I’ve been trying to benefit from the wisdom of the Magi lately. In particular, these two tips: First, their story in Matthew’s gospel suggests they were unusually open. When the star appeared they followed. God revealed and they received.
If we assume the star was some sort of real phenomenon, then others must have seen it also. But it’s one thing to see something and another truly to see it. The magi were searching, open, alert to the unusual, quick to explore. They were “up for” Advent. Apparently God liked that, and still does.
Sometimes we never look up to see what’s there. Lavone: “Did you see that beautiful sunset?” David: “Is it dark already?”
Sometimes we inoculate ourselves against the new by total absorption in present routine. Were God ever to do something new we couldn’t see it even if hit over the head with it. We may adopt an approach to life that, by definition, does not “allow” God to so something unexpected.
Sometimes we are so insecure that we wouldn’t dare explore and investigate the unexpected God may be doing. Fears and hurts acquired along life’s way can cause such insecurity. Great injustice and harm can lodge deeply within us and handicap us in tragic ways. Often, however, insecurity simply means we’re not trusting God. Better to trust the sturdy, reliable, same ole stuff of life, than to step up and stand out where only the God-trusting can feel safe!
The Magi were able to see what God was doing, and it was unexpected, fresh, exciting. For them it was better not to miss what God had for them (and be sorry) than to be safe.
Here’s a second piece of wisdom: the Magi lavished gifts upon the Christ-child out of all proportion to the circumstances. What would poor peasants do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? ( Luke tells us they were poor enough to offer the minimal sacrifices at Jesus’ dedication in the temple, see Lk. 2:24). There is something unreasonable, wild, even crazy about these gifts. How impractical they were.
Ironically, our culture encourages just this sort of extravagance, and most of us know about it from firsthand experience. Many people pursue their Christmas shopping and gift giving as though there were no tomorrow. Slavishly compelled by TV, the cravings of the children, the pride of keeping up with other parents, and the lack of self-control, many will spend much of the New Year paying off Christmas debt. We Americans know how to be shockingly extravagant.
But is it a wise extravagance? At Christmas our Church budgets strain to fund their ministries. Community needs mushroom around us. Per capita giving to charitable causes plummets. Factor in the unimaginably horrible need embracing the world in what could be a death grip, and our extravagance shades into immorality.
Some might charge me with special pleading to marvel that Christ and his work seldom receives truly lavish, wildly extravagant gifts, even from those who delight in Advent celebrations. Still, I am wondering what would be my equivalent of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I confess that I, along with so many in our culture, know how to be extravagant, but how wise are we? So, here’s my prayer:
Lord, help me to look up expectantly, to anticipate the new thing you want to do. I would rather risk discovering anew what you are doing than to play it safe. Lead me to places where only the God-trusting can feel secure. And, save me from foolish extravagance for the wild, crazy extravagance you deserve and our world needs. Amen.