Monday, December 14, 2015

In the Picture: The Magi

Adoration of the Magi
Albrecht Dürer 1405 Ufffizi Gallery, Florence

Read: Matt 2.1-12
 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Dürer’s painting of the adoration of the Magi captures the essence of the story; wealthy Gentiles find themselves, much to their surprise, kneeling before a very ordinary baby outside a very ramshackle stable. (The ruins often portrayed in depictions of the nativity were meant to symbolise the the old systems of worldly and religious power which Jesus’ kingdom challenged). Despite the oddness of their situation, however, we can see that the kneeling wise man is completely captivated by this child. This is who he has been searching for, and he is overjoyed to find him.  He is perfectly at home here.

  • The magi were foreigners, gentiles (non-Jews), who had no expectation of being welcome in Israel. 
  • Have you ever lived in a place that felt foreign to you? What was it like?

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