“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,” (Matthew 2:1)
This Saturday is the Feast of the Epiphany when we remember the mysterious characters ‘from the East’ who came to visit Jesus in his infancy. It’s my favourite ‘Holy Day’ of the Christian year.
Don’t get me wrong – I like Christmas and Easter too, except that they have been overtaken by Santas and bunnies (respectively). Epiphany seems to have thus far escaped over-commercialisation. Moreover, I love the message of Epiphany which, for me, is one of inclusiveness.
We often refer to these mysterious visitors as the the ‘three wise men’ or even the ‘three kings’. In truth though, the Gospel doesn’t say that there were three of them, nor that they were wise, nor that they were all men. They certainly weren’t kings. The Greek word used in the original text is ‘magoi’. It’s the noun from which we get our English word, ‘magician’. These people were court magicians – most likely they were Zoroastrian court magicians from Persia (modern-day Iran). They were experts in astrology and fortune-telling.
Magicians like this were standard fare in the courts of the Ancient Near East and were not unknown in Europe (think of Merlin in the court of King Arthur). Importantly though, we don’t find any such characters in the courts of Israel’s kings. For those living under the law of God, stargazing and fortune-telling were off limits.
“Those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what shall befall you. Behold, they are like stubble,” says the Lord (according to Isaiah the prophet). “The fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame” (Isaiah 47:13‑14). Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the LORD: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false.” (10:2‑3)
Most of us are open to insights coming from religious traditions other than our own. This attitude is not obvious in the Hebrew Bible, least of all when it comes to religions like Zoroastrianism. Similarly, in the New Testament, we get two other references to magi, both in the Acts of the Apostles. They are both villains. ‘Simon Magus’ appears in Acts 8, trying to buy the Holy Spirit for money, followed by ‘Elymas, the false prophet’ in Acts 13. Both receive short shrift from the Apostles.
Biblically speaking, the magi were not respected members of an alternate faith. They were pagan idolators whose religion was incompatible with the worship of the true God . Such people did not seek for God in the right way. Their predictions were not to be relied upon or even listened to. The magi were strangers to Biblical truth and not remotely part of the people of God, and yet … when we look around the Nativity scene … there they are, and they are there because God showed them the truth about Jesus in the stars!
One of my Epiphany traditions is to look at my horoscope each year at this time. If the magi found Jesus in the stars, maybe I can find something of value there too?
As ever, I’ve been disappointed. Astrology.com advised me to focus on getting my ‘second house’ this year, which is a bit of a slap in the face for someone who doesn’t own any house. Moreover, in the relationships section it said, “you aren’t always the most exciting lover in the zodiac.” Enough said. I’m glad I only check my horoscope once per year.
I don’t like astrologers. I probably wouldn’t have liked the magi. That’s OK. The prophets of old railed against them so I’m in good company. Even so, what I am reminded of every Epiphany is that even superstition pagan idolaters like those magi are welcome in the home of Jesus. Indeed, they stand alongside me, honouring Jesus, and they are there because God invited them, just as God invites us all.
Our Sunday Eucharist
We shared another wonderful Sunday Eucharist last weekend. We were privileged to have both Rob and Father Mark with us live. Father Elias had wanted to join us live and tried to stay up until 2 am (Netherlands time) when our broadcast started. He couldn’t manage it but gave us a wonderful recording, probing the mystery of motherhood and fatherhood in God.
Yes, it was the Feast of the Holy Family in Catholic tradition last Sunday, and Elias took us on a deep philosophical dive into the mysteries of gender and sexuality and family relationships within God. You can watch Elias’ homily here on the member site or watch it as part of the larger broadcast below.
We were also privileged last Sunday to hear Father Mark’s insights on what’s happening in Gaza, and on where things are heading for Israel and Palestine and the wider world. Mark’s reading of the situation is dire, and I am in full agreement with him. Hear him out and fuel your prayers.
This Sunday I’m looking forward to having David Baldwin and Tom Toby with me on the panel. We’ll be looking at the Epiphany readings, and I’m particularly interested to hear Tom’s perspective as a Shia Muslim on the coming of the Magi. We will be live this Sunday from noon, as usual, at www.thesundayeucharist.com, and on Facebook , YouTube, Twitter, LinkedInor Streamyard.
I look forward to sharing this Eucharist with you. 😊
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Well … we’ve started a new year. Things are not looking bright for our world and, at a personal level, I find myself in a great deal of confusion. I would appreciate your prayers on two matters in particular – on Binacrombi and on my future in boxing.
Joy and I have had two major meetings this week looking at the future of Binacrombi. Unfortunately, things are still not resolved. On the one hand, we continue to struggle financially. On the other hand, we have a wonderfully committed team in Peter, Pauline and Amanda, who are determined to do what it takes to keep things going. Moreover, I’m not convinced that our work at Binacrombi is done yet.
Binacrombi is a place of healing and new life. Can we really hand it over to someone who will only see it as a money-making business?
Secondly, I’ve been offered a series of fights this year, including a shot at a world title, but it will require me going back to fighting as an amateur.
I ‘don’t want to go back to amateur status as my goal is to raise funds rather than obtain titles. I don’t think I can do that as an amateur. On the other hand, I definitely can’t raise anything if I’m not fighting, and there just don’t seem to be other pros out there for me to fight – not while the authorities are insisting that I fight opponents of a similar age. Again, I really need some Divine guidance on this one.
Of course, the greater fight that we are involved in is the one in Gaza at the moment. We must not make the mistake of thinking of this only as a regional war, happening on the other side of the world. It is a conflict has the potential to engulf all of us. Moreover, Gaza is at the heart of a global spiritual battle that is already being waged, and we are losing!
I’m referring to the moral and spiritual disintegration of the Western world (including Australia) where we remain silent in the face of genocide. If it were any other country doing it to any other people, I’m sure the USA and all the leaders of the NATO countries would be crying out with indignation at this mass murder, and we’d be rushing over troops and armaments to help defend the defenceless.
Palestinian lives matter too. We need to keep reminding ourselves of that and reminding our governments. I’m not sure what more we can do beyond marching, protesting and praying, but must keep trying.
Another page I’d encourage you to visit this week details a prayer service held last week in Manger Square in Bethlehem, commemorating the Feast of the Holy Innocents (click here). This account has been forwarded to us by our friend, Brother Peter Bray, now retiring as vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University. He writes,
“With some 8000 children among the dead down there, the people organizing the service had arranged for 8000 small olivewood hearts to be made, one for each of the children. Most of these were arranged on a burial cloth spread on the floor of the Church. However, each person who attended was given a heart as they entered and they were invited to hold it during the service as if it was one of the children, and then at the end to place it on the burial cloth with gentleness and care.”
Read the full account here.
That’s enough for this week. Please pray for me as I do for you, and I do look forward to sharing the Eucharist with you this coming Sunday.
Your brother in the Good Fight,