Bethlehem, Epiphany, Gospel of Matthew, light of Christ, magi, spiritual gifts, spiritual journey, spiritual practices
Matthew’s story about the magi who set out in search of a child king is the story of a spiritual journey. These were scientists – astronomers whose scholarship involved studying the desert night skies for signs of significant events. Their discoveries of what was beyond the earth in the heavens opened their minds to consider the meaning of a particularly bright and bold star one night and summoned them to take up their journey to Bethlehem.
From Matthew’s point of view, the magi were authentic spiritual seekers. A more accurate picture of their physical journey would be of a large caravan including more than three magi, as well as servants, animals, and supplies, traveling for weeks if not months. Their spiritual journey, on the other hand, was a journey toward the light of God’s presence.
These astrologers from a foreign land are the first to acknowledge Jesus as God’s anointed king, the first to see the light of God shining through this newborn child. Their journey to Bethlehem shows that it is God’s intention to welcome everyone into the joy of God’s eternal home.
In a sense, the journey of the magi points us toward the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel where the final command of the risen Jesus is to carry the gospel to all the nations, and to include all people in the baptismal blessings of God’s new covenant. Just as the light from the star shone on the place where the Christ child was born, so Matthew calls us in our discipleship to a kind of shining. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:14, 16).
Epiphany reminds us of the light of Christ that shines for all people. We participate in shining this light. At the same time, the story of the magi cautions us not to think that we have all the light we need within our religious tradition. There is a universal human quest for reunion with the author of our lives that finds expression in other religions, cultures, and nations. We need one another in this vastly spread-out human family to practice humility in acknowledging that we are more alike than different when it comes to searching for the light of God’s presence.
So the task of the church is not to protect certain practices or beliefs or traditions. The task of the church is not survival in the midst of huge cultural shifts and increasing secularism. The task of the church is to show hospitality to all who seek God’s light. The task of the church is to reflect the radiance of the Christ child in the world. The task of the church is to live in the light and be a beacon for all who are on their own journey toward spiritual wholeness.
Our lives are meant to radiate the light of Christ in the world as we reach out to new people with the grace and peace of the Gospel message. As we grow in our own faith, we invite others to the life of faith. We humbly acknowledge that we are on a journey as well, that we don’t have all the answers, and that we simply seek to know God more deeply through prayer, worship, and the community of faith.
This Epiphany, may we be as determined as the magi in following the signs that lead to Christ. May we bring our gifts – the gifts of our love, our lives, our humility, our friendship, and our seeking – faithfully sharing them with those we meet along the way. May we give testimony to the light that shines in our midst, the light of God’s love in Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh.
Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Grace filled. Particularly touching to me is the caution to see the Magi as a sign that we do not have all the light and the task of the church is to show hospitality to all who seek God’s light.
Somehow, when I am in danger of becoming ashamed of Christianity, though never Christ, I end up reading your healing, hope giving posts and find the faith to persevere. I thank God for you and your compassion and wisdom.
mark lloyd richardson said:
Humility is so important in all religious traditions. Especially in this age of mistrust and tribalism, we need to break through the narrow readings of our scriptures and allow God to meet us all, for we originate from the same Divine imagination. Thank you for sharing your comments, Eileen. I always appreciate your thoughtfulness.