There are many aspects in the account of the visit of the Magi that call us to wonder: their exotic homeland to the east, their navigation by a holy star, their redirection home by angelic visitation. But the feature that deserves our attention — as members of a university community that upholds the twin values of faith and learning — is the Magi’s role as both scholars and worshippers.
For people of our time, the Magi – as astrologers and dream interpreters – look like a suspicious lot, but in their culture and time, they were at the pinnacle of learning. Their scholarship represented the state of the art in the eastern ancient world. In the Gospel according to Matthew, these intellectuals are brought, through their research, to worship Jesus. I believe that this can be an encouragement for us.
In our western culture, we’re inclined to see faith and knowledge as having competing claims on our lives. We default to this position, it seems to me, for at least two reasons:
- Faith is, by nature, a trust in things that are unseen. Faith expects things that are not yet observable, not yet measurable or able to be repeated. Christian faith goes one step further, requiring a trust in things that seem impossible, namely that the historical person “Jesus of Nazareth” is God and that he rose from the dead, having been executed. This trouble is compounded by the presence of claims of truth by other religious systems that deny these attributes of Jesus.
- We know that all sorts of people who share our experience in the world and learn alongside of us, learn and do all sorts of good and useful things, true and noble things in this world without a relationship with Jesus. Clearly knowledge is attainable apart from faith and is independent of faith.
The Magi in their study and their travel and worship are wonderful reminders to us that this bifurcated view of reality isn’t the only or best way to know what’s going on in the world.
St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians writes that Jesus is one in whom all things hold together. When Paul writes this to a community that was struggling with those who claimed to have secret/privileged knowledge, he’s not claiming that Jesus holds all theological ideas or doctrines together. He’s claiming that Jesus holds all of reality together, including the things we see, taste and touch, including the things we make, measure and manipulate.
All our reading and research, all of our writing and creating is happening in the context of creation. This is a creation which was spoken into being through Jesus and Jesus is that word which was spoken. Every word that we read or write owes its existence and its potential to the creating word of God. The world which we study and in which we create owes its reality to the reality of Jesus. And this same Jesus is so radically committed to reality that he is willing to risk personal annihilation for it. There is no separation between our world of faith and our world of study. Jesus is under and over both.
Where Jesus is, life is also present, given as a gift before we could even write our first word, continuing for us long after we’ve lost the ability to speak.
I love the Magi for teaching us this.
Jan. 11, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valparaiso University’s Chapel of the Resurrection.
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