Look beyond Herod to the Wisdom that threatens power.

It seems as if the lectionary, which we know was put together by powerful men who were currying favour with earthly powers (the church’s history is scandalous that way) has once more missed the point of the gospel, in the juxtapositions it chooses to highlight. In theological college we were encouraged to look beyond the short pericopes of the daily readings, to read each exerpt in it’s wider textual context and not to make assumptions based on shortened, decontextualised versions of a translation.

I am no scholar, and I won’t pretend to come out with some “right” version for all time, but I think it is worth engaging with the empiphany ethically, and given the colonialist message the lectionary (and many loud-mouthed Christians) try to steer us to, somewhat critically and deconstructively.

Because so much harm has been done by the missionary zeal, the form of “evangelism” which is not “good news” at all to people expected to give up their identities and bow to someone else’s religion which becomes perverted into economic relations of exploitation and a racist politics. And a brown little working-class baby, from an ethnicity which was oppressed by empire, has been used as a tool to further the sorts of oppressions, that Jesus grew up to oppose to the extent of offending and threatning empire and being put to death.

So Constantine was wrong, we do not need a new Christian empire and the magi are bringing not tribute but gift. They are not having their best extracted from them as a show of power, they are choosing to put effort and expense into showing generous love. Notice I am not saying “3 kings” or “wise men” because we actually don’t know that they were 3, or kings or men (I like to think they were wise enough to be drawn to Baby Wisdom).

Ok, so here’s the gospel story without assuming all the kyriearchal stuff about kings and tribute and colonisation:

There were these magi and they used their own spiritual practices which seems to have involved some star-gazing. So you can stop looking down on your friends who like astrology right now. You don’t have to believe what they believe but you also don’t have to force them to see things your way. It seems that Godde can speak/beckon through stars and practices other than Christian.

So these Magi knew from the signs of their own non-Judeo-Christian spirituality that something significant had happened. Because they lived in a kyriearchal world their best interpretation of what/who had been born was a “king”. We too are limited by our social-political worlds and discourses. Logically they figured a King would be born in a palace, they went to ask Herod about him.

Herod knew that this “king” was nothing to do with him, was going to challenge or undermine him one way or the other. But he didn’t want to challenge these influential people and cause a diplomatic incident. Herod to me seems like the first ever political leader to label himself Christian: “I will do him homage”, without letting the Christ child actually transform his values or practice.

I do call out and judge the powers of the day. I think it is far worse to pretend to be “Christian” and still torture and abuse people, than it is to just be straight-forwardly evil. Not that torturing and abusing is ever admirable. There are little brown children kept in cages- large or small cages in this country, in other wealthy countries; and the leaders who allow this to happen are Herods. I feel unapologetic for judging people more powerful and privileged than myself (whilst acknowledging I have some responsibility not to support oppression).

So the magi, being drawn to wisdom finally worked out that Herod was not connected to the important star-baby and they found this unprepossessing child in a manger (or maybe a house by now) with his young mother and carpenter father. They brought him gifts that were rare and hard to come by, that sparkled and gave off fragrance. The world is a world of beauty; of stars and flowers as much or more than Herods and Emperors. They gave it to one who would not be able to reward them in this world; as a token of love and respect not as the “quid pro quo” of politics.

But being star-gazers they were also dreamers, in touch with unconscious, unarticulated truths. Something about Herod had given off red flags, they could not trust him. After meeting the real Wisdom at the heart of the universe, the herods and emperors are as nothing. You might say they practiced civil disobedience. They went home another way. They were not “converted” or brought into the fold, they remained Eastern magi and continued to find Wisdom in their own religion- because Godde can be present there too.

Please consider following some of the hyperlinks in this blog post to people wiser than me giving you more nuanced information but I leave you with a couple of questions.

How do we learn to focus little displaced baby Wisdom more and the narcissistic herods less in the lifestyle choices and politics of our everyday life?

Where is Wisdom, what start can guide us there? Are we going to abandon our every-day concerns long enough and generously enough to find the baby?

Happy epiphany

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