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.
must wait, in order to discover that their knowledge (the interpretation of
information) and their wisdom (the application of knowledge) is for passing