Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the Easr came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “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.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then 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.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Isaiah 60 is a vision offered to the people of God who are returning to Israel after their exile. Not only is the darkness lifted for them as they are restored as a people, they also become a light of new life and hope that attracts all nations. Their joy is not only that they are saved, but that other people also come to share in the light and glory of God.
Matthew’s Gospel begins its story of Jesus with magi from the East coming to pay homage to the infant Jesus (2:1-12); it ends with the adult resurrected Jesus commanding his disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (28:16-20). The meaning of the whole story is contained already in its beginning; from beginning to end Jesus is a saviour not only for the chosen people and covenant community but for all humanity. Every kind of seeker (even Babylonian astrologers, although astrology is forbidden to the people of God!) can find a way to the manger just as they are (note: the offerings of the nations in Isaiah 60:7, while not “kosher,” are still acceptable to God; and the gifts of the magi – traditional secular gifts for honoured people, are also acceptable), and all believers (the scribes in Herod’s court, as well as the disciples of Jesus) are called to help the seekers understand and find what they are looking for.
From Isaiah 60:
“4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you…
5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…”
And from Matthew 2:
“Where is the child who has been born…? For we…have come to pay him homage.”
It sounds like Christmas Eve worship at our church – people coming to see and hear the story of Jesus’ birth, to sing the carols of his coming, and at the end to stand together in and as the light of his appearing.
For us, Advent and Christmas – and that service especially, is the beginning of the liturgical year. So in the same way as the “Christmas story” already contains the whole of the Gospel’s message, is the meaning of our whole church year somehow contained in this beginning? Is this service of helping other people see the light and offer what they have, the heart of what we do all year and to the end?
Like the people of Israel and like the first disciples of Jesus, we are surrounded by people who are not really part of the covenant community – not part of what we know as “the church.”
But in their own ways – and even though their ways are not always “our ways,” are people around us also seeking God’s light and truth for the world? Do they have gifts to offer that are acceptable to God, even though their offerings may not be “kosher” according to us? And what is our role in their journey and in their offering?
And one last question (in case the first ones don’t engage you): If we were Mary and Joseph who welcome the magi into their house … if we were the first disciples who so happily tell this story of foreign astrologers coming to pay homage to Jesus … how would we feel about their not staying to become one of us? Not choosing to settle in and become members of our community of faith? Just coming to see Him, and then being on their way again?