Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.
Read: Matthew 2:1-12
This well-known story of the Magi—or wise men—is told year after year at countless Christmas pageants. Yet we seldom stop to think about its significance. Here, at the birth of Jesus, who we know already will be God’s agent in Matthew’s story, the Magi come to offer him precious gifts and to “worship” (proskyneō) before him. This term refers to the act of bowing down that would normally take place before a king. Yet here, the magi bow not before King Herod, but before Jesus. This is a deeply subversive act which recognises authority not in the normal channels of imperial power, but in one who will challenge such power and bring into being a community whose power relations are radically different to that of the imperial status quo.
This story also invokes for Matthew’s hearers another story of men coming from the east, told in Isaiah 39. In this story, Babylonian envoys come to Judah’s king, Hezekiah, who shows them the treasures of the Jerusalem temple. The treasures are strikingly similar to those brought as gifts to Jesus by the Magi—“silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and his whole armoury and all that was found in his treasuries” (Isa 39:2). In that story though, Hezekiah’s proud boasting of his riches finds its way back to the halls of power in Babylon, with the result that the temple will be conquered, the people exiled, and the riches taken away to Babylon.
Now, as the Magi bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus, there is a reversal. The same gifts are brought back to Jerusalem in what symbolises in Matthew’s Gospel a turning around of exile and foreign domination. There is one notable omission, however, in the gifts brought back to Jesus. There is no mention of the Magi bringing armoury or weapons. This reversal of exile will not take place through violent overthrow or military intervention. No, it is a revolution that will take place, as we shall see, in another way.
- Where do you see power threatened in your world?
- How might we imagine power relations differently in our neighbourhoods and world?
- What challenge or encouragement do you see in this story
Close with the Lord’s Prayer
Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.
Read: Matthew 2:13-18
In Isaiah 39, the Babylonian envoys “trick” Hezekiah into showing them his treasury, with the result that the treasure is captured and Judah is exile. Here though, the magi “trick” Herod, returning, as it were, the treasure (minus the weapons!) and sneakily participating in the liberation that is occurring right under Herod’s nose!
Liberation, though, has a terrible cost. Herod’s maniacal actions in the slaughter of the boys in Bethlehem remind us that power, when threatened, is capable of terrible evil. The text recalls the cries of Israel after its conquer by Babylon:
“Rachel weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more” (Jer 31:15).
Rachel, symbolic of conquered Israel in exile, here gives voice to the inconsolable grief of all mothers who have lost children to the horrors of war. Yet amidst such a terrible force as Herod’s tyrannical reign, we will see as Matthew’s Gospel unfolds that God is present and active:
“In Matthew’s narrative the empire inevitably strikes back, and the slaughter of the innocents ensues (Mt 2:16ff.) The Bible is so much clearer than we are about the violent realities of Statecraft! “Rachel weeps”… over such an absurd mismatch: kings vs. kids! Yet such is the paradox of biblical history. As imperial minds plot genocide, God’s messengers enter the world at risk: floating down the Nile in a reed basket (Ex 2:3), spirited out of the country on back roads (Mt 2:14). Against the presence of power is pitted the power of presence: God with us.”
We shouldn’t jump too quickly, though, to the comfort which for so long eluded “Rachel”. Rather, we must first make time to sit with the horror of war and oppression and cry out with its victims: “Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her” (Lam 1:17).
Where do you see this story play out in the world today?
- Take time to lament the suffering you see in your neighbourhood and in the world
- Pray for God to move amidst the world’s brokenness to make things right.
Close with the Lord’s Prayer.
Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.
Read: Matthew 2:19-23
Jesus’ family weren’t from Galilee—they were from Judea. Galilee, in the north of first century Palestine, was a largely agrarian area dotted with rural peasant villages and controlled by the Roman cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris, which drained resources from the villages to the urban centres in order to sustain the imperial presence there. In addition, Galileans were expected to pay tax to the Jerusalem Temple to support the Jerusalem elite. Galileans, we might say, were doubly exploited. In practice, though they shared religious traditions with their fellow Israelites from Judea to their south, they had little time or energy for the religious concerns of purity and cultic practice so important to the Jerusalem religious leaders—their first and foremost concern was simply survival. By those from Jerusalem, the Galileans were looked down upon. Their way of life was different, the accent of their speech was different—economically, politically, socially and religiously they were marginal.
Now though, Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus are low on options. They can’t go back to their hometown of Bethlehem in Judea for fear of Herod’s son Archelaus, now ruling there. So, they go to Galilee. There, Mary and Joseph are far from the familiarity and family supports of Bethlehem, finding themselves amongst “those Galileans” on the margins of the Israelite people. Here, their child Jesus will find his home.
- How have you encountered those who have been forced to make a home in a new place?
In what ways have you seen people shaped by having to live in a place not their own?
Close with the Lord’s Prayer
Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.
This week’s Common Value: Partnership
Read: Genesis 2:4a-25
How might we partner with God and with our neighbours in participating in God’s shalom, justice and hope this week?
Close with the Lord’s Prayer