Monday, January 7, 2008

Reflection on Matthew 2:1-12

After the magi had found the Christ child and worshiped him, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and they left for their own country taking another “way.” Your bibles say “road,” which is fine, but it is literally “way.” They leave taking a way different from how they came. Of everything in this text, this has grasped my attention. I’m not sure what to make of it or what to say about it, but it has at least got my to thinking about how I get to Christ and what I can expect to happen when I leave.

How did you get here today? What route did you take to make it to the worship of Christ this morning? I took the route I always do, highway 220 north. Sure I could take other ways to get up here. I could swing over the mountain into Wyalusing and take 6 up. I could even drive through the gamelands over to the back side of Kellogg Mountain and take 414 into Monroeton and on up to church. But, I don’t. I take my usual path to come to worship. The reasons are obvious. Highway 220 is a straight shot. It is easier. Compared to the gamelands road with a huge “no winter maintenance” sign at its entrance, I consider it slightly more safe. And, frankly, it is what I am used to. It is the best way. In fact, I am certain that God, in God’s divine providence and foresight, had 220 built just so that I could make it up to worship from my home on Sunday mornings. And, I dare you to prove me wrong. What route did you take to make it to the worship of Christ this morning?

The magi took their usual route to find the Christ child. They looked up into the pin light speckled heavens and discerned from the alignment of the stars that a king had been born. And so, they headed off to the capitol city of Jerusalem to find the newborn king. Sounds like a grand quest doesn’t it? The magi sound so noble, don’t they? It is very easy to get to wrong idea here about these magi. Our translation of the Bible calls them “wise men” and others even call them kings. I really don’t want to burst the bubble of any of us who played a king in the Christmas pageant of our childhood; I was the one who gave the gift of frankincense by the way; but these men would have been considered anything but wise and certainly not kings by the first Christians reading this story. These magi were astronomers…astrologers really who looked to the alignment of the stars to guide their lives. They were Deon Warwick with robes. I know I am just about to ruin Christmas and Epiphany for you for the rest of your life, but when you read “wise men” or “king” or “magi” in the future, think of the spaced out, crystal laden, virgo from college who couldn’t wait to get you into her dorm room to discover your moons and houses and tell you what the stars say about your future.

“Here, let me see your hand…yep…oh…hehe…now let me look on page 382 of my astrology guide. Here it is! You will be married to a black haired, brown eyed beauty and have five children. Isn’t that super?”

“Really, I will? That kind of describes you.”

“Yea! You do want to go out with me!”

O.K., when we think magi, that’s who we are thinking about. That kind of person is the last person I would expect to find God and actually lead me to God. In fact, the magi do get lost. Big surprise there. They assume the new king will be found in the palace, and that’s where they go first. It is the priests and scribes in Jerusalem, who know the scriptures well, who are able to direct the not-so-wise men to Bethlehem; the correct place for the birth of the Messiah. And with that correction, the bumbling fortunetellers are led by God’s star to the Christ child.

My point here is that we shouldn’t be impressed by the arrival of these spaced out yahoos and their gold, frankincense, and myrrh (elements of their fortunetelling trade.) What we should be impressed by, and what continually gets overlooked if we make too much of these guys, is that God uses their misguided ways to help them find the road to Christ. They don’t have to learn anything new in order for Christ to be revealed to them. They don’t have to change anything about themselves in order to find their savior. God uses their usual road, the road they know well, to lead them to the Christ child. Maybe, all roads can lead to God. But, not all roads lead away from God. Most are one-way streets.

Notice that the magi leave by a different “way.” Never forget that the early Christians were not called Christians. They were called people of “the way.” Only after the magi discovered Christ did they find “the way;” a different way. They did not leave the same as they came. How will you leave today? Will you take the usual path back home, or will Christ direct you down a different way?

Here is Robert Frost’s famous reflection on finding a different way:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While in seminary I met a woman who had lost her 16 year old daughter at the hands of her daughter’s boyfriend. Her daughter’s murder sent her in search of God. She wanted a God of justice. She wanted a God who would stand up for her daughter’s death. She wanted a God who would comfort her through her pain. With words such as “justice is mine, says the Lord,” she found a road that led her into a relationship with Christ. But, the road she left by was surprising. The woman was in our class to talk to us about forgiveness and reconciliation. Christ had led her to walk the hard and amazing path of forgiving her daughter’s murdering boyfriend, Lance, and helping Lance recover his parentless, destroyed life. “Someone needs to help raise him into a good person,” she said with mercy and tears glinting in her eyes.

This was certainly the road less traveled. This was certainly not the way she took to find Christ. But, as Christ usually does, he sent her down a different way. And it has made all the difference. How did you come today? Was it your usual way? What way will God send you as you leave?

Frost, Robert, Road Not Taken, Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.

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