The world could sure use a few magi right now.
We seem to have an over abundance of Herods and Ceasars. And I think we’re good with Chief Priests and Scribes. But where are the magi?
It’s not that I don’t believe that they’re here. Somewhere. In fact, I’m pretty sure they are. Maybe they decided to take another route home (Matt. 2:12).
Much like the Christmas story itself, I think it can be easy to put away the Epiphany story as just another moment in time, a moment in which we say that Jesus is revealed as “the one.” That’s what epiphany means, a revealing, a manifestation or appearance. The magi are following a star that will lead them to the fulfillment of a prophecy: the birth of the messiah. Despite what they might have been expecting, they find what they know to be true, that this child, Jesus, is the promised one. Herod wants them to tell him where they find the child, but an angel (a common sense one, for sure) warns them not to, so they go home by another route. (Matt. 2:1-12)
Except, it’s not. We often stop there because no one really wants to hear the next bit. There are repercussions. That same common sense angel warns the new family to flee to Egypt. They’re in danger now because Herod knows about Jesus. This is the part where they become refugees from a brutal oppressor. Angry that the magi didn’t reveal to him the child’s location and feeling threatened by Jesus, Herod orders children in Bethlehem to be killed. Years later, when Herod dies, the family returns, but not to Bethlehem, which is still unsafe, but to Nazareth in Galilee. (Matt. 2:13-23)
So, that’s The End?
It can’t be. Look, we know the bible story now pretty much leaps over Jesus’ teen and young adult years to his baptism by John (Matthew does, anyway), but there was time there and there was years of living. Sadly, the gospel writers didn’t think those formative years were important to the story (their story, at least). Think about that, because we should talk about that sometime, too, but right now, since it’s Epiphany: what happened to the magi?
I don’t think “they left for their own country by another road” because they were afraid for themselves, they were afraid for Jesus. They might even have said so to Mary and Joseph and warned them to leave town. Although having the angel do it makes for a much better story, divine protection and all that, it seems to me that wise people would have given that wise counsel. But we don’t have any more of their story. They seem to have done their job – “he’s the one” – and disappeared.
I refuse to believe they did nothing. In fact, when we tell the story like that, what does it say about us? I think it leaves us abandoning the story right where epiphany becomes action, where faith becomes alive. Wouldn’t it be great if we had stories of what these great and wise believers did with what they found? The first thing they did was protect Jesus by not telling Herod anything. What happened next, living the rest of their lives secure in the knowledge that the messiah was here and it wasn’t about power, might and glory at all, but vulnerability, humility and love? How did they live into that wisdom?
Where are they now, the ones who see what is true and will travel a life journey to find it, the ones who believe that there’s something better and it’s here, the ones who are wise enough to keep seeking it. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re a magi, hiding in plain sight.