I have been reflecting on the different ways in which we engage with waiting, as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and today as teachers. Apostles must wait for God’s timing, in preparation to bring to birth the new thing; prophets must wait in solitude, but not in isolation, in preparation to foretell the imminent arriving; evangelists must wait as they search out the good news, in preparation to proclaim the now-arrived; pastors must wait in order to defeat their demons, in preparation to nurture the new; and teachers must wait in patient study and costly response, in preparation to foster growing wisdom.
We don’t know exactly where the Magi came from. They may have come from what is today Iran; the ancient records of Chinese court astrologers show that the most senior astrologer went missing – Absent without Leave – for a period of two-three years at around the right time. We can’t know for sure, but these scholars sought out the place where received wisdom met current affairs, in order to read the signs of the times in which they lived and to know how to respond. Then, they made plans, to go on an open-ended journey of discovery; a journey with provisional stops and re-calibrations of their own understanding; a journey not only to invest in their own development, but to share their treasures with another. Their choice of gifts to share is, I believe, significant: showing the infant, who had emptied himself of all divine omniscience, what it means, what it looks and feels like, to be human. Gold speaks of our material needs, for food and shelter. Incense, symbolic of prayer, speaks of our spiritual needs, to forgive and be forgiven. Myrrh, used to embalm the dead, speaks of our emotional needs, of love and loss. The gifts play their part in Jesus’ own journey, as he grew in wisdom and in favour with God and his fellow men and women.
The Magi offer a role model for teachers in waiting. Their study is corporate, a group activity – and one which drew on the work of others who had gone before them. It is not confined to the court – to the place acknowledged as the location of learning in all ancient societies (and not much has changed) – but results in moving outward, away from privilege, to the margins, to the domestic scene, to the peasant home. What they have been given – the fruit of their learning, their treasure – is invested in their journey (what would such a lengthy journey with such a large retinue cost?), and freely shared at the journey’s goal.
Teachers must wait, in order to discover that their knowledge (the interpretation of information) and their wisdom (the application of knowledge) is for passing on...