Tag Archives: magi

When Jesus comes, the status quo is “greatly troubled”

Happy epiphany! Lectionary readings for the day can be found here. 

We live in a world, where it is supposed to be “common sense” to blame the refugee, the foreigner and the welfare recipient for hard times.  Firstly, these times are actually not all that hard if we are not a refugee or welfare recipient ourselves; secondly such as they are, they are caused by choices the government makes to support and shore up the rich rather than the poor.

It is not the person from a war-torn or flooded country that is taking funding away from public hospitals while allowing multi-national companies to use up the natural resources of the country without contributing any tax! It is not the injured breadwinner, the single mother, even the shiftless artist who is stripping funding from public schools to fund pointless and dehumanising plebiscites, give free money to the now foreign-owned propaganda machine and the mining companies; or who is tying our economics to outdated and inefficient coal and scoffing at new technologies that are proven in other parts of the world to work. And as far as “family values” go…it is not the loving and accepting parents of the trans child, it is not the two women bringing children up together that are telling us that compassion is a luxury we cannot afford and that everything needs to be ruled by the dispassionate, uncaring market…the values of the market are the values we now follow as a society. It seems we have a new God.

I reject that God and all the victim blaming and mathematically unsound “economics” such thinking brings with it.

I look for a star in the east, the new hope and I try to be like the magi. The magi got pulled out of their comfort zone, to go to a culture they knew nothing about and to find a poor (perhaps) and seemingly insignificant family that had had a baby. Sure in terms of the gospel, we are meant to nod and smile, this is “proof” that Jesus was someone special but the fact is that God is full of these sort of proofs, that in fact every foreign and poor and displaced baby is “special”. Each one is the hope that this world has.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh- these are material resources, worldly wealth for the “kingdom of God” after all. That is to say, our “spirituality” is not just about being “spiritual” and praying and feeling good and some sort of inner “niceness”. There is a practical dimension to our travelling with God and to the foreign baby, God. God demands an easier life for the poor- real gifts, real help, real earth-rooted and material signs of love and dignity.

Individual acts of “charity” may not change the world, but they change a life or three and they show a commitment– yes God we will go out of our way, yes God we will allow you to help yourself to the goods of this life, yes God even our “worldliness” is centred on you. It starts with the generosity I can show toward others in my life or in my networks and it flows from that to an attitude of acceptance and love, a desire to advocate for Jesus wherever s/he lies, whatever manger, whatever sheets- and let’s face it at times he is not the poorest of the poor either, his life is not the meanest of the mean but he needs something from us other than judgement and a turning away. When Jesus the refugee manages to get a decent job, to get into a decent school, wear fashionable clothes or buy a mobile phone you get people saying “see how easy it is for ‘them’- too easy” but Jesus is still asking us for acceptance, for love, for equality.

When Jesus the single mother can afford a haircut or a glass of wine or is given a nice handbag for Christmas, then she does not fit our idea of abject poverty and we may think that welfare payments are “too generous” that she “has it easy” that she is not suffering enough to deserve support or dignity. But the idea that Jesus lived in a stable in Bethlehem and froze in rags, though picturesque, is probably wrong (houses had mangers in them). Jesus was crowded, displaced, his parents had an uncomfortable journey and much stress (especially once Herod wanted to kill their child) but they may not have been so “respectably” poor.

The poorest, the homeless and the literally starving need our generosity and our support but so do the merely depressed or merely struggling or merely locked out of promotions…the lonely, the under-confident, the disorganised, the depressed, the apathetic and the uneducated. Jesus has needs and is not here to gratify our vanity by showing credentials, being the deserving poor- safely, tamely in a corner that we can define and get out of. Jesus is one of us and will irritate us with poor life choices and a less than warm manner at times!

I struggle to feel emotionally charitable to some of the people that I see on Facebook- I want to judge, condemn, block or destroy with reason many of the people who tell me they are fearful of Muslims for example, or of allowing children to be trans. Then there are the people who don’t understand that their inadequate dole payment and unsatisfying and underpaid work is because of the way we have structured society- not because of these “others” who also want something, who also have needs and families. Jesus is sometimes distant and foreign and hard to spot. Jesus challenges me, frightens me.

Like Herod when I hear of Jesus it will probably be in a context where some power or privilege I have is at risk. Like Herod the temptation is to pretend to help, but really to undermine.

But power and authority, do not always act as Herod. I can be pretty critical of bishops and church leaders, and with reason but occasionally they surprise me.

Today, according to the bishops is the beginning of Migration week in the US Catholic church. I’m in Australia but I like their idea and I will with them pray and reflect on how I can companion, support and advocate for migrants and refugees better. Even though the bishops are asking people to pray, there seems to be an underlying message here of a larger conversion toward better compassion  and acceptance. Prayer is suggested as a foundation for who we are as a people.

Baby Jesus,

I pray with Magi, with bishops, with the powerful, the foreign to me and those who search. I pray ready to travel, ready to receive people from other places.

I begin my year of travelling, searching, loving you in the world and within my own heart. Like la Befana from the children’s story I have been busy with trivial things that the world judges me on, but my heart yearns to be part of your miracle. Like her I know that seeking later is better than never. Like her I have the wisdom to see that every child can be gifted in your name and that every act of generosity is a step on the journey to you.

Like the magi I can be distracted by the Herods of the world- powerful people and their propaganda. I can look in the wrong places but I will eventually find. I can use the wisdom in my own life, in my own culture because every person and their culture are created in your image.

Baby Jesus, show me what to do to support those who are out of their own homes, those who search, those who are looking in the wrong places, those who only wish they could be in the safety of their own home. Help us build a world where you (or the “least of these”) will be welcome and safe in any corner of the earth and the earth itself is respected and healed.

We have seen your star, we come.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuddles and baby-talk

Ok so my brain is fried from the heat and I have been busy this week with my son who I didn’t see for a couple of weeks before that, but I will try to have a go. Because if i wrote about Joseph just before Christmas, and Matthew’s construction of an enlightened, spiritually attune and emotionally honest masculinity then I guess the epiphany (which occurs every year) continues this.

The gospel doesn’t tell us the gender of the Magi (and that lack of certainty can sometimes be fun to play with) but tradition has decided there were three of them and they were all male: Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar. This is not entirely satisfactory and the exoticisation of them as various shades of black (set next to the improbable sight of a white Jesus) is certainly problematic. But let’s just for a moment visualise them as traditionally they have been painted and repainted. 3 wealthy blokes.

Suddenly they follow a dream, or an inner conviction or their intuition or something (a star no less) and trek half way around the world to see a baby. I was at a pool party today and there was a small baby there. One of my friends who usually comes across more or less as a big tough man came in and immediately scooped up the baby and started baby-talking to him and cuddling him. He brought the child over to his very pregnant wife and let the baby “make friends” with the other baby in utero. My scepticism about the way Matthew portrays men dissolved somewhat in seeing that and I suddenly pictured Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar jumping off their camels and squatting down and baby-talking and all wanting to cuddle little Jesus. Meanwhile maybe the exhausted Mary had a backrub from Joseph or a nanna-nap or I would like to visualise her popping out for a cup of something with no baby…but maybe that couldn’t (and didn’t) happen in biblical Bethlehem.

Of course I don’t want to make too much of a big deal of men who want to be fathers and uncles and basically decent human beings around children because as has often been pointed out it’s a bit silly that men are “heroes” for doing the things women are supposed to just “naturally” gravitate to. A redeemed masculinity when portrayed the way I have portrayed it is no greater than an ordinary femininity. But maybe we can line the baby-cuddling, emotionally intelligent “wise men” up with Mary who walked miles and miles WHILE PREGNANT to emotionally support her cousin without even the emotional reward of seeing a baby. Matthew’s wise men line up with Luke’s wise woman. Maybe it’s not just about gender, but it is about being a decent and open individual.

Herod’s need to control and dominate is threatened by these strange people with their strange lifestyle, with these powerful men coming past to celebrate a baby’s birthday. The mundane is political. Everyday acts of love and walking humbly with are transgressive against the power regimes of the world. Oh yes Herod is VERY threatened by this queer behaviour and would like to kill them or kill Jesus. We can sanitise the ending as happy- both the magi and the child’s family get protected by the providence of God (and once again their willingness to pay attention to dreams). But there is a human cost.

When we celebrate the epiphany we forget that very male child under 2 was murdered by order of a paranoid king. Where was God in that event? How do we celebrate the transformation and liberation of the privileged individual WITHOUT making invisible the many who are unfairly made to suffer? If we are to embrace a good news, we can’t do it just by framing the action to sweep the abuse of children under a carpet.

The church has tried that course but we need to move beyond it! The child who escaped to Egypt was the child of God and so was the murdered infant and the assaulted mother. So is the child of God the baby born on Manus island and the baby whose mother has her centrelink cut off. As a society/church we need to put our Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh where our God is. We need to love our neighbour.

I apologise if my coherence is affected by the heat

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

I am humbled and grateful for the people reminding me to post each week. I apologise that it is late. I had the opportunity to put together a little liturgy including this reflection at my church. Like a miracle, the minute (ie after a few months) I committed to writing this blog weekly God started throwing me back in the way for little opportunities to do the work I love! That connects with the reflection itself as the frankincense of my life that I am finding to offer after all!

I want to keep the words I use short as I think the readings have already given us a rich tapestry of images to work with. So I will just briefly highlight  a couple that strike me…

… images of people from far away, with different cultures and beliefs yet drawn to the beauty and transformative power of God embodied in Jesus. I think it is very important to note that they come, give their gifts to Jesus and then return to their own country and presumably their own way of life. This is not a conversion story giving us permission to colonise others, it is a story of trusting, as believers, that God is big enough to be noticed by people from other places, people who will use their own beliefs and traditions to come to the one we call Christ in their own way.

Another image is of the smallness and vulnerability of God in this story: Jesus is a tiny baby, passive and waiting and receptive for the action of others. In a world that tells us that what is active and acting and ruling is important, Jesus dares to be the weaker half of a relationship.  God here as a tiny baby draws people in, presence is shown to be greater and more mysterious than mere power.

So what of us? As the magi we can travel to be in the presence of God and stop asking what God will “do” or trying to have beliefs or rituals or to justify that thing we call faith. We are simply drawn into presence by God as we are by babies who wrap their tiny fingers around our larger fingers and bring our chattering hearts to silence in awe and adoration. We come into the presence not just to ask for something, not to cower as before an overlord or to appease God. We kneel down to the baby’s level and we simply love, we simply gaze in love.

We are called to be like the magi and leave aside the “rational” in order to waste a lot of time following an elusive star to bring our gifts to this baby who neither tries to control us not is really owned by us.

The gifts are gold- sometimes this is said to symbolise kingship. What else might it symbolise? All the material wealth that we have, all of our resources that we control and decide about. All the status and power and influence we have in society and in our smaller communities. This we bring and gift to Jesus. What if we used the gold of our resources and our influence for God’s reign? I am not advocating some sort of radical giving-up of the good things in life: far from it. But how can we enjoy the great things we have in the fairest way that most furthers God’s interests?

Then there is frankincense sometimes seen as a gift of priesthood. Do we bring our priesthood to Jesus? By priesthood I mean our call to take Christ and break with Christ and distribute the body of Christ to feed people’s spirits. Our spiritual gifts, our identity, our deepest desires and knowledge brought to the waiting, patient baby-who-is-God. Each of us has some sort of a call to minister to the spiritual reality of our church and we do that well here by sharing the ministry. Where else are we called to be priests? In our workplace? In our daily struggle?

Finally there is myrrh, often said to symbolise death. Do we bring the myrrh of opening our eyes and hearts to noticing suffering and darkness and death in the world? Do we refuse to let faith be simply escapism as we bring myrrh to the human suffering one, the one who will die a horrible death rather than turn aside from integrity. I wouldn’t want to look for suffering and death – I certainly don’t want to be crucified. But perhaps I am called to walk with the Christ who suffers oppression, exploitation, silencing or death?

The Herods of this world would prevent us bringing these gifts to God. It would be more convenient for rulers like Herod if we did not dare to connect all that we have and all that we are to God’s interests. And yet we are here at the epiphany, yearning toward the quietly waiting baby- arms and hearts aching to hold the tiny bundle of fullness of life.

You may wish to reflect upon the gifts that are implicit in the gold of your life, frankincense of your identity and myrrh of your compassion. Or there may be other images in today’s readings that grab you more and after reflecting you may wish to share a small part of your thoughts with others.