how to arrive at Christmas: the Magi
So we are 3 weeks into season of Advent and we have just one more to go!
Advent isn’t just what all those calendars make it out to be: this time of counting down to Christmas. It’s a bit more spiritual than that:
it’s a time set aside where we do what we need to do to show up on Christmas morning and embrace everything Christmas is.
Cause that’s the thing to remember isn’t it? That Christmas isn’t just something we celebrate, it’s a reminder about a fundamental truth about our world:
that God is here, with us and for us, transforming everything into something new.
And because it’s that, Christmas is really this time when we embrace the invitation to get in on the action, arriving at the manger ready to join in with that Spirit thats making all things new.
This Advent we’ve been the Nativity Story to help us do just that. We’re looking at all the characters in the story and asking:
"what do they tell us about what it means to be ready for Christmas? What do they tell us about the posture, attitude, disposition, or mindset we need to have come Christmas morning? What do I need to do now in order to get in on the action?"
So we’ve already looked at the shepherds, Mary and Joe, and we finish it all of with these folks … the Magi.
Some of us may be familiar with their story, and it goes something like this:
Later, wise men came from the East following a star that told them a new King had been born. They stopped to ask King Herod for directions to this new king but sensing he wanted to kill the child they did not tell him what they knew. When they finally found the place the star was leading them to, they discovered the young child and they kneeled down and worshiped Him. They then left in a different way than they came.
Now typically when we hear about these characters we hear that there are three of them and that they are Kings, but that tradition developed after the story was written.
Matthew calls them ‘Magi.'
Magi were non-jewish wisdom seekers. They were people who were always looking for a deeper understanding of life; people who would look to the stars to see what was happening in the Universe, who would always strive to be open to the idea that anything is possible, always ready to grow, change, and become.
It’s these kinds of people who showed at the manger. Now why did they show up? We’re told they saw a star in the sky - this star that told them a new king was being born.
So they see the star and they head out, maybe together, maybe they meet up along the way, we really don’t know. But what we do know is where they came from:
“From far in the east.”
Now we could take this quite literally, that’d work. But we can go a bit further with it. To say someone was coming “far from the east” wasn’t just geographical; its to say that they came from somewhere completely different. It was to say, as we say back home, they “weren’t from around here.”
The Magi were others, they were outsiders, They were people from a totally different worldview, practice, and tradition: they weren’t Jewish; they weren’t middle eastern; they didn’t know what a Messiah or a Christ was; everything Christmas was about - all its hopes, expectations, and meanings, all it's imagery and language - it would have been brand. new. to. them.
All they knew is that a star was shining and that meant something to them - it hummed with a reverence and it had a weight - and so they took off, travelling maybe a year or two, moving across half of the known world, entering into this land that was completely foreign and new, all in this attempt to chase it down and experience what the Universe was doing.
And they finally showed up and all we’re told is they gave some gifts, bowed down to little toddler Jesus, and then “left in a different way than they came."
So with that in mind, the question we’re asking about the Magi is ‘What do they tell us about how to show up at Christmas?’ “What do they teach us about the mindset, the disposition, the attitude that we need to have when we arrive at the manger in a week?”
And there are lots of ways we could answer that, but I think there’s one thing that they can probably offer better than any of the others, and its one of those things that sounds super easy but in reality is really freaking hard but so incredibly important:
They tell us we need to show up open.
Showing up open is a hard thing to do.
It’s hard to be people who show up open because the alternative is just so easy: it's just so easy to be closed off. It’s so easy to be people with set ideas of what to believe, of how things work, how its done, and what is right and proper.
Anyone know what I mean?
Whether it’s with Christmas or anything else for that matter, it’s so comfortable to think, “well, this is what it is, and this is how we celebrate it, and this is what it means for me."
We never have to be challenged, we never have to think or feel too hard, we never have to be surprised or shocked, we never have to feel lost, we never have to sweat.
It’s so easy because it’s just so neat and tidy.
But as people trying to be human and alive in this world, as people trying to find life that’s true, full, and deep, here’s the thing we have to remember: nothing good, reverent, and real in life is ever neat and tidy.
Whether it’s talking about relationships, money, justice, politics, and especially faith and spirituality, nothing is ever neat and tidy.
It’s always going to be a messy and complicated. Its always going to have some tension to it.
And our job isn’t to swing to either side, trying to get rid of it all, but rather to do the hard work of learning accept the discomfort and mess and learn to exist within the tension.
Are ya with me?
And that’s where the lesson of the Magi comes in.
When we arrive at Christmas, we’re invited to leave behind the neat and tidy and step into the tension by arriving open. We’re invited to show up ready to experience something new and different, ready to have everything turned upside down, ready to be challenged and inspired, ready to be pulled out of what we know and are familiar with into something strange and uncomfortable, and ready to, just as the Magi did, leave different - transformed by what we’ve open ourselves up to, and ready to go and live it out.
So the question for each of us is: ‘what do you have to do during Advent to show up open?’
‘What are you discovering about Christmas that is challenging and new?’
‘What does the truth about Christmas, that God is here, with us and for us, transforming everything into something new, cause you to rethink?'
‘What do you need to put down? What do you need to wrestle with? What do you need to surrender to?’
‘What needs to be shaken up in your world? What mess do you need to make?'
Those are the questions for you to rumble with during Advent.
And as you wrestle with them and your answer begins to rise up, may you be courageous and own it. May you know that’s what this season is for and trust that it’ll make Christmas that much more powerful.