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Lessons from the magi

An Epiphany reflection for Saturday, January 6th by Julia Styles

Lectionary reading for 01/06/2024:  Isaiah 60:1-6  • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14  • Ephesians 3:1-12  •  Matthew 2:1-12

Selected passage for reflection: Matthew 2:1-12


Read

Matthew 2:1-12

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

2:2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;

2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

2:5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

2:6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"

2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

2:8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

2:9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

2:11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.



Reflect & Respond

Today is Epiphany! It is the day we celebrate the magi visiting Jesus and offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Eastern Orthodox churches commemorate this day by remembering the baptism of Jesus. You can learn how different cultures around the world celebrate Epiphany or Theophany or Three Kings Day here.


When I read this passage, the main part that stands out are verses 2:8-2:12. First the magi search for Jesus. Then they spend time in the presence of Jesus. Then they give gifts. Then they protect Jesus by returning by a different path.


In lectio divina, on the second reading you ask what does this passage mean to me, and on the third, how can I apply it to my life.  In this passage, it feels clear to me that we can follow the magi’s example detailed in Matthew 2:8-12


  1. Seek God by observing the signs around you

  2. Spend time in the presence of Christ

  3. Generously share your gifts with others

  4. Ally with the vulnerable


Seek God by observing the signs around you

The magi follow a star to Jesus, they most likely use other sacred texts to discern that the star marks the birth of the Messiah. We can also seek Christ all around us, using the very words of Jesus to find his presence: Matthew 25:34-40 says, wherever we see the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the needy, the imprisoned we see Christ himself. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We can also seek God anywhere we experience love. 1 John 4:16 states, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” As we go throughout our day, as we notice the vulnerable, as we notice how we are loved and how people are loving one another, we notice Christ.


Spend time in the presence of Christ

Next the magi, spend time in the presence of Jesus. How do you spend time in the presence of God? Is it through going to Church, reading scripture, or praying? By all means continue! If you currently find yourself in a spiritual wilderness, and you no longer feel connected with the worship community or traditions you once held dear, that is okay, too. Like the magi, the first gentiles to whom Christ revealed himself, you can also connect with God outside the church.  The wise men visit Jesus in a humble home. You, too, can connect with God right in your own home/neighborhood. Remember the Holy Spirit resides inside you and is all around you. Your day and experiences will reveal how God is interacting with you, if you just take the time to notice. Consider journaling, taking meditative walks in your neighborhood or nature, practicing centering prayer, spending time with soul friends or meeting with a spiritual director. As you listen more to your own inner voice, you will also hear from the Holy Spirit.


Generously share your gifts with others

Then the Magi offered their treasures to Jesus. We can offer our gifts to God and to others. We have material gifts to share and spiritual gifts and talents to share with others. As the new year begins, ask yourself, “What resources do I have that could uplift my community?” Is there an organization or ministry that you want to support?

Is there a group of people or an individual in need that you feel called to serve?

Then ask, what talents or spiritual gifts is God asking me to bring forth? It could be writing, teaching, preaching, leading, organizing, coaching, caring, or just being present with another. 


Ally with the vulnerable

Last, the magi, having been warned in a dream, depart by another road; they do not return to Herod. The magi recognize the vulnerability of Jesus, just a baby, and in solidarity with him, they disobey the king and do what they think is right. This leads me to ask, who is God calling me to ally, partner and stand in solidarity with, despite the consequences or sacrifices? What group of people or part of creation is stirring compassion in your heart? Where has injustice caused you righteous anger? These emotions of compassion and anger are signs for you to respond. Ask yourself, What can you do this day, this month, this year to be a better ally in the liberation of others?



Rest 

God of endless light, you sent a star— rising from darkness, guiding seekers and sages, overwhelming us with joy. Let the splendor of your dawning light grow in us and in all the world until the whole creation shines with your glory; through Jesus Christ our light. 


God of light, shining in darkness, through a little child, born in Bethlehem, you open to us the treasure of your grace. Help us to search diligently for him, so that we may offer our lives to you with thanksgiving, joy, and praise; through Jesus Christ, the rising star. M


Shepherd of Israel, you sent a star to enlighten the wise and a child to topple the tyrant. Make us wise enough to seek you among the least of your children, wise enough to trade our treasure for the gift of overwhelming joy. 


About the Author 


Julia Styles resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children, Zoe and Jakob. She is a trained spiritual director, leadership coach, and ordained minister. She is passionate about women in leadership and empowering people to live out their callings. If you are interested in exploring your spirituality at a deeper level consider setting up a free consultation with her here. She is also the editor of Prayerful Reflections. If you would like to write for future Prayerful Reflections editions, please email her at spiritualdirectionwithjulia@gmail.com.

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I hadn’t considered before how the magi were allies in protecting Jesus. I love that!

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