January 6, 2013


My wet felt piece fashioned after Fabriano's Epiphany piece

The 12 Days of Christmas are now over and this day, Epiphany, we remember the wise men of Matthew coming from afar following a star to find a child who they recognize as a king. 

They came bearing gifts very strange and foreign to us. I still love the image in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever of the Herdman's dragging a ham before the manger. That was like the widows two mites to them; or the little drummer boy in the song; or the girl of Mexico bringing all she could find - weeds, which turned red (poinsettias). From Bible studies we've learned that frankincense, gold and myrrh were costly gifts fit for kings (for life and burial!).

The art piece is by Fabriano. I change out art on an easel in my house. I like making friends with art work. Art touches me, often judging me. 

There was a phenomena in the sky with three planets close together: Jupiter, Venus, and Mars. This is why the Magi traveled.The explanation for the Bethlehem Star story I like best describes this planet conjunction. Pisces is associated with the Jewish people in astrology, and within its constellation was a conjunction several times in 7 BCE of Jupiter and Saturn, and then Mars joined them. Saturn was known as representing Mesopotamian deity who protected Israel. And Mars symbolized war.

Christians are afraid of astrology and think it evil. Astronomy and astrology combined are the science of observation and interpretation. In 7 BCE there was no astronomy other than astrology. In Genesis we're told God made the stars for 'signs and seasons'. And here in Matthew God is bringing astrologers into Jesus' story.

Were there exactly three wise men? We are told of three gifts. The book Ben Hur names three kings and opens with a dramatic description of how they might have met and traveled together to Bethlehem, but there could have been a whole entourage.If you were dramatizing the whole Advent season with nativity figures, your wise men would be off (afar) in a distance in your house progressing to Joseph and Mary - who would in December be progressing by Donkey to Bethlehem. And baby Jesus and the Shepherds wouldn't show up until Christmas Eve or Christmas day? Many, don't do gift giving until this Epiphany day.

What ever came of these strangers in Jesus' story? Jesus began his ministering when he was 30. Were the shepherds and magi still alive? Did they hear of Jesus? In the silence of 30 years, I often wonder if the shepherds thought that night a bizarre event, maybe even embarrassed about their extravagance ... maybe the most passionate thing they ever did in their life. I like to wonder and ponder.

The Epiphany story is a remarkable story of grace. God doesn't need anything from us - he is the Creator of everything. Here God is receiving gifts. The pagan astrologers were not religious insiders. This is a reminder to me that God is at work in the strangest places, and in the people I least expect to respond to him. I want my eyes to be open to the potential and possibilities of God's grace. God's grace is at work far outside the arbitrary boundaries I construct.
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