Based on our Gospel text for this coming weekend (read Matthew 2:1-12), singer-songwriter James Taylor offers this somewhat playful sketch in his classic song: “Home by Another Way.” Listen in…
“Those magic men the Magi; some people call them wise.
Or Oriental, even kings; Well anyway, those guys.
They visited with Jesus; They sure enjoyed their stay.
Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
They went home by another way.” (fr. Never Die Young; Cut #8)
Indeed, the “Story of the Magi” ranks right up there with other amazing biblical stories–such as “David and Goliath” or “Jesus Calming the Storm on Lake Galilee”–in terms of capturing the human spirit or imagination. Poets as diverse as Wm. Butler Yeats and Garrison Keillor have sought to wrap words around the visit of the Wise Men who followed the yonder star to a strawy manger in Bethlehem, cradling the promised Messiah, the newborn King: Jesus the Christ. The American poet Henri Wadsworth Longfellow even gave them names: Melchoir, Gaspar, and Balthasar. Hundreds of painters as well have sought to capture the scene: including Botticelli and Rembrandt. So much has been made of this story of which we know so little.
And yet…and yet, I think a very telling commentary can be found in another “sketch.” Not that of James Taylor or Yeats or Botticelli, but rather one that is faintly drawn by Leonardo Da Vinci, entitled “A Study for the Adoration of the Magi.” As you’ll see here, its backdrop is that of a ravaged world–with ruined buildings, fighting horsemen, and war. Like the star at its center, that seems to have crashed to earth, the picture’s meaning is clear and manifest: the world into which Jesus, the Messiah, has come is one of great chaos and decay. It’s found dead-to-rights by sin and death. It (that’s us) needs a Savior.
Come and join the family and friends of First Lutheran Church this weekend, as we follow the star with the Wise Men, to see and hear the One for whom its light comes…from heaven to earth…to rest upon. Yes, come and worship, stretching out your hands at his manger, and hear anew (in this new year) his life-giving, sin-forgiving, hope-renewing word: “This is my body, given for you.”
May the swaddling cloths of our Savior’s love–Jesus the Christ–enfold you once more with “comfort and joy.” In this New Year, and always…
Advent is truly a time of preparation, expectation, and longing. Advent carries a somber tone and soon-but-not-yet feeling, yet these descriptors give us the idea that there is no joy presently and we are just waiting for the real event to begin. That, I suppose, is why Advent is for most people just a placeholder for Christmas. It is the starvation diet you endure in order to pig out at the party. No wonder there is such a strong pull to call Advent the “Holiday Season”—because everyone is always looking for more joy!
Fear not, and rejoice! The Prophet Zephaniah (3:14-20) has come to rescue you from the dark, dreary, and joyless Advent. Sing loudly with exaltation and gladness. Shout with all your heart about the great and powerful God who has claimed you, for God is doing the same about you. God rejoices over his people and saves them from shame and despair, changing them into praise, renown, and jubilation.
But you say, “But I don’t always feel it.” Of course not. Don’t be fooled so easily. We don’t always have the joy of Christmas or the warmth of summer or the constant care and support of family and friends. When we do, it’s natural to sing and rejoice, but Advent and Zephaniah remind us that we don’t praise God only when we feel and experience good things. We rejoice even in exile and longing.
Sing aloud, shout with joy! For in all times we have a great and mighty God who loves us in Jesus Christ.