The popularized image of the magi coming to present gifts to the Christ child fills us with such great joy and excitement. We celebrate the gifts that they have brought to this child, even if they don’t make sense for a young child and a simple family. And yet, we are compelled to look past the facade of three magi presenting gifts to the child in a stable, to consider the ramifications of these individuals searching for this new king of the Jews when there is already someone sitting on that very throne. A declaration that causes the holy family to flee from their homes, out of fear for their own safety and the life of this child, to a foreign land, only returning once the threat is gone.
We have seen the photos of refugees fleeing into Europe. We have seen photos of those who wish to seek asylum within our own country, but we don’t often consider why are they making this journey. Why are they risking their lives to seek safety, to seek refuge, to seek asylum in another country that shouts in loud voices, that they are not wanted? They are fleeing a place that is not safe for them or their families. Some are being hunted, others persecuted, others trying to get out of situations of violence, hoping to find safety. And I would ask, “Was the holy family welcomed with open arms into Egypt, or looked upon with scorn.”
The Magi come to King Herod asking to see this child who has been born king of the jews. A king that is not Herod. A king who’s very existence is a threat to Herod’s reign which was already on shaky ground. These Magi, from another land come seeking to pay homage to this king who has been born, but need directions first from the current king. They bring forth gifts that hint to his greatness, in wisdom, healing, and divinity. Gifts are offered in proclamation of who they knew this child to be. And that was not good news for Herod.
Throughout the history of the church, throughout the history of the world, when the declaration like this of the Christ Child is made, in the face of authoritarian regimes. In the face of dictators, and oppressors, it does not bode well for the one declaring this truth, and in this case does not bode well for the savior.
In Nazi Germany the honest and truthful declaration of Jesus the Christ as messiah, savior, redeemer, was one that pushed back against the authority of Hitler. And so it was suppressed. In China this same declaration is a contradiction to the perceived power of the government. And so the churches are regulated. Yet suppressing the truth of the christ does not make it any less true.
Herod’s response to hearing the proclamation by the wise men, plays out like that of many science fiction, or dramatic movies in which there is a savior figure. The one who is to bring peace, and stability. The one who will make everything good and right. The one who divinely special. Once those in power have heard about their existence, instead of embracing them and asking for their guidance and help, they are hunted down. Their lives become increasingly difficult. But they still win out.
As Herod hears the details of when the magi first saw the star he sends out an order to kill all the children in the Bethlehem area who were two years of age and younger. He throws a wide net, hoping to capture his prey and eliminate the threat to his reign and power. But the holy family escapes to a foreign land where they can be safe for a time.
Between the actions of the magi and the holy family, I find my self pulled into two directions this morning. The first is that of the magi’s confession of faith. To confess Christ as lord, Christ as king, Christ as savior is to say that others are not. They were taking a risk in even proclaiming this truth in the face of king Herod.
Now while the Disciples of Christ, don’t have a creedal confession of faith on which to measure one’s beliefs we do have an affirmation of faith. “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the World.” For us to declare this truth, also declares that those who call themselves by these titles are not. For us to declare this about Christ, is our declaration that others who would call themselves savior, lord, messiah, are not.
While I was in college, in Canton, MO I worked in the chaplain’s office, and it just so happed to be a presidential election year. As I was talking with some of the more seasoned employees of the college, the name of the candidate I voted for came up and my identity as Christian was put into question by this person. Because I voted “wrong”. The idea of if you are truly a christian you will vote for this person, and not the other. The idea that if one is to truly be a Christian one must give allegiance to this person over another.
In Nazi Germany there were many churches that gave their allegiance to Hitler even though they knew somewhere in side that what he was doing was wrong. Yet they still hung his flags on the altars and sacred spaces.
There is a problem when those in power demand unyielding loyalty and allegiance. But the confession of faith that we say each Sunday is a statement in which I find strength. It is a reminder of where the real power is in the world. It is a reminder of our calling to seek something higher and more amazing, than expecting one person, one leader to do it all for us.
The second is that of our response to the plight of the holy family. Later on this Spring we will be looking more closely at the Matthew 25 text of the judgement of the nations. But it is key here. This is not a question of what would Jesus do, but rather how would we care for the holy family? How would we treat them and how do we treat those who find themselves in the same situation?
In the Matthew 25 text we hear of the Son of Man as he returns in all his glory separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep are those who cared for the least of these. For those that did it to any of the least of these also did so to Christ. The goats were those who refused to tend to the least of God’s children for in doing so they did not do so to Christ.
Our hearts are torn when we see images of refugee children, especially in Europe. But we find ourselves faced with the same opportunities. As we recognize there are individuals waiting on our southern border seeking asylum, seeking safety, seeking refuge from dangerous situations. How do we respond? Do we remain silent because this doesn’t effect me. Do we remain blind because we don’t want to get involved. Or are we willing to speak out. Seeking to declare God’s truth, and push the power that be to make available options for their safety.
The declaration of the magi was one that we should not take lightly. The declaration of who Jesus is in the world is one that we should hold onto without wavering in the face of those that would seek to take over the savior role. As we hear the confession of the magi, we also hear of the danger posed to the messiah. Danger that never fully subsided as Jesus’ existence threatened the powers that be. We recognize the injustice done by those who oppress the people through fear and intimidation, and are called to respond when they seek sanctuary. The confession of the magi is much more than bringing three gifts to the holy family. It is a confession that brings danger and truth.