As with the magi, seekers are subject to change
At St. Margaret's, one of the things we talk about a lot is being a seeker. In fact, our motto is that we are a community of faith seeking, serving, and sharing Christ in Plainview. Though we talk about being seekers or being a people who are seeking Christ, sometimes I am not sure we are all on board about what that actually means. That is why I love this story of the magi today in our gospel lesson. Though we may not feel like we have much in common with wise men from the East who have expensive gifts, the gift of the wise men for us today is that they show us what the experience of being a seeker is really like.
First, the magi show us that being a seeker means being observant.[i] The text from Matthew today says that the wise men observe the king’s star at its rising. Now, in order to observe a star, one must be paying attention. One must be on the lookout for the movement of God in order to have an encounter with God.
We have a group within our parish who has taken to looking at the stars too. Our Praying with the Stars offering is a way for us to connect with God through the observation of the heavens. That offering is one more way that St. Margaret’s helps us seek Christ in creation. But the truth is that Praying with the Stars is about more than astrology. Praying with the Stars is about creating space to observe the movement of the Holy Spirit. If stars are not your thing, that is fine. Perhaps movies or books or music is more your thing. The point is that one can never really be a seeker unless one is attuned to the movement of God – or at least creates opportunities to open oneself to the movement of God. The magi offer us that gentle push to create space in our own spiritual lives for observing, watching, and listening for the movement of the Spirit.
Next, the magi show us that being a seeker means that our journey will be eventful. In this story alone, the wise men have two very different encounters. First, they encounter those who are resistant to their journey. King Herod on the surface seems quite inquisitive and eager to hear about the magi’s journey. But we learn from the text that Herod acts more out of fear for his own power and control. What was good news to the wise men was not seen as good news by all. Second, the wise men experience being overwhelmed by joy. When they encounter the Christ Child, the wise men are so overwhelmed that they are brought to their knees, pay homage, and pour out abundant gifts. Experiencing Christ is so overwhelming that these men find themselves doing things they may not have expected.
Many of us know exactly what this experience is like. We get roped into volunteering for a workday at Habitat for Humanity, and in the middle of the workday, as we are hanging drywall with a prospective homeowner, the homeowner says something that stops us in our tracks. We are so overwhelmed by the encounter that all we can do is marvel at God working in our midst. Or we are sitting in worship for the millionth time, hearing the same Eucharistic prayer again, when a word or a phrase catches us up short. Suddenly, what we are doing at the Eucharistic table takes on a fresh, jarring perspective. Or maybe we are having a simple conversation with a fellow parishioner about the way that their sacrificial giving has changed their walk with Christ. The next time we write our pledge check, something is changed in us forever – even the sensation of the pen on the paper of our check feels different.
Finally, the magi show us that being a seeker means that our lives will be changed. When the wise men are done with their visit with the holy family, they do not simply return home the same way that they came. They do not even return to Herod as Herod had asked them to return. No, in the midst of their visit, the wise men have a dream that warns them to go another way. And so, they return home, but by a way that is not familiar. The magi teach us that when you meet Christ, “Nothing is ever the same. You don’t take the old road any longer. You unfold a new map, and discover an alternate path.”[ii]
For those of us who have assumed the life of the seeker, we know this truth all too well. If we commit our lives to truly seeking God, not idly going through the motions, we experience things that are just too transformative to leave us the same. We can no longer be the old selves that we once were. My friends who are vegetarians all have a story. Whether they read "The Jungle" in high school, or they saw "Fast Food Nation" after college, some experience led them to disavow the eating of meat. Whatever they learned or experienced, they could not unlearn. And so they were transformed and their eating life was transformed. The same is true for us. When we seek and experience Christ – whether in our experiences with the poor, in our experiences with fellow parishioners, or even as we taste Christ in the holy meal – we, too, are transformed into something that cannot be undone.
That is the gift of the magi for us today. They show us how to be seekers: seekers who are observant, seekers who expect eventfulness, and seekers who realize they will be forever changed. As the drama of their journey unfolds, they invite us to allow our own spiritual journey of seeking to unfold. The promise is that the Holy Spirit will transform us, over and over again. We only need to take the first step. Amen.
[i] Steve Pankey, “Are You Paying Attention?” December 29, 2014 at https://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/are-you-paying-attention/.
[ii] James C. Howell, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 216.