Sunday, 3 January 2016

The adoration of the Magi

In terms of pondering the Christmas story in our hearts, the adoration of the magi has long fascinated me. I think one of my favourite images is Giotto's depiction.  It is just the sheer simplicity.  All eyes are on Jesus, apart from a wayward camel and a young man who is having a job keeping the camels under control.  When I think about the scene I am prompted to remember the last time we read about the childhood of Jesus - when he is lost and then found in the temple.  Both the adoration of the magi and the finding of Jesus are about how we make assumptions and suppositions.  Mary and Joseph assume that Jesus is with each other, and assume that he is still a child, when he is actually about his father's business.  The wise men assume that the star is leading them to the scene of a great event in a palace: the birth of a King.  They get some of it right, and clearly they have done all the calculations and have followed the star.   Just as Mary says to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation 'how can this be?', so the wise men must also have been thinking as they approached the stable 'how can this be?' This is not what they expected.  They assumed it would be rather more than a humble little shack. The boy trying to calm the camels down seems to be saying: 'I have no idea what is going on here, either.'  Jesus will spend the rest of his life on earth challenging assumptions and human reasoning.   The wise men must, on the one hand, have felt immensely clever.  They travelled all that way on the basis of some complex astronomical calculation -  but on the other hand, what was supposed to be there under the star was  just not there. They were expecting majesty and they got humility.   Reason got them there alright, but in Giotto's picture we see the moment when they realise that reason and worldly wisdom  was not going to take them any further.  Reason has its limits: all they could now do was open their hearts and adore.  Mary had done the same 9 months earlier.  She could not understand how it could be so, but was prepared to open her heart to the Holy Spirt.

As for me, I think I am more  like the camel boy than the wise men : I find it difficult to respond to the way in which God challenges my assumptions and expectations. Like the boy and the camels I am not wise enough to abandon my assumptions and open my eyes and heart and just simply adore. This year I will try to be less like my alter ego,  the camel boy!

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