Isaiah said they would bring gold and frankincense as gifts to praise the Lord. It would be a joyous occasion, when all the world would see the worth of God’s people reflected in the glory of God’s light. And so it was when the magi appeared at the home of Mary. Indeed, they were “overwhelmed with joy.”
Their joy comes not only in finding Mary and her child at home after a lengthy journey to Bethlehem. Their joy expresses the fulfillment of a prophecy. When Isaiah said that people would come from everywhere and listed all the known nations of his day, those nations clearly listened and continued to tell the story for successive generations. Now they are here as promised; they have come to pay homage to Mary’s child.
Isaiah said they would bring gold and frankincense as gifts to praise the Lord. He didn’t mention myrrh, an ancient medicine. The magi from the East seem to know something about glory that Isaiah omitted. Glory, especially the kind that produces truth and justice, can be dangerous. Shed too much light into the darkness of deception and the deceivers get nervous. Shed too much light into the darkness of corruption and the corrupters get agitated. Shed too much light into the darkness of exploitation and the exploiters will kill you.
It starts immediately when the magi leave “for their own country by another road,” leaving Herod in the dark. It continues to this day as rulers cling to power and the wealthy cling to money, ready to destroy any challenge to their privilege. Myrrh turns out to be the most honest gift of all.
“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression?” (Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Book of Worship).
Water is an important theme throughout the Bible. The authors of scripture use water as an image of transition and sometimes challenge, and they tie it back to God’s renewing work. Isaiah records the divine promise that God will not abandon Israel, even if they pass through trying waters—a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The psalmist declares that God’s voice covers all the waters, so nothing can come against us that is beyond God’s reach. In Acts we see the connection between baptism—passing through the water—and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is on the inclusion of the Samaritans, a group considered unclean by many but not by God. We see clearly the connection between water baptism and the Spirit in the baptism of Jesus himself.
Read Isaiah 43:1-7. Isaiah presents an image of God’s favor that is at once particular and universal. How do you experience God’s love for you and for all persons as part of the body of Christ?
Read Psalm 29. God’s creation, in its wildness, incorporates destruction. In the face of disaster, how do you find a way to say, “Glory”?
Read Acts 8:14-17. Our baptism is in the name of Jesus and the name of the Spirit. To what wildness does the Spirit prompt you?
Read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Remember your baptism and listen for God’s call out into the wildness of the world.
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