Tuesday, December 28, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Matthew 2:12 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Reflection on the Nativity
I have loved reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Home By Another Way” to my son this Christmas. It takes the story of the Magi and imagines the life of the three before they met, and how they all came together and found their way to the manger. It even has the Magi wondering if other gifts might have been appropriate. Maybe “they should have brought him goat’s milk, a warm blanket, something shiny to hang above his crib… but how could they have guessed?” It reminds me of the Christmas memes that say that after the Wise Men arrive, the Wise Women show up bringing diapers and casseroles.
In her theological commentary on Matthew’s gospel, Anna Case Winters reminds us that “Matthew does not give us an interpretation to the three gifts of the magi. Nevertheless interpretations have grown up around them all the same. Gold has been associated with Jesus’ kingship, frankincense (used in anointed) with his priestly office, and myrrh (sometimes used in embalming) with his humanity and death.” The traditional explanations of the Magi’s gifts have been helpful to me since frankincense and myrrh are foreign to me and it’s hard to imagine why anyone would think to bring such a thing to anyone, let alone a baby. Maybe the original readers of Matthew’s gospel would have known the symbolism innately, and so no explanation would have been needed.
There is something precious about this moment in Matthew’s nativity. The magi have come a great distance at great cost not knowing at the start that the journey would be worth it. Their bodies would have ached. Their sense of relief would have been enormous. “Overjoyed” hardly expresses it. I feel overjoyed when I finally make it to my in-laws in Tennessee, and that’s just an eight hour journey. I have not had to meet with any kings or wonder if I’m going in the right direction. I just check google maps every once in a while to make sure there aren’t any traffic jams I want to avoid. Not only have the Magi made it to the end of their journey, they’ve also found that their journey into the unknown had landed them in the presence of God-incarnate. They met the Word-made-Flesh. It gives me a little FOMO knowing that such a journey was once possible. And yet anyone worth their salt will point out, that our own meeting of the Word-made-Flesh is still possible today, if we’re open to it. As soon as we remember that God shows up in the midst of the physical, everyday, common world, we can be better equipped to see, notice, and encounter the embodied, tangible, goose-bump-y presence of God in our midst today.
Praying the Nativity
God, let us follow the Magi,
just as they followed yonder star.
Let us journey with them into the unknown,
trusting that Word-made-Flesh will be among us
even still, even now.