Written on: January 15, 2014
I have a reputation – duly earned – for procrastinating. While friends and family send greetings before the 25th of December, they often receive cards from me after that date. Thankfully, in my Catholic Christian faith tradition, we continue to celebrate the Christmas season weeks after December 25th, countering the culture of shop-til-you-drop from Halloween til Christmas day. In our convent, therefore, we still have our Christmas tree, lights in our windows, and creche or nativity scenes from Peru, Germany, and Italy in our community room, chapel, and prayer rooms. As I write, we are celebrating the Feast of the Magi or Three Kings, a first or second Christmas story from the Christian Scriptures or New Testament.
I love this feast and all that accompanies it. The story of the magi coming from the east is such wonderful literature. Tradition has embellished the words of the gospel writer, Matthew, to the point that most Christians are convinced that the visitors were kings, that there were three of them, and that they came from the far east by camel. (“We three kings of Orient are”) Matthew writes of “magi” or astronomers, not kings. He doesn’t mention how many. No matter. With scripture, every story is true because every story has the truth inside it. The truth is that followers of Jesus then and now believe that God is for everyone, that the teachings of Jesus’ words and life broke through the limits of Jewish culture into the then Gentile world and today into our own contemporary world. The strangers from the East are all of us.
The story goes that the Magi (Orthodox tradition numbers them at 12!) saw an extraordinarily bright star in the sky and used it to navigate their way to Bethlehem. There they inquire about the newborn of King Herod, who feigns interest in paying him homage, but in reality plots to destroy him. At the end of the story, Matthew tells us that the Magi “returned to their country by another road, since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod”. The tale captures the realization of the first followers of Jesus –that some would recognize the Christ and consider him great and others would see him as threat and seek his demise and ultimately his death. Not an unfamiliar scenario in that world nor in our own setting. Those who would undermine the status quo for the benefit of those who are marginalized, those who criticize power when it has lost its way and become corrupt, they often become the victim, as did Jesus.
Next week, many Muslims will mark the birthday of the Prophet, Mohammed. While Christians continue to celebrate what we call the Incarnation (becoming human) of the Son of God, Muslim parents will tell their children the story of the Prophet and his life and teachings. Like the Magi, we all look for a sign of God’s presence, a Holy Presence. We all consult others we consider wiser than ourselves, and sometimes we find our way through them. Other times, we also have to return “by another road”. The Prophet had to go to another city; the Magi had to go home a different way.
I work with women who have been sexually exploited. Some were abused as children; some found their way into prostitution through drugs; many were trafficked or coerced into exploitation by people of power and money. These days they are finding a different road. When I celebrate the feast of the Magi coming to worship Jesus, when I walk in solidarity with those who celebrate the birth and teachings of the Prophet, when I pray to the God of all nations, the God who always sends signs of Holy Presence, who always reveals God’s self to every people in every place, I pray, too, with these women. I pray with all those who are returning “by another road” because the route they chose once is not the way to goodness, to justice, to peace, to holiness. Pray with me. Happy Feast of the Magi! Merry Christmas!
This article was originally published in the Bucks County Courier Times “From a Faith Perspective” column on January 10, 2014. Sr. Eileen White ministers to the women of Dawn’s Place (described above). The Grey Nuns are very concerned about Human Trafficking and seek ways to ameliorate the injustices suffered by many people, especially women. See our previous post for more information Super Bowl- Human Trafficking Awareness