Do you know that I am weird? There is also a more than fair chance that I’m not the only weird person here today!
Statistically, we talk about people who are most likely going to be surveyed by researchers. Unfortunately, most of them share something in common: they are weird.
WEIRD is an acronym – for Western Educated Industrial Rich Democratic – which probably describes most of us? I am certainly WEIRD!
When we come to the bible, most of the characters are not weird.
For a start, almost everyone you encounter in the scriptures is Eastern, not western, in their thinking, worldview, and spirituality.
Some are educated; most are not. Most would know huge portions of the Hebrew scriptures off-by-heart.
None are Industrial, although many are industrious. No one before the Industrial revolution was.
Few are rich; almost everyone else is not. Most people lived in abject subsistent poverty.
None are democratic. Some live under monarchies; most live under foreign occupation.
The Magi are Educated Eastern wanderers. Perhaps they are Persian or from another eastern country. Some call them astrologers, or astronomers – but these words carry significant cultural weight and bias for us – so that makes them less-than-helpful descriptors.
There is no mention of camels, or that they are kings. We don’t know their names, where they are from, how they travelled, how they were dressed, what skin colour they had, or even how many there were.
We simply number them three because the gifts are three and our cultural value presumes that each person would bring a gift to the party. It is much more likely that there is a much larger posse of people involved in this travelling caravan to provide safety along the road and to explain why their arrival caused such a stir in Jerusalem.
That they followed a star strikes us as odd because stars are simply enormous balls of burning and exploding gas.
We do know that they have no place at the manger alongside the shepherds! There are two very different and very separate stories of the birth of Jesus. Luke has Joseph and Mary living already in Nazareth and provides the necessity of the census as the motivation for travelling to Bethlehem for the birth – despite how historically unlikely this scenario is. The presumption is that shortly after Jesus is born, the family return home.
In Matthew, Joseph and Mary are living already in a house in Bethlehem and Mary gives birth there. There is no mention of angels or shepherds. At some point after the birth, which may have been up to two years after his birth, the couple receive the visit from the magi and their gifts. Despite the fact that we usually celebrate their arrival, it is precisely their foolishness in going to the royal court in Jerusalem to announce the birth of a new claimant to the Jewish kingly throne that creates the direct threat to the life of Jesus and results in the death of perhaps a few dozen infant male children in and around Bethlehem.
What we do know is that Matthew invites us to be like the Magi. However we have arrived today and whatever has led us to come to church, we will find life and truth by meditating upon the words of the scriptures. It is there that we can be led deeper into relationship with the living God and discover that Jesus is God with us.
Sunday of the Epiphany. Matthew 2:1-12.