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Story

By Gordon Creamer

Scripturally-speaking, the lectionary of readings for Advent does not include an encounter with the Magi. We actually do not engage with them textually until nearly two weeks after Christmas, when we are poised to focus on the Epiphany and the reality that the holiday season is concluding once again. And so, the significance of these Eastern journeyers arriving in Bethlehem is not usually considered until our spiritual and cultural festivities have reached the threshold of completion. But, I believe there is something resonant and meaningful in contemplating the travels of these curious figures during our own Advent sojourn. In fact, there are substantial parallels between the seeming pilgrimage that the Magi commit to and the one which we are annually called to make in preparation for experiencing the gift of Christmas.

This is where the grace of imagination, as Ignatius envisioned it, comes in handy. Let’s consider who these astrologers from faraway lands might have been as we gaze contemplatively upon our own spiritual trek this December. They come to King Herod after Jesus has already been born in Bethlehem, aware of the prophecy of Jesus’ nativity and the knowledge of the rising star associated with such a heralded birth (Matt 2:1-2, NRSVUE). They have come from the East, after what must have been quite a long and arduous odyssey. As modern readers, we deduce that there must have been three Magi because three specific gifts are presented to Jesus, Mary and Joseph once they discover the exact place where this family from Nazareth had been dwelling. But, when we accept the invitation to engage with the mystery of the Incarnation in the story as Matthew reveals it, much more is possible.

Each of the Magi who sacrificed their lives, the integrity of their livelihood, and their relationships to traverse the desert for an unspecified (but likely two year) period could be however we imagine them. We can creatively tap into our senses to behold their personhood, the garments they wore, and the respective stories and experiences that accompanied their stargazed pursuit of the “King of the Jews.” We can smell the aroma of the camels they rode upon and the spices they incorporated into their wayfarer cooking. We can audibly detect the consternation in their voices against the backdrop of the desert night sky, intermingled with the excitement and wonder embodied in their queries as they drew closer and closer to where the star stood still.

In this way, the enigmatic three kings (as legend and lore have mythologized them) become real for us on our Advent journey. Indeed, they, too, become incarnate by virtue of us imagining ourselves as the Magi. Now, they can expand to include the sweeping diversity of Christians and other seekers following the Divine Star of Bethlehem in 2023, attempting to shift from narrowing expectations about God and the future to a richer, pregnant expectancy of the same God, who immanently makes the impossible quite possible. It’s in the progression of this shifting that the wisdom we attribute to the Magi/kings/astrologers becomes apparent and becomes available to us as we persevere forward on our own life journeys.

I invite you today to ponder further the experience of the Magi on their path to Bethlehem and how God accompanied them…

I encourage you to identify the Magi in your contemplation in definitive ways that embody the uniqueness of your essence and particularities, your orientation and gender, and your heart’s desire and gifts to be shared…

I pray that you will be empowered this Advent to allow your own life’s migration to become part of the Magi’s expedition of a lifetime, whether it feels like you are on a pilgrimage or are wandering aimlessly…

In whatever way you can, may you become part of the Christmas story as a contemporary searcher, as a modern Magi, seeking the more as you prepare your heart and home for the Incarnation once again. In so doing, your Nativity set and its royally-dressed astrologers bearing coffers might just appear differently to you this year.

Gordon Creamer currently serves as program director at Well For The Journey, a spiritual wellness center in Lutherville, MD. He has held leadership roles in healthcare programming and operations since 2001 at various assisted living, skilled nursing and hospice communities. He earned an MA in spiritual & pastoral care from Loyola University and an MA in Theology from the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary & University. He is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry Program at the Ecumenical Institute. A skilled retreat and workshop facilitator, and trained as a spiritual director, learn more about Gordon at themissionbridge.com.