For People Seeking Wholeness

Adoration-of-the-Magi

To think of goodwill from God to the world is to think universally.  I remember fondly from my old church in Portland, Oregon called Imago Dei (Image of God) how the slogan was “to take the whole gospel to the whole world”.  That summed up much of what is intended in the brighter spots to Christian history.

But Christian history has to have a template and God gives one in the gospel.  As wonderful as it was for Peter to be the first person to preach the gospel post-resurrection that is not the first example touched by the presence of the Divine.

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11).

These magi were spiritual seekers.  They had a mixed bag of what had been figured out before discerning the star of Bethlehem but it seems clear that they had humility going for them quite well.

They were overjoyed at seeing the star—- Why does it say they were overjoyed at the end and not at the beginning of their journey?  It is is simply because there was a sense of fulfillment in that the star had taken them to the fulfillment of all their desire to see this great king.  This fulfillment, like any true spiritual fulfillment, is in the discerning of Jesus and his will.

on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother—- With the perspective we have now of semitic peoples for centuries leading up to that time we can apply what we know of the role of the queen mother.  The recognition of hierarchy in the royal courts of those people had a place for the queen mother that was higher in distinction than the king’s wife.  Joseph was not chopped liver but they knew that the infant was a fully endowed king and thus no figurative crown on his head.  Mary, however is named because she would be the gaberah (great lady) as the queen mother would be know.  Matthew had the proper theological hindsight to note it this way.

They prostrated themselves and did him homage— This is where discerning how Jesus is Lord turns into action.  Seek him.  Find him.  Worship him.  In prostrating they lay themselves down on the ground in vulnerability and surrender.

opened their treasures and offered him— Recall the words of Jesus where he said where your treasure is there is your heart also.  This is their gateway action example for us on going from servile fear like a slave to relationship.  Relationship is the heart of the gospel.

gifts of gold—- St. Ireneus stated in Against Heresies that gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is in the latria (worship) of God and myrrh Jesus’ humanity.  It is also noteworthy according the Ignatius Study Bible that myrrh was used to anoint levitical priests for service.  In summary, this interpretation could point to those symbols of speaking of Jesus as God incarnate and as a royal priest.

I began this commentary about the whole gospel to the whole world.  It is fitting to point out two things that we learn from this passage.  If one were to take away one element of the three gifts of the magi you would have an incomplete teaching of the completeness in Jesus being Lord and Savior.  No divinity means that his atonement has a limit to at best a year since his priesthood and sacrifice would be of a finite being.  No royalty means that Jesus cannot reign in our hearts much less the world.  And if one were to take away Jesus’ humanity we would not be seeing a chance of adoption in Christ through the gospel.  All of Jesus must be presented by his Church and it must be unwavering.

The second thing I would point out that just as there is a holistic vision of Jesus to be appreciated there is a holistic treatment by God to the world that is implied.  These magi were easterners but they were led by a miracle and the rays of truth in their hearts to encounter Jesus the Son of David.  On the first day that Jesus drew non-amniotic fluid breath there is a chance for the world to come and adore him.  He is always the same and never changing.  The invitation each day, each season is there to give him our all as he gave his all.  It is no coincidence that Bethlehem means house of bread and Jesus described himself in the bread as broken for all who would have salvation in him.

What is stopping us in turn from the chance to come and adore Jesus?  If we see him as distant, who moved?  And if you see a star guiding you out of your comfort zone towards Jesus, even if it is that small voice in your heart, what is lost and gained if you go with that?  These are the questions worth the asking in all ages.

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It’s A Wonderful “Wasted” Life

Old Woman SmileNobody wants to waste their life.  By wasting ones life I mean not grasping those dreams that are natural to the gifts you have and of the desire of the heart.  For some people they see their life as wasted because a tragedy has come upon them.  For others they see their life as wasted because they gave up time for someone or something that was not worth it in the sense that there was no return on the investment.  This could apply to toxic relationships or to addictions that for too long are on the same day to day level in priority as eating, sleeping, breathing and shelter.

But sometimes there is a perspective from the outside in when observing someone that has lived below their means and far from the gifts and amenities that could so be grasped.  Someone goes to jail for months or years because of a righteous cause in standing up for the oppressed.  I heard of a monk who did not have the money to redeem a slave along with the slave’s brother and so took the slave’s place.  What “a waste” if one looks at that with classist values.

But what about God’s point of view looking at unselfish sacrifice?  Is it a waste or an investment with a return far above earthly riches?  Such is the case for an old widow named Anna.  The view of the author and, by extension God, becomes quite clear and beautiful in shedding light on the subject.

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,  and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

There was also a prophetess—  As the story pivots from old Simeon, who prophesied, to Anna it is mentioned that she is a prophetess.  I perceive this as an emphasis for several reasons.  One is that Luke frequently writes with narratives that create gender balance.  If you see the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain you must also notice the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus.  Second, Anna seems to have provided  a testimony of the nature of God and his plan of redemption by her past lifestyle of dedication that then launches her to declare things in words.  It is like talking the talk is worthwhile only when you have walked the walk.

She never left the temple— By the time we get to this line, we see her life in the temple as all she had.  For her to be widowed after seven years and then go into the temple implies that she was barren and without children from that marriage.  There was no law against her being remarried and I am not aware of a practice of kidnapping women and being forced to live a nun-like existence against her will.  She chose God’s temple to be her all in all.

but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer— And here we see the beautiful note of her will and where she chose her will to be centered.  She was a worshiper.  As I contemplate the infancy narratives which drawn open hearts to worship God in Christmas, we should remember that worship to God is best in simplicity.  Though not everyone is called to live a dedicated religious life, those who do it shine a light to God that illuminates his glory and in the hearts of those who see it and are open.

And coming forward at that very time— This makes the scene very much church though they did not know it as such.  She steps in on the coat-tails of Simeon’s  prophesy that carries with it glory and suffering.  She comes in as a second prophetic speaker in this spontaneous congregation of Jesus and is a second witness (like the Pauline pattern of 1 Corinthians 14) to confirm that this was far more than a circumcision of baby boy but the sneak peak of the Messiah.

she gave thanks to God—- If we blink we will miss it.  If she did not have an attitude of worship of those years it would be “Thanks for nothing!” but instead it is a matter of knowing that all those years of service to God mattered and she knew supernaturally what for in someway as she saw the New Temple held by parents in the Old Temple (cf. John 2:18-22).

and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem—- This is rich too.  God’s message is one of hope but is to be discerned supernaturally.  Once discerned and internalized how does one not declare it to those who you are in contact with?

The message of this story is that God care about you.  He wants to be your hope but to experience the superabundance of grace one needs to be where God has called them, worship with all of life and leave the payoff to God.  It could be five years in, at the age of 84 or in heaven.  But the point is that if you gain Christ, you gain everything.  Anna’s five minutes in the presence of Jesus was enough.  Is it yours?