Three

12 Jan

Here I am…back again. I’m officially “settled in” to my new residence now. Instead of one great roommate, I now have two, which makes three of us. Also, we have about three times the space in the new condo than I had in my apartment. And there’s at least three times less noise. That comes from not living across the street from one of the city’s largest hospitals with the screeching sirens that once disturbed my study and sleep time. Not to mention there were three garbage dumpsters behind the old place that would be emptied every Monday morning to loud banging, ending my hopes of sleeping past 6 AM, even on the odd occasion I wasn’t working on a Monday.In the midst of the move, I’ve been observing the post-Christmas leg of the Canadian federal election campaign. The seats in Parliament will likely be shared between the front-running (for now) Conservative Party, the Liberals, the left-leaning New Democratic Party, and the separatist Bloc Québécois. Well, that makes for at least three federalist parties who will have MPs elected to the House of Commons. Of course, I’m leaving out the Bloc, whose sole purpose is to break Canada apart along linguistic lines and then to have Quebec exist on handouts from the rest of Canada. The Bloc can dream on, but I digress. The Green Party has a faint chance of a seat or two, maybe from the west coast constituencies somewhere. But again that’s beside the point.

This post is about threes. I particularly liked the homily given by the chaplain of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta. Sunday’s Mass celebrated the Epiphany. The familiar story is that of wise men following a star to a stable where they found the infant Jesus in a manger. Prior to this, the wise men had visited the murderous King Herod, and had asked Herod where they might find the Messiah:

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matthew 2:2)

Herod was driven to fear, jealousy, and rage by that apparently naïve question:

Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” (Matthew 2:4-8 )

Obviously, Herod had no intention of doing homage to a potential usurper of his power. Herod wanted to destroy this threat, along with every other male child under two years old near Bethlehem. (cf. Matthew 2:13, 16). Thus, the wise men, who in their first encounter with Herod had seemed not so wise in telling Herod of their intentions and of the time the star appeared, were warned by God, source of their wisdom, not to return to Herod. (cf. Matthew 2:7,12,16)

It is appropriate here to discuss the significance of the “wise” men. They are actually referred to in scripture as magi. This word is translated from the Greek word ‘magus’

, meaning an astrologer. These men in Matthew’s Gospel went largely unnoticed, watching the stars. They knew, though, that the star of Bethlehem was no everyday occurrence. So they followed it day and night until the star brought them to a baby. A baby is also pretty normal, like the stars. But again there’s something special about this humble but supreme baby. He is God, and continues to draw people to Himself by everyday signs.Notably, Scripture also never tells us how many magi there were (although we traditionally say there were three), only that there were more than one and that they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is often associated with joyous times (for example, the “golden” wedding anniversary) or with royalty. Christ was certainly royal, and His birth was a joyous occasion. Frankincense is a perfume. Incense is often used during Mass, so that it has become a ritual, somewhat like the regular motions of life that we go through that are nonetheless important, like getting out of bed each morning. Myrrh was used as a spice for bodies after burial. The innocent Christ was to die the death of a criminal. Many people die in suffering and pain, but their lives are still of significance to God and should be to other people also. Sadly, the proper loving care of the suffering, disabled, or dying is lost in portions of today’s society.

In the second chapter of Matthew, three big encounters with God in dreams are mentioned. Firstly, God appeared to the magi to tell them not to return to Herod. (Matthew 2:12). Then God appeared twice to Joseph, first to have him flee to Egypt, as Herod was set to kill all boys under two around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13), and then to tell Joseph to return to Israel after Herod had died. (Matthew 2:20)

Finally, the journey of the magi can be split into three parts. Their journey mirrors our own today. First, they followed the star to Bethlehem. The magi, like Jesus’ followers then and now, knew that God was speaking great things to them by means they could understand, whether by the stars that the astrologers watched, or by the beauty of nature we see today. The magi then encountered the God-child. We can see God in other people if we try hard enough. God created us all in his likeness, and resides in us. In turn, we, like the magi, go forth on our journey filled with the Holy Spirit “to love and to serve the Lord”. If we allow God to fill us with wisdom, he will. And God will help his people through difficult times.

All praise be to the God of past, present, and future. God is three persons in the perfect unity he desires for His people- the unity of the triune majesty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God’s glory aid us to journey toward Christ, to encounter Him faithfully and joyfully, and to go forth with His love and wisdom to spread His good news.

Amen.

WRS

 

 

 

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