ask great questions. It’s obvious that they never doubted the fundamental fact of God, but at the same time they didn’t allow the questions that instigated their journey to be hemmed in by the narrow strictures of what they already knew.
I wish I could have been in on the conversations around the campfires as the Magi made their way toward Bethlehem, following the star. I’m sure their questions must have engaged one another’s imaginations, tested their faith, challenged what they thought they knew, and led them ever closer to the newborn King.
God welcomes our questions, works with our variations of interpretation, respects our honest, gut-wrenching doubts, and shakes his head lovingly at our floundering inconsistencies (At the same time, I’m sure God is gracious and understands the compulsion others have to constantly hone “right-doctrine” to tighter, narrower tolerances).
On balance, however, I’m convinced that God’s arms are so much wider than our judgements. I also believe that – so long as we are honestly making our way toward Jesus, following the star – the way is always open to the magi who seek him still.
FOLLOW: Matthew’s magi remind me of how important it is that we continue to follow the star; to follow Jesus, rather than our tendency to throw a blanket over the star, put it in a manufactured box, close the lid, and stamp our own name on the wrapping.
Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
Of course, Herod would have killed the child. But isn’t it (too often) in our nature to put an end to the hard questions, when they look to threaten our small kingdoms?
Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.
Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.