The story of the magi has been magic for Christian imagination.
These mysterious stargazers have inspired countless tales and traditions, from children
seeking gifts from neighbors when the first star appears in the sky on January 6 to house
blessings chalking the initials of these unnamed travelers.
Tradition, of course, supplied their names and promoted them from astrologers to kings.
Since there were three gifts, which also have been laden with multiple meanings, it has
been assumed there were three of them...or that whoever showed up empty-handed does
not deserve mention.
These three have been named Gaspar, Belthazzar and Melchior, each with his own background, each with different coloring and representing a different group of humanity.
When you get bored with today's sermon, you can Google them and discover all kinds of stories about them that are probably not factual but might otherwise be true.
Since Christianity has taken such liberty for so long with this story, I want to offer my own
modest contribution, because sometimes, the music matches the moment, like the day I
walked into a bank lobby and heard How can I get you a loan...
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother just when Joseph's new 8-track player was bumping Survivor:
Now I look into your eyes, I can see forever.
The search is over.
You were with me all the while.
The surprise in the power ballad matches the surprise in Matthew.
In Survivor's song, the singer discovers love in a girl he already knew.
His long road of chasing distant sparkle led him to something wondrous...and familiar: he
finally found that what he was chasing, and it was with him the whole way there.
The destination was along for the journey.
God was with the magi before the magi ever saw God's face or heard God's name.
When they saw the child, they recognized him because they knew him even though they had
They reached a house they had never seen before and knew that for the first time in their lives, they were home.
At long last, the search was over.
And they were overwhelmed with joy because this child was with them all the while.
Epiphany is a word that means manifestation or appearance.
It is the season of celebration that God is visible, that home is in our sights.
It is the time of year that Christians give thanks that the light went on, in the eastern sky and in eyes that were never expected to see it.
Epiphany is when the reliable impossibility of Christmas that God is with us shines brighter and farther and wider than anyone would ever guess.
These magi only appear in Matthew after a thoroughly Jewish chapter one.
Matthew starts with a genealogy linking Jesus to Abraham across 42 generations, which
has rich numerological significance, broken into three periods divided by the exodus and
The drab list of male names is sprinkled with colorful women whose stories are reminders that God, like typically overlooked females, was with them all the while and is capable of
saving people in surprising ways.
Enter Mary and Joseph, who would divorce her quietly because he is such a faithful Jewish man, until he listens to God's angel in a dream, because he is such a faithful Jewish man.
Their story fulfills prophecy like crayons fulfill the picture in the coloring book.
Immanuel, God is with us, and of course, by us Matthew obviously means God's people,
the people of Torah, the children of Abraham, the Jews.
Pause here for a painfully necessary reminder: Anti-Semitism in any and every form is an attack on God's family.
We Christians are just adopted step-children in God's family tree: the Jews are God's blood line, always have been, always will be.
We have to know that when we are reading Matthew and when we are reading our news feeds.
Anyone claiming to love God must honor, defend, help, and support God's family too.
Matthew's situation and audience flipped today's sad script.
The bias he encountered assumed that God is pro-Jews and anti-Gentile.
Rabbis thanked God, praying from the liturgy book, that they were not women or Christians.
Immanuel: God is with us, not with you, and almost everything Matthew wrote in
chapter one supports this, except there is a hint of scandal and suspicion with the
inclusion of all those questionable women.
Enter the magi.
They realize the king of the Jews has been born before the Jewish scholars do.
They read the star better than the scribes read Scripture.
The combined wisdom of both leads these mysterious Gentiles, who practice things
forbidden in Torah, to the child of scandal whose name is God is with us and whose
face shines like a star you've always been searching for and never seen until now.
These foreign wackadoodles worship and offer their gifts, and God speaks to them in a dream just like God does with faithful Joseph, while the faithful religious leaders struggle to
catch up and serve the murderous, insecure brute they think is king of the Jews.
Who is us?
Who is God with after all?
There is no them, there is only us, Pastor Brian Zahnd writes.
God is with the Jews too.
God is with the Gentiles too.
God is with the Bible scholars and with the star chasers.
God is with us all as we make our fraught journeys by starlight through this dangerous world.
God is already with the searchers who don't come to church.
God is already with the foreigners who don't speak our language or follow our customs.
God is already with the people we exclude or forget or reject or give up on, even if we
don't know it, even if they don't know it.
Magi show up in our lives every day, searching for something; how do we welcome them?
Do we point them to Jesus or disqualify them with Bible verses?
Are we insecure and scared of what they can offer and teach us, or will we bless their caravan on the wild goose chase that leads to overwhelming joy?
Their journey, of course, is what life is.
It is a crazy search for what we already have.
The magi saw the star at its rising, so we don't call the holiday Wester.
When they see Easter happen, the magi say, let's see where this takes us.
Life is the journey we take chasing after and catching up to what God has already done.
One day we will finally get there.
Our worship the our offering of our gifts is our practice for the day our star finally stops.
We will die, and arrive somewhere far away we've never been before, and see a familar face we've never seen before, and we will be overwhelmed with joy because we're home.