Recognizing Jesus

Here's an Epiphany "Opening the Bible" blog entry I just posted at i.ucc. It's called 'Recognizing Jesus.'

What's the message of the visit of the Magi?

I don't think it is in how many of them there were. {The Bible doesn't specify, but tradition over the years has said that there were three. Some of the reasons for this number are the three gifts they brought (Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh) or the reference to the kingdoms of three kings in Psalm 72:10. Isaiah 49:7 and Isaiah 60:10}
Psalms 72:10 (NRSV) 10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
Or exactly what they were{In different Bible translations they are called Magi or wise men. From the influence of Psalm 72:10 and also Isaiah 49:7 and Isaiah 60:10 they're often called Kings. The Magi were followers of an ancient religion called Zurvanism -- With it's all encompassing creator Zurvan and it's good and evil deities Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. The Magi looked to the stars as a guide. They were excellent astrologers. They didn't follow any kind of accepted religious practices of the Hebrew people.}
Isaiah 49:7 (NRSV) 7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
Isaiah 60:10 (NRSV) 10 Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you down, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
Or who they were{The Magi aren't named in the Bible, but tradition has given us many possibilities. Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior are the most common in our traditions -- from 6th and 8th century texts from Egypt and Syria. Other traditions, however, give them the names Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater, (Ethiopian) and Kagbha, Badadakharida and Badadilma (Armenian)} Or even where they were from. {The Magi were from Persia -- what we now call Iran. Marco Polo claimed to have seen their tombs near Tehran in the 1200's}

I don't think the message is in what they followed An actual star? A planetary alignment? A clouding or disappearance of a star or planet from sight? A reference to Numbers 24:17?
(Numbers 24:17 NRSV) I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near-- a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the borderlands of Moab, and the territory of all the Shethites.

I don't think the timing of when they arrived is really significant either. The Bible says that they came to a house. No stable at this time. Scholars think it was as long as 2 years after Jesus was born that the Magi arrived.

And I don't think the gifts they brought are central to the message. (The Bible says that they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. Over time these gifts have become symbolic of Jesus' royalty (Gold) Jesus as God (incense) and Jesus death and resurrection (myrrh). The descriptions of the gifts or the gifts themselves might be related to Isaiah 60:6
(Isaiah 60:6 NRSV) A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.
But if the message isn't in those things? Where is it? What is it?

I believe the message is that these visitors from another land, another culture and another religion recognized Jesus.

Before we start running around saying something like "Everyone should recognize Jesus – The Magi did! Why doesn't everyone open their eyes and see Jesus and become followers of Jesus?" I think we should focus in a different direction.

Do we recognize Jesus? We don't have a baby in Bethlehem to visit. How can we see Jesus?
(Matthew 25:40 NRSV) And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

A stranger in our passage this morning saw Jesus' face
What about when Jesus has a stranger's face?
We serve others here as we would serve Jesus. We give our time, or money and ourselves to help others who we see are in need.
Where do we forget or fail to see Jesus?

Is it in the people we're angry with?Is it in the people we're estranged from?Is it in the people we wish would just keep their opinions to themselves?Is it in the people we want to be kind to, but just can't seem to do it?

Let's spend time together – recognizing Jesus in our midst.

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