If you were paying attention over the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed that there were no “wise men” at our stable on Christmas. They didn’t get there until this morning. They started out nestled in some holly on one of the back windowsills, and by last Sunday they’d moved forward a little, but only as far as one of these windowsills here.
Because it’s a long way to Bethlehem, you know. They were on the road for a long time. It took a while to get there. But today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. It’s a word that means a sudden manifestation, or a flash of understanding. And our wise men have finally taken their place with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds all gathered around the manger.
Which of course is completely wrong.
The wise men weren’t there at the manger in the Gospels. They never met the shepherds. The traditional crèche scene like ours is based on the Nativity story as Luke told it, although the stable looks more like something you’d find in Europe than in Bethlehem.
But Luke never mentions the magi—only Matthew tells a story in which they arrive in Bethlehem after Jesus was born, perhaps long after Jesus is born, and the find him with Mary in a house, not a stable.
So what you see on proud display here is basically a Biblical inaccuracy. I guess the best thing we can say about that is, at least we’re not the only ones.
I arrived in church continuing my reflection on simple pleasures, this morning pondering the pleasure of being the first to arrive at church on a Sunday. Opening doors, checking lights, making sure everything is ready, waiting for people to begin to trickle in. I’ve always thought it felt like getting ready to welcome guests. Then I unlocked my office door and found this guy waiting – quite stiff, if that isn’t apparent. The mice want my office, it seems; they’ve been making that clear for a month or so. OK, I think I get the message …
When I was little, I wished I could fly. I thought it would feel so peaceful to be able to rise above all the cares and concerns of life on earth, to watch them disappear as I flew on by. Now I know that true peace is found in love: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” 1 John 4:16
Even if we’ve heard this story countless times before, it still has the power to fill us with expectation because it touches—and promises to satisfy—our deepest human longing: for peace and love, for the beauty and promise of new life, for the redeeming of all human brokenness. Like any good story, it fills us with new hope and calls us to believe that hope is real.