As we Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas, and many others in our world join in holiday festivities, this year is a real time of testing. Daily we hear stories of violence and terror. People are displaced from their homes and they are unwelcome in many places. There is hurt and anger and fear all around. Our world feels like a scary, dangerous place. It is hard to rejoice and celebrate when there is so much bad happening.
Perhaps what we need to do this year is seek Magi to join us in our churches. The Magi were a class of people in Jesus’ time who looked for signs and portents of spiritual and divine guidance. They did not worry themselves with what was happening around them on the earth. Their faith and focus was on the future, founded on a strong belief that truth and beauty and justice would prevail over deception, destruction and violence. Our story of “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” based on Matthew 2:1-12, tells of the three travelers seeking the infant Messiah. They traveled hostile lands, met with a devious and dangerous King Herod, and overcame great obstacles to worship the baby Jesus. There is much in their story for us to think about today.
First, tradition has it that they were from different lands – different racial and ethnic heritage – yet they shared a common vision and a common goal. They were strangers traveling in a strange land, yet they did not give into their fears and anxieties, but stayed focused on the hope, love, and joy that the Christ child promised. They humbled themselves, bowing before the meek and lowly travelers from Nazareth in the little town of Bethlehem. In the first century, it was no less dangerous to travel unknown roads or welcome unknown people than it is today. Yet, the Son of God is worth every risk. One Christmas carol sings that “love came down at Christmas,” but this was not a weak, passive love. The love of God born in Jesus Christ is a love of great strength and courage. It makes us confident when we are anxious, powerful when we are afraid, and it allows us to treat strangers as sisters and brothers instead of as potential enemies. Magi, the wise, understood that the holy and divine is more powerful than the worldly and base.
Today, Magi – wise women and men – can help us to remember that those who wish to destroy and do harm are actually very few. The vast majority of Christians, Jewish people, Muslims, and believers of many other faiths seek peace and justice and harmony. Refugees and the displaced and dispossessed are not problems to solve or threats to avoid, but brothers and sisters in special need, giving us opportunity to put the love, mercy and compassion of Christ into action. The wise among us help us not to become confused by the chaos and commotion of our world, but to seek the One who makes all things new – our Lord of Lords, our Prince of Peace, our Savior and our Salvation. There is nothing to fear, for Christ will indeed be born again in each of us this year.
It is very likely that in our world many will be homeless this Christmas. Many will be hungry. Many will grieve the loss of loved ones. Many will be ill, many will be lost, many will be lonely. Sadly, many in our world may feel hopeless. This is a critical time for us. We must not allow ourselves to reflect the darkness we see in the world around us, but we must let the light of Christ shine through us, dispelling the darkness, giving hope, and offering aid.
This is a warm winter – we cannot use being frozen as an excuse. Each of our churches can be a gift to the community and world this Christmas and New Year. We can reach out in love, welcome the stranger, meet and journey with those in need, and offer the love, grace and hope of Christ to every person in both body and in spirit.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).