Matthew 2: 1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
This passage reminds me of one of the Christmas cards I designed for WEBA some time ago, showing three camels bearing their Magi and leading a lantern parade as part of the Christmas Festival in Calne, Wiltshire. Like the original Magi, the camels were far from their natural habitat. They don’t belong in Wiltshire, and although you couldn’t see this on the picture, it had been raining all day.
The increase in human migration from one place to another, whether for reasons of conflict, climate change, or economic advantage, shows no sign of slowing, whether or not we put up barriers around our little island. Every day people set out on difficult and dangerous journeys in the hope of a better life.
Any arduous journeys I have made have been principally for fun – but it has surprised me, on occasional long rainy or windy cycle rides, how blessed I feel when someone appears to offer support, to ride along for a short while, or to offer tea from a flask.
Let’s be honest, even ordinary journeys are a bit stressful, even more so over the Christmas period, when roads jam, engineering works begin, and any kind of risk can ground a plane.
The Magi in Matthew’s story are travelling towards something unknown, prompted only by an astrological sign we would almost certainly have missed, or ignored if it was pointed out to us, but registered significantly enough for them to go.
Although their destination was unknown, the Christ child was already ahead of them in Bethlehem. At the end of the journey, where the star settled, was the energy behind their very creation, the centre of their being, their life, their light, their hope, and the object of all their hopes, dreams, and desires.
Jesus travels ahead of us. I think he makes this clear to his disciples in John 14:1-3. None of our destinations are unchartered; he has gone ahead, done a recce, prepared the place we are heading to. He is there now. Perhaps one practice we could try this Christmas is to use imagination to realise this truth:
- Where am I travelling to? Every trip to visit relatives, or whoever, is a journey towards an encounter with Christ in them.
- Where is God calling me to go? Who should I make time for when it’s busy – or is the Spirit prompting me to go somewhere where I have no idea who I’m going to meet?
- When I arrive, can I see what Jesus has prepared for my stay? What has he moved? What has been put in place?
- This advent, is there a way I can be Christ to those who have been forced to set off on more difficult journeys?
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you that you have gone ahead on my journey to ….. Help me to find you, and the work you have prepared for me, when I arrive. Help me to see you in those I encounter, and to understand how I can bless them on their way. Amen.