What with all of the outrageous taking captive of the celebration of Christmas by the commercial principalities and powers, the actual celebration the entry of God into human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth gets lost in sentiment, and too often in a sort of ‘Thomas Kincaid sentimentalism,’ i.e., candlelight and unreality. But there are some familiar pieces of this story that need to be retrieved and explored, among which is the episode of the wise men, … who at some point subsequent to the birth of Jesus, had somehow come seeking him. The observance of their quest is the source of the church’s celebration of Epiphany in some segments of the church, especially the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It is also what is behind the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. Christmas day was followed by the twelve days that were then consummated in the twelfth day, which was Epiphany, or ‘the appearance of the star’ and the episode of the wise men from the East

When you have lived in New Orleans, as I have, you are aware that it loses all of its Christian context, and become the revelry of the annual carnival that begins on the twelfth night and continues through the Epiphany season until ‘Fat Tuesday’ right before folk resume their piety on Ash Wednesday and begin the celebration of Lent. All that by way of some background. But the wise men? What are we to make of them? They came from the east seeking something? What? They were a set of people who interpreted dreams, were astrologers, and in many ways were seekers after whatever it was that could explain the meaning of our existence. They would have had contact with the Jews who had been exiled in their part of the middle east, and would have known of some of their traditions and expectations. And so, by their own explanation, they came with rather extravagant gifts because they had discerned in the heavens a sign of a most significant person born in Palestine. They found Jesus—probably many months after his birth—gave him their gifts, worshiped him, and disappeared. What did they report when they got home? How did they interpret what they had found? What difference did it make?

Why am I raising this question? I am raising it because there have always been and are those seekers after meaning and hope in the most unlikely places. This is true in the darkest contexts intellectually, politically, philosophically, socially, culturally—in the most unlikely settings and persons.

Skip down a couple of millennia to our present place of incarnation, and into the emerging of a totally post-Christian culture in which the skeptics and cynics delight in seeking to further discredit the whole reality of Christian faith, … and you will find those seekers. Often it it those who are the most most acerbic and strident in their assaults on the Christian faith who are those harboring the most insistent quests deep in their meta-consciousness. I have certainly found that to be true. Those persons who thought themselves to be the most skilled in skewering the faith of Jesus Christ, become the most devout of his followers once they get honest in their quest. God uses dreams, visions, messages on the internet, incidental encounters, and an incredible set of influences to begin to open eyes and unlock the minds of men and women globally.

The first century apostle-missionary, Paul, wrote a statement that fascinates me along this line. He said that he rejoiced even in his sufferings because he had been called to make the word of God fully known: “… to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations, but now revealed …” to make known among those still outside the household of faith how the glory and purpose of God has been made known in and through Jesus Christ. (Colossians 1:24 ff.). In every nation, among those of every religion or anti-religion, are those hungering to know Jesus the meaning, and the mystery is burning in them. Our role is to be the living demonstrations to them of the mystery of how Christ opens the door to meaning, love, and hope. Count on it.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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