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Curious blessings: when the gift is for those who give

Image: Dream of the Magi by Gislebertus

“When they [the Seekers of Wisdom (Magi)] saw the star rising in the East, they jumped with joy, and with glad hearts they followed until the star stopped and rested over the place where the child was. They went into the house and saw the child and his mother, Bitter Tears (Mary) . As soon as they saw the child, they bowed down to honour him. Then they opened their bundles and gifted him with gold, sweet-smelling incense, and bitter ointment of myrrh”

Matthew 2: 10 & 11 First Nations Version

Today we linger a little longer with the bible passage above, and consider blessing from another angle. The Seekers of Wisdom didn’t make their journey to just handover some gifts. They made their journey in response to a wonderful discovery: that their long years of studying wisdom writings and examining the stars were now pointing to the coming of the greatest king the world had ever seen. Their gifts were an overflow of their enormous joy at living to see the fulfilment of all this in their lifetime.

I particularly enjoy that the First Nations Version of the New Testament tells us this group of wise men “jumped with joy” when they saw the star rising in the East! This part of the story of the mysterious Magi reminds us that they received blessing through participating in the unfolding of the great Divine story of God’s great love for humanity. Those dignified, and no doubt exhausted, scholars found their journey was coming to an end, but the end was the beginning of something even more outrageously wonderful. No wonder they shed their dignity and leapt like children as it dawned upon them what was about to happen.

Can you imagine how it might have unfolded for them? All their lifetimes spent reading and studying historical documents, oral traditions, prophecies, observing celestial phenomena, continuing a long tradition in their culture. All this led to them discerning threads of wisdom pointing to one who was coming to bring a great Light into the world. Since they were scholars they may have been specifically aware of the Old Testament prophecies pointing to the coming Messiah. There must have been a time at which it became clear that the focus of their studies was actually being fulfilled in the midst of their lives. How thrilling, for your life’s work to go from being theoretical and abstract to real and present. No wonder they made the epic journey, following the star as it gradually led them to Bethlehem. No wonder they kept going, when the great pilgrimage turned into an expedition that, some believe, could have lasted well over a year before returning to their homeland. No wonder they jumped with joy!

In the last glimpse we have of the Seekers of Wisdom in the birth story of Jesus there was another, more complicated blessing that came to them. In verse 12 of Matthew 2 we read “The Seekers of Wisdom (Magi) were warned in a dream not to go back to Looks Brave (Herod), so they returned to their homeland by a different road”. Herod had asked them to go back and report to him once they had found the newborn King they were seeking, and it seems that it was at this point that God intervened: the blessing was in fact a warning, which they took at face-value and quickly observed.

There is a beautiful sculpture by Gislebertus, called Dream of the Magi, which can be visited in Cathedral of Saint-Lazare in Autun, France. It depicts in delicately-carved stonework an angel touching the finger of one of three sleeping Magi, gifting them the warning dream. The Magi who is touched by the angel is shown with eyes wide open as if suddenly awakened. The angel is looking with such care at the hand of the Magi. There’s something about the sculpture that reminds me of how this briefly-told bit part in the nativity story captures our imagination: it’s important but shrouded in mystery.

The Seekers of Wisdom quietly exit our narrative… and we are left wondering. Wondering about who they were (plenty has been written elsewhere exploring this), wondering about what they had made of Herod (I suspect the dream confirmed their own suspicions about Herod’s dark manoeuvrings), wondering what impact the experience had upon them in the years to come. I wonder what stories they told each other on the long road home. I wonder how they came to understand it as scholars. And I wonder most of all how it touched their hearts.

Sometimes a blessing comes as an experience that changes us, that changes the direction of our lives, or brings us hope and light when we were lost.

Sometimes the blessing is when we find ourselves navigated away from danger unexpectedly (and that can lead to difficult and unanswerable questions, such as “why me and not you?”).

And sometimes the blessing is simply participating in something extraordinary, being witnesses to wonder and being given the opportunity to hold that wonder in our hands for the rest of our lives.

What are you able to cup in your hands today? What blessing has become yours when you weren’t looking for it?

May we learn to be open-handed, and willing to receive when we expected to give. May we know that even when life becomes complicated, there is a Light which we can come home to.

Vicky Allen

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