“Come to Pay Him Homage”
I began my message with an experience from many years ago when Diane and I rented a chalet at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. Renting midweek allowed our family to afford a wonderful winter break. One night driving outside of the resort we came upon a car broken down beside the road. Three young men needed a battery jump which was offered and they drove off as I put away the cables. About a mile down the road we again came upon the same car broken down again. We repeated the sequence of opening the hoods and hooking up the jumper cables and off they drove again… for about a mile. It finally dawned on me what the problem was and I suggested they remove the distributor cap and wipe the inside dry with a rag. The vehicle then ran perfectly as we followed them to their destination.
A cracked distributor cap can form condensation on the inside which when frozen will not affect the operation of the engine until enough heat is formed, melting the ice, causing the engine to crossfire and stall. (This is probably irrelevant information with today’s modern vehicles.) My past experience gained by purchasing car parts from a junkyard allowed me to “see” what those young men did not...
I recalled many years later contemplating the purchase of a used vehicle and having it inspected by a local body shop owner. I was informed it had most likely been in an accident. I could not see anything indicating this but his trained eye saw and pointed out that the putty under the hood was not painted as would be the case with an unrepaired vehicle. The two of us were standing side by side… looking at the same object… but he saw what I did not see.
Biblical historians have suggested that the “Magi” were Persian astrologers from Mesopotamia. I reflected on my visits to Chichen itza, a city built by the Maya people in the southern Yucatan of Mexico. While there it was pointed out to me that there was only one structure which was circular in form. The Maya astrologers had built an observatory where a reflecting pool showed the path of celestial bodies passing overhead.
Like the Maya star gazers, the Magi in our passage looked at the sky through a lens of knowledge that others do not… I imagined King Herod having heard from the Magi that they had “…seen the new king’s star at its rising…” walking out alone onto a palace balcony staring at the night sky in frustration, struggling to find meaning in the points of light above him.
There has been a wide array of phenomena (natural or supernatural) suggested by biblical scholars to have been the Bethlehem star leading the Magi to the Christ child. I proposed that the Magi may have looked into a seemingly normal night sky and saw there a meaning that an untrained eye would not comprehend.
What we can grasp… as we reflect upon this text… are the actions of these learned individuals. They first assumed that the king of the Jews would be on a throne in Jerusalem. When they were surprisingly sent to the humble town of Bethlehem the stars suddenly became aligned once again and there they discovered the Christ child and they paid him homage. They gave him gifts.
Homage means reverence and respect. The bible does not give an account of the Magi relinquishing their own faith traditions and becoming followers of Christ. They saw in the birth of Jesus an occurrence of such significance that the stars themselves gave tribute. And they responded with respect.
I pondered why we as followers of Christ treat those of other faiths with such disdain? Jesus in his encounter with the woman of Samaria spoke to her with enough kindness and courtesy that she was surprised. “How is it that you, a Jew would speak to me, a Samaritan?”
The rhetoric that we hear from Christian churches and leaders today about other faith traditions does not reflect such graciousness. What would it look like if Christians treated those of other Faiths with the deference shown by the Magi to the Christ child?
Could this be the significant lesson that we might lift out from this passage in our New Testament; that scripture gives us a template for how we are to treat others?