Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
The Second Sunday of Christmas
Text: Matthew 2.1-12 "Caravans and Trains "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
What stories do you know of searches for people, and journeys undertaken to find them (from your own experience, family, or friends, or ones you have seen or heard about)? What emotions do these stories arouse in you?
A Window on the Text
Our attention here is drawn to two very different regimes and two very different places.
The tyrant Herod, epitome of lies, oppression, violence and injustice, is contrasted with the in-breaking regime of God, marked by truth, freedom, peace, justice and love. The author of Matthew makes clear to his communities that, however it may seem, God is at work to save and restore humanity. The empires of this world will not have the final say.
Jerusalem, the great City of Peace (shalom), is the focus for all the hopes and longings of the Jews, despite being the power base of Rome’s puppet king. They believed she would one day be free and all nations would be drawn to her. (Isaiah 60)
Bethlehem, House of Bread, was a humble low-profile village completely overshadowed by its neighbour. Yet there was a long-held and oft-forgotten tradition that it would be the birthplace of a great ruler – ‘the one of peace’ (Micah 5:2-4). It became the birthplace of the One who would call himself the Living Bread.
Oriental astrologers (Gentile magi or wise men) were used to moving in royal circles. They’ve travelled from afar, most probably Arabia, and at great cost to find the newborn king, whom they ‘read about’ in the ‘stars’ (v2). But they end up 9 miles off target, with the megalomaniac King Herod (v3).
Faking a desire to ‘pay homage’ to the child-king (v8), Herod consults local experts in ancient prophecy (v4) to ascertain the location of his ‘target’.
In this story, despised foreign fortune-tellers are the ones shown to have wisdom, not the religious leaders. They pay homage, give gifts (v11) and depart for their homeland by a different route to save the child from Herod’s clutches (v12). In the midst of the dangers of Empire, God reveals another way home.
Responding as a community
Among other things, Matthew uses this story to encourage Judean Christians in his communities to embrace outsiders, particularly Gentiles who had converted from pagan backgrounds with occult practices. Clearly, Jesus’ communities were to be inclusive, because God’s love extends to all.
Worship, faithfulness and obedience to God’s purposes are the things that ‘save’ the world. Where and among whom have you witnessed such things?
- Who is in danger in our world, and what gifts might we bring to them?
- How inclusive is your Christian community? What steps might you take to be more welcoming and inclusive of strangers and foreigners?
Pray for all those who are on the journey to faith in Christ and all who are seeking to guide them.
Say the Lord’s Prayer together, pausing at the words ‘deliver us from evil’, remembering those who need such deliverance today from the ‘Herods’ of this world.
Light a candle for them and place it near the door or by the empty chair. Keep a few minutes silence as you remember them before God.
You might like to read Dr. Susan M. (Elli) Elliott’s prayer at http://ellielliott.webs.com/Prayer%20for%20Coming%20of%20the%20Magi.pdf.
More background information
- Walter Brueggemann provides a fascinating account of the visit of the magi in an article entitled "Off by Nine Miles," in The Christian Century, December 19-26, 2001. Go to http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2103 to download it.
- See also Bill Wylie-Kellerman’s article entitled, “Another Way” at http://thewitness.org/article.php?id=333
- ‘The issue is not, “What must I do in order to secure my salvation?” but rather, “What does God require of me in response to the needs of others?” It is not, “How can I be virtuous?” But “How can I participate in the struggle of the oppressed for a more just world?” Otherwise our nonviolence is premised on self-justifying attempts to establish our own purity in the eyes of God, others and ourselves, and that is nothing less than a satanic temptation to die with clean hands and a dirty heart.’ Walter Wink, exerpt from Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, page 6.
- Kenneth E Bailey writes about the Magi: "In the 1920s a British scholar, E.F.F. Bishop, visited a Bedouin tribe in Jordan. This Muslim tribe bore the Arabic name al-Kokabani. The word kokab means "planet" and al-Kaokabani means "Those who study/follow the planets." Bishop asked the elders of the tribe why they called themselves by such a name. They replied that it was because their ancestors followed the planets and travelled west to Palestine to show honour to the great prophet Jesus when he was born. If the original teller of the story was in Palestine, then "the East" means the other side of the Jordan River. Writing in the second century, Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, 29) asserts that the "Magi came from Arabia." The wise men at the birth of Jesus were almost certainly wealthy Arab scholars from the Jordanian desert and are identified as Arabs by Justin Martyr who in the second century wrote the Church’s earliest commentary on the birth stories of Jesus in the Gospels. K E Bailey, 2008, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, SPCK, London, pp 51-3.
- See TS Eliot's poem Journey of the Magi at http://www.blight.com/~sparkle/poems/magi.html.