Sunday, January 5, 2020

Taking an Alternate Path

Taking an alternate Path

So let us review today's Gospel….how many were there….3?  It doesn't say that.  What were they Wise men, Kings Astrologers…It doesn't say that.  Wait I know one many how many know the answer to what were their names…
“Melchior, a Persian scholar; Caspar, an Indian scholar; Balthazar, an Arabian scholar… many Syrian Christians name the Magi Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas… In the Eastern churches, Ethiopian Christianity, for instance, has Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater, while the Armenians have Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma and many Chinese Christians believe that one of the magi came from China…”[1]
We three kings of orient are  wrong we three wise men mmm ….astrologers…..sages….mages…Magicians…. Maybe.  What do we know about these three guys who come from the east?  Well we know they are described in the Greek as Magi these are men most likely of the Zoroastrian tradition an early Monotheistic faith that had its origins inpre-historic Iran that had influence as far as China and Japan.  “According to Richard Foltz the roots of Zoroastrianism emerged from a common prehistoric Indo-Iranian religious system dating back to the early 2nd millennium BCE”[2]
Does all this matter?  Are the Facts important…in this case no!  It is about the story, and the Journey.  We assume 3 Magi because there are three gifts given and so I am going to roll with that.
Melchior a Persian Scholar I imagine came from a Tehran his Journey would have been over 40 days this is a calculation done at 10 hours a day walking which is highly unlikely considering midday heat and companions and setting up camp and tearing down camp.
Caspar an Indian scholar I like to say he came from Madhya Pradesh India his Journey would be (at the unrealistic rate of 10 hours a day) 126 days and finally we have Balthazar supposed to be an Arabian scholar in that case he would have been the closest but if he came from the far east deep in china his journey could have taken up to a year and a half or more…..
So we have three men who are educated and read the skies for signs of things to come and omens of things to watch for they see something in the sky that foretells of the Child who is to be the king of the Jews and so the furthest one out sets off on his trek much before the others.  Therefore, as he went along he must have told others what he saw in the sky and those that choose to believe him (as he was a figurehead of some kind) they followed him.  His party grew as  he went along adding the other two figure heads as he journeyed helping them interpret what it was they saw in the sky.
Ernest L. Martin describes the caravan this way as they had an audience with Herod;
These Magi came from the east bearing rich gifts for the newborn king. They could not have been reckoned as certain classes of sorcerers and confidence men who roamed the Roman world under the name “Magi.” Herod and all Jerusalem would hardly have been troubled by what they considered impostors. But if the Magi had come from the court of the Parthian kings who employed Magi in the religious affairs of their government, or from the respected Magus colleges of the east, then that would have been a different matter in the view of Herod and the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem.
In order to have an audience with Herod and for him to have members of the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of the Jews) to hear the interpretations of these Magi must show that they were held in high esteem by the people of Jerusalem. In their deportment, it was customary for the Magi to dress in magnificent priestly attire to indicate their professional status. In presenting themselves before royalty the historical records show that the Magi did this with pomp and circumstance. 4 In traveling or on official business in areas where their influence was felt, it was normal for the priestly Magi to proceed in a processional mode with various ranks of them appropriately positioned in the caravan. This must have been the manner in which they approached the city of Jerusalem to present their gifts to the newborn king of the Jews. This would account for the respectful attitude of Herod and the Jewish authorities to them.[3]
So they all come bearing these gifts, for one who they believe is royal born. And so there are theories as to what these gifts represent “The theories generally break down into two groups: All three gifts are ordinary offerings and gifts given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable. The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.”[4]
I am sorry if there is disappointment here but I say, assuming the story is true, the meaning of the gifts are most likely just ordinary offerings for the birth of royalty.  So imagine the shock when this entourage arrives at a simple country house and find an unassuming girl and her husband a carpenter. Can you imagine the shift there?
Can you imagine these High Priests who are revered by kings and leaders, who can interpret the stars and who respect the Hebrew scholars and religious texts: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for form you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” (Mathew 2:6)  These studied men, these well-traveled, worldly, rich men find the simplest of people with a child that in no way will be brought up or trained to be a King as they have understood.
This is where, and why I have titled this “Taking an alternate Path”, you see in the meeting of the Christ Child their realty of how the world works, of how the stars align, of who is worthy of royal honors…it all shifts.  Reality is turned upside down and instead of saying well this can’t be…we read something wrong…this peasant cannot, nor never will be a King at least not in any way that they comprehend and yet they present their Gifts.
These men, I choose to believe, are humbled and awe struck, what has been their way of thinking and believing is shifted, a new reality is opening up before them and they have yet to see what it means.  The scripture says at just seeing the house they are overwhelmed with Joy.  Before they even get in the door something is happening, something physical and as they enter they see the mother and child and they fall to their knees and pay homage opening their treasure chests and presenting their gifts.
This is not ancient hospitality nor the rules the world traditionally abides by, Andrew Arterbury, a professor at Baylor explains;
“Ancient hosts also were obligated to meet their guests’ needs by supplying them with necessary provisions. Upon their guests’ arrival, meritorious hosts fed strangers an initial meal and at times provided them with lodging without asking their guests questions about their identity or place of origin.
In addition hosts would often provide them with water for cleaning their feet and with new clothes if they needed them. Then, after the guests had finished the meal, hosts finally were free to inquire about their guests’ identity, home region, and travels.”[5]
The imagery here is intensified when it is juxtaposed against tradition.  For one Joseph and Mary would never even anticipate a visit from a group as big and famous as these guys probably were and in no way could they even begin to provide what traditionally is given.  There are new ways of being beginning to be expressed before Christ message is spoken, Kings are bowing to peasants.  The host is being offered Gifts with no expectation of Hospitality.
The “wise men” are warned in a dream to take a different path home.  But they are already on a different path.  The meeting of the low born king, the peasant king, who overwhelmed them with Joy, to whom they knelt before expecting nothing.  There are no alliances made, there is no political or religious relationships established what was imagined to be a king has now changed the meaning all together.  They are on a different path.
After their dream they probably left in haste realizing that their lingering presence would arouse suspicion and place the child in danger...which it already had.  So they journeyed the long journey home 40 days, 80 days, and a year to a year and a half.  All the way home they had to study and ponder what did this all mean.  How their understanding of the world could be so reversed by one child astounded and confounded them. They are literally taken on an alternative path through this intentional encounter with the peasant King.
A friend of mine, Judith Favor, shared a poem and some quotes on Journeying from Mark Strand’s; Chicken, Shadow Moon and More, and though this story is about a physical journey it becomes a spiritual journey for the 3 Magi and their entourage and for us.

A journey continues until it stops
A journey that stops is no longer a journey
A journey loses thing on its way
A journey passes through things, thing pass through it
When a journey is over, it loses itself to a place
When a journey remembers, it begins a journal
Which is a new journey about an old journey
A journey over time is different from a journey into time
An actual journey is into the future
A reflective journey is into the past
A journey always begins in a place called here
Pack your bags and imagine your journey
Unpack your bags and imagine your journey is done
If you're afraid of a journey, don't buy shoes[6]

I believe that part of being a Christian is telling the story. So how do we tell the story of Jesus.  Do we let the carols and the feasting and the gift giving become the story? No, we tell the the story through Engaging the story and journeying with the story.  That means living the story of Jesus in our hearts and on the road.  You see many of us the story of the Magi can be relevant.  I actually believe for all of us if you just engage the story. Don’t worry about the facts.
You see our lives changed when we met a different understanding of Christ.  When, many of us learned, that not only could we be loved by God but that we are most enthusiastically loved by God, by Christ and that through the Life of Jesus we are taught how we are to Journey in this world.
We are invited to an alternative path an alternative Journey…it is not done in a day or a year but over many years over a lifetime.  As we are on our own Journey, each one unique onto itself, we discover that the Journeys and stories of Christ change in our heart, Shift our perception and in return they will again change our Journey.
In many ways it doesn’t matter if this story or any of the stories are true for we have chosen to live as a people of faith.  We have chosen to listen, study, and incorporate these stories into our lives.  We have chosen to take an alternative path, a path that in the end, leads us home, home to Christ, Home to Love and Home to our own selves.
So on this the first Sunday of a new year I wish you a safe Journey.  May it be filled with wonder and awe, may God grant you a few surprises, and when difficulties arise know you are not on the journey alone reach out to a fellow traveler seek support from the people here around you.

Blessings and a very happy healthy year.

[1] Wikipedia, Biblical Magi, (accessed December 30, 2014).
[2] Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Zoroastrianism, (accessed December 29, 2014).
[3] Ernest L. Martin, Who were these wise men?, (accessed December 30, 2014).
[4] Wikipedia, Biblical Magi.
[5] Andrew Artebury, Entertaining Angels:: Hospitality in Luke and Acts, (accessed December 30, 2014).
[6] Joseph Shore-Goss, Via Stillpoint as Shared by Judith Favor, (accessed December 30, 2014).

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