Preaching: Rev. Melissa Lumpkin
I want you to picture in your mind’s eye, creation. I want you to picture the trees, the grass, the plants and flowers. I want you to see their colors. Then I want you to picture in your mind’s eye what they feel like and what they smell like. I want you picture the cycle of the seasons. What do these plants, all of creation, look like in the changing seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. This changing pattern of creation. It repeats itself year after year. I want you to picture the hardy mountains and move that picture through the seasons and through the subtle change of erosion. Now lets move our mind’s eye to the heavens. Look at the blueness of the sky. The brightness of the sun and the movement of the clouds. Watch how they change each day. Watch how they change when the weather changes. Watch for the patterns that emerge. In spite of the fickleness of weather, the daytime sky remains the same. It follows the same pattern day after day, month after month, year after year.
Now we need to move to the nighttime sky. Take a look at the constellations. Looks for the familiar constellations like Orion or the Big Dipper. Watch how they move across the sky in the same movement night after night, month after month, year after year. Watch the moon as the moon moves across the sky in its usual monthly pattern. Watch how that pattern doesn’t change much. Watch how eclipses occur but still within that same pattern. All of creation has a pattern, has a method of moving through the years. Finally, in your mind’s eye, I want you to try and picture what the night sky looked like 2 thousand years ago. Filter out the light of the cities, Filter out the moving satellites in space. Filter out the noise and light of the airplanes. Look at how vibrant the night sky is.
And just beyond, you see a group of men. They have their papers. They have their instruments of study. They have a small candle to give them just enough light to see their papers. You watch them study the sky. You watch them make their marks. You watch them point and comment. You realize that these men are what common people call Magi, the studiers of stars, dreams and creation. But then you see a difference in them. They become more animated and vigorously pointing at something the sky. You try to figure out what they are pointing at but being someone who doesn’t study the stars as intently as them, you have a hard time discerning what it is. For the moment, our journey in our mind’s eye is done.
But the journey of the Magi is just beginning. These men noticed something different in the night sky. These men knew the patterns of the stars and the moon. They knew what the changing patterns meant. This night was different. They watched a new star rise. It wasn’t something they have seen before. Nor was it something they recall reading in their studies. So they charted. They made observations. They asked questions. They were learned men after all. They thirsted for knowledge of creation. Tonight, they had something new to figure out.
I am certain that this new star gave them a lot to talk about. I also can imagine them heading to their library seeking answers. They knew this star meant something important. They just didn’t know what it was. I am sure they pulled texts from the shelves in various languages and traditions. They pulled whatever they can find. Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian. All they could find. In the midst of all this knowledge and legends, an answer could not be found. I can imagine they were frustrated. They needed an explanation of this new star. They watch it rise. Where could the answer be found?
As the frustration grew, someone suggested they go to a small group of religious people, a diaspora of Judeans. They knew this group had their own religious texts, perhaps, this people would be willing to share. The Judeans were happy to share with the Magi once they heard their story of the star, perhaps even willing to sell a copy of the Torah and the prophets. Perhaps the Judeans were wondering if the Magi would convert to Judaism. Or the Magi remembered the Judeans talking about their sacred texts and went looking for a copy at a scribes place of work. For whatever the reasons, the Magi got a copy. And they began to read and to study with all the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas.
A theme began to emerge. A theme of a Messiah, a king. Someone who would bring peace and light to the world. Someone who would bring Jerusalem to the center of the world. The Magi put two and two together. The new star must mean the birth of this Messiah/King. They had to meet this King, the one who the very heavens announced. They began to prepare for a journey, but not realizing the journey had already begun. They gathered supplies. They gathered soldiers for protection. They gathered gifts. It would be rude to welcome a new king without gifts. They packed the best; gold, frankincense and myrrh, not realizing that they meant something entirely different to the Messiah, however, these gifts were appropriate gifts for a king.
What king wouldn’t need gold to fund his army? What king wouldn’t need gold to fund his palace? What king wouldn’t need gold to fund the temple in his honor? Kings needed gold especially young ones. What king didn’t want frankincense? All temples used it in their religious ceremonies. If a king were to lead a nation, he would have to have the right incense to please the gods and the worshippers. What king didn’t need myrrh? For all kings will die and the feasting in his honor would need myrrh.