Across the Pastor’s Desk: Following the way of the magi
Published 8:06 pm Thursday, January 9, 2020
Across the Pastor’s Desk by Todd Walsh
We’re just coming off the Christmas season and already into the next “holy days” of the NFL playoffs.
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The Christmas stories of the Bible are filled with venerable images that speak across the ages and bring light into darkness in both a literal and spiritual sense.
There is one image of the Christmas story that I would like to set before you today. It comes from Matthew and the story of the magi who arrive from the east with gifts for the newborn king Jesus.
We know the details of the story from the Bible, Christmas programs and the songs that speak to us.
The story of the maji ends with, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”
There does not appear to be much here. I should not jump over the dream in this verse, though.
The dreams of Matthew’s Christmas story are central to making it clear that God is personally directing and guiding this story. It is a reminder for readers, even to this day, that God is near to direct our story and our lives.
But that’s not where I’m going. I’m interested in this road the magi have been directed to travel.
The word that is used for road here is sometimes translated as way. So, the passage would end with, “they left for their own country by another way.” Even today there are some streets that are called way, and we often drive on highways. The word used here is common for describing a road.
However, there is a double meaning here.
The early Christian community did not call itself Christian. The Book of Acts says the term Christian first came into use in Antioch. An early Christian leader said it happened around 100 AD.
The enemies of Christianity nicknamed the new group and called them Nazareans. It stood as a slam that ridiculed Christians for following just a heretic from Podunk Nazareth. Note that Christians upped the ante and called themselves Christian, followers of God’s chosen savior of the world.
But the earliest known term that followers of Jesus gave themselves was the way. We find it in Acts 11.26. It is the same word that is used by Matthew to describe the journey home of the magi.
We can conclude that the magi went home by a different route to avoid Herod. That’s what it says. But we can make another conclusion. The magi returned to their home with a new way to look at life.
Am I suggesting the magi became Christians? No. The religion did not at that time exist. We are told nothing more about them other than their route home.
But the play on words has been set before those who first heard and today read the story of the magi. God guided the magi in a new way after their worship of Jesus.
We, too, have been given a new way for our lives. Our encounter with Jesus brings life — new life. It sets a new direction for our lives each day. Our worship of the God who brought Jesus into the world and our lives gives us a new way to live our lives.
Is it worth considering Pastor Jennifer’s suggestion of last week in this column to leave up those Christmas decorations to extend the season? Yes. And there is another way to go along with it. The decorations that bring light to those around us are our words and actions that reflect the light and life of the babe of Bethlehem. Each day is a day to listen to the message of heaven come to earth and take up the way of Jesus.
Todd Walsh is director of spiritual care services at Thorne Crest Senior Living Community in Albert Lea.