By Greg Jones
Only two of the four gospels talk about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus – Matthew and Luke. Luke talks about angels and shepherds and all of what happened regarding an inn and a manger, etc. Matthew skips all of that – and talks about the arrival of some Magi from the east – following a star – and bearing gifts.
Contrary to legend, we don’t know where the Magi came from, what their names were, or how many of them there were. Only tradition tells us these things. And tradition varies. In the West, their names are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In the Ethiopian Church they call them Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater.
In Armenia, its Kagbha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. Syrian Christians call them Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas.
Chinese Christians believe that one of the wise ones was from China – perhaps his name was Liu Shang, chief astrologer in the Han dynasty, from the time Jesus was born. Liu Shang discovered a new star the Chinese call the “King Star.” Notably, Liu Shang disappered from the emperor’s court for two years after he discovered the King Star. Chinese Christians argue that he took the Silk Road west to Bethlehem. Marco Polo claims to have seen the tomb of the magi in the Persian city of Saba in 1270.
Who knows. But, the Gospel story we read on the feast of the Epiphany is not so much about the Magi as it is about all seekers after God from everywhere on Earth.
We don’t know who the magi really were, but we know who they represent: you and me. We are seekers after God too – right? And I believe that like them, you and I have been made to know by Grace where the King of Love is – and he’s in our midst. Christ is born by all who bear him – and Christ is within us as we are within him.
Which is why once we’ve been led to Christ, we just can’t go back to the same old ways. We just can’t go back to Herod.
Just as Herod represents the vile, the corrupt and the captive to sin and its power – let us not go back to him once we’ve had a glimpse of Jesus. Let’s not say our prayers, worship, receive communion, enjoy Christian fellowship – all means of Grace – all ways to connect with the eternal plan of God – and then, go back to Herod.
In the earliest days of the Church, there was a common way of teaching seekers about holiness. They used an approach called ‘the Two Ways.’ One was the Way of Light. The other — the Way of Darkness.
And I believe we do have to choose as best we can between those ways in this life. For I believe with the wise ones who first saw Christ that in this World there is an eternal plan – and that God is working toward the healing and unity of all in Christ. I believe this is the free, gracious and expansive plan of God, which seeks to include all people in the Kindgom.
I believe with the wise ones who first saw Christ that in this world there is another plan too. That plan is about conquest, ownership, worldy power – and finally – the annihilation of creation by the One who loves it NOT.
The powers and principalities of this world – according to Paul – don’t love God or His Creation and they seek to ruin it. And friends that is what Herod represents. And that Herod – that power and principality – is not just a long ago character out of the bible. That Herod is a part of our lives even now.
For the light has come into the darkness – and in Him God was pleased to dwell. If you call Jesus Lord – then the Grace of God is also in your life – even now. If Jesus is in your life – even now – then don’t go back to Herod.
This year, I invite you to examine in what ways you are ‘going back to Herod’ on a seven day a week, real life in the world kind of way – and how you can find a new road home – to the kingdom.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) became a member of Christ’s Body at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C., and he was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. He is the author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.