M is for Magi. I want to talk about the wise ones, but have other plans for W! I have always thought they were fascinating characters. Despite the beloved “We Three Kings”, they are magi. If you read Matthew’s Gospel , it says clearly they were wise men, not kings from the East who came to pay their respects. (Incidentally, the only reason we think of there being three is because that’s how many gifts they brought. In some streams of the Christian tradition, they talk about as many as twelve visitors.)
I like the magi because they seek after truth. There are many sayings about how it’s the truly wise who can admit they don’t know everything. These wise ones serve as models for anyone willing to endure hardship, take risks, literally step away from all that is familiar, and go where they have never been, to fulfill their quest.
In another letter I’ll look at the religion of the wisemen- for now I’ll point out they were not Jewish. Nonetheless they were interested in the birth of a child some hoped would be a Messiah for the Jews. There is no indication in the story that they became followers of Jesus. They were faithful people who were open-minded enough to look beyond their own religious traditions, to see God at work.
Part of my not-so-hidden agenda for these Advent letters is to offer nurture to people’s minds as well as their spirits. I believe it’s healthy for us to ask questions, and dig deep into the stories of our Christian tradition.
The Jesus movement has lost a lot of great people who felt they would have to turn off their brain, or at least compartmentalize their thinking, to stay in the church. I had a wonderful conversation recently with a man who holds a doctorate in atmospheric physics. He said he felt like a hypocrite going to church. He thought he had to accept the Bible without questions, and take the creeds as literally true.
A former colleague makes the distinction between faith and belief. He would say it’s possible to have faith in God, and to see the sacred and spiritual dimensions of life, without necessarily buying into, or “believing” every aspect of the portrayal of God found in popular religion, the teachings of the church, and all the layers of tradition. (Like the kings in the carol.)
How about you? Do you think we can have faith, and at the same time have questions, and doubts about what we have been taught about God, and Jesus?
Here is something I don’t doubt. Jesus taught that God wants us to bring our whole selves along for the ride, on our journey towards truth. When a religious teacher asked Jesus which was the most important commandment, he said,
“‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
That’s a word to the wise!