Wise Men from Away
Bobby Moore, world historian and one-time Guyanese High Commissioner to Canada, once described us this way: "Canada is the land that is bordered on the North by opportunity; on the South by importunity; on the East by history; and on the West by the East." Moore was a clever man. But he did something we do ourselves, and that was to define us by what lies at our borders, rather than by what resides within. Why is it we need to look to some distant land to tell us who we are?
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. It marks the visit of the Magi from the East to the Holy Family. In biblical times the East represented the Gentile world with its wisdom traditions of seers and astrologers. Those traditions were eschewed in the Jewish world. Matthew's inclusion of the Magi is symbolic: even the Gentiles, with their strange religious practices, would recognize the Christ Child as the world's hope. Somehow this made his birth so much more than a local event. Indeed, it turned it into a miracle of cosmic proportions.
On my first weekend in the Diocese of Calgary, over twenty years ago, I participated in the election of a new bishop. Some well-known local names were on the slate. But the delegates were eyeing the one they didn't know, the stranger from the East who had letters after his name, quite a few letters actually, and some from prestigious Ivy League universities. Of course, dazzled by a star, we elected him.
I will not name him because he was a tortured man who had a terrible time of it as Bishop of Calgary. He was eventually railroaded out of office, and then got sick and died. He was not what we hoped he might be, which was not entirely his fault. We were blinded by the rising of the sun in the East, bringing with it hope from away. We didn't see that even Wise Men, with all their degrees, are human too.
So here's a thought. Let's stop looking for someone, anyone, to come from away to bring us hope and affirmation. Let us look to ourselves for the God-given wisdom that resides within each of us. It is enough. The message of the Incarnation that the church celebrates at this time of year reminds us that the Saviour's name is Emmanuel, which means, "God is with us." Do we have the faith actually to believe it?
Joseph and Mary must have been pleased to receive the attention, and the gifts, of their exotic visitors from the East. How nice of them to make the long journey. But really, they needn't have bothered. Next time perhaps they could just send a card.