Three Wise Girls (Matthew 2:1-12)
The story of the magi is a familiar story, and it gets lumped in with the Christmas narrative in Luke. I was a little hesitant to preach on this because I know some people are tired of Christmas right now. But this is a story that happens later, after the birth, and I think it’s an important story for us to consider.
Central to the early story of Jesus’s life are these people from a different land, who come from a different religion. These magi are “gentiles in the extreme”—they are so remote from the Jewish worldview, and they come into this story. (New Interpreter's Bible VIII, 145.)
God spoke to them and they listened, and so they followed the star. They had a role in protecting the baby Jesus. They didn’t just study the star, or talk about it, or admire it, but they followed it. They met with this violent, tyrannical ruler, and they didn’t follow him.
This is a story about the different ways that God can speak to us.
God can speak to us through people of another religion, through foreigners.
God can speak to us through a star or a Light. In this story, they “observed his star at its rising,” and that was how God spoke to them. And for many in the Christian tradition, we see Jesus as the light of the world. Friends have an understanding of the inner Light, the Spirit that guides us, that God speaks to us through this Light.
God speaks to us through religious leaders. Here, Herod called together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. And God speaks through scripture. That is how the religious leaders knew to say that the Messiah was going to be born in Bethlehem.
God even spoke through this violent leader, through Herod, who later murdered children. He told the magi to go to Bethlehem.
God spoke through gifts, through the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that were a sign to Mary about who Jesus was and the role that he would play.
Finally, God spoke through a dream. The magi, “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”
Traditionally, this is the story of the “three kings” or the “three wise men.” I have a young friend named Talia, who just turned six. Talia went to her dad, Myles, and said, “Dad, how come it was three wise men and not three wise girls?” Myles thought this was a pretty good question, so he posted it on Facebook. And I thought it was a good question, so I “liked” it and watched the conversation that happened.
Pretty quickly after Myles posted this, an older man commented, “Got a pretty idea of who put her up to THAT!” thinking that it was Talia’s mother, who is known as a feminist. Then he said, “Hope you told her that a woman’s place is in the kitchen!” This is how this man decided to respond to a six-year-old’s question.
I think the past few months have been rough for many of us. I know they have been hard for me. Like the people in Jerusalem, we are faced with having a ruler we disagree with, and who is making decisions that may lead to violence and hopelessness.
This is not a new phenomenon. There are people all over the world who are under leaders who are in fear of losing power and have no problem with engaging in violent acts.
So, like many of you, I have been asking what I am going to do in response. I have noticed changes in myself, and one is that I am not willing to just let things go as easily as I was.
And so when I saw this comment on Facebook, I wasn’t just willing to let it go, even though I have heard many, many times in my life that a woman’s place is in the kitchen—or a woman’s place isn’t in the pulpit! So I said to him, “Reading that ‘joke’ made me feel sick. I’m glad that Talia is surrounded by people who affirm her worth as a person.”
As you might imagine, this led other people to comment, because that’s how Facebook works.
It would be easy to get sidetracked in a discussion about how we don’t know if the magi were men. They are just magi. They could have been men and women, they could have been families. While those things are true, I think Talia’s question is deeper than that.
Talia, at six years old, wanted to see herself reflected in this story. She wanted to see a wise girl who is coming to give gifts to the baby Jesus.
I said earlier that I would talk about why we are calling this worship the Church of Mary Magdalene. Part of that is because Hannah said to me that we needed a name—we couldn’t just have midweek worship as a Facebook page. Church of Mary Magdalene is the first one that occurred to me, and I texted her with that.
It’s also because we wanted to name this Wednesday night worship after Mary Magdalene, who was the first apostle. After the resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene to preach and she did, even though the others did not believe her.
I want little girls like Talia to know that Jesus chose a woman to be the first preacher. I want women to know that their gifts are precious and valuable. And I had a dream about preaching for women, which led to this Wednesday night worship.
In this worship—in the Church of Mary Magdalene—we believe that God can speak to us in many ways. We believe that God can speak through people of another religion and foreigners. We believe that God can speak through a star or Light. We believe that God can speak through religious leaders and God can speak through scripture. God can even speak through a leader that we disagree with, or through a dream, or through gifts.
We want to be a church that welcomes gifts, especially when they come from people our culture does not necessarily expect—when they come from women, when they come from queer people, when they come from people of color, when they come from everyone at the margins. We want to welcome that.
This may be disruptive. In our story, the people of Jerusalem were frightened with Herod because there was news of this work of God in the community, and that is disruptive. And we welcome that.
We will pronounce the good news together and do our best to make space for others to share their good news.
Now, in the Quaker tradition, we will spend time in silence together, waiting and listening to God. God may speak to us individually or collectively, directly to us or through another person. We will spend about 20-30 minutes in open worship and after that, we will have another song and move into the next part of our worship.