The Gift of a Courageous Heart: An Epiphany reflection, part one

Written by Anton Flores-Maisonet, based on a sermon initially delivered on January 8, 2023, at Atlanta Mennonite Church.

I went on Google Maps and learned something. The distance from the Georgia Capitol to Atlanta Mennonite Church is the same as the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. We’re five miles east of Georgia’s seat of power, and Bethlehem lies about five miles south of Israel’s political center.

Five miles, that’s it. 

The Magi travel to Jerusalem, looking for a foretold king who will bring peace and prosperity. Herod is aware of Isaiah 60 and is concerned. Any threat to his regime is a threat Herod can’t ignore.

So Herod does what any power-hungry ruler would do. He calls scholars of the ancient traditions and demands a briefing on Jewish Prophecy 101. 

Lesson #1: What’s all this fuss about camels, gold, and incense? 

The scholars tell him that he and the so-called wise ones from the east are looking at the wrong text. Isaiah’s prophecy is of no threat to Herod. However, Micah’s words are: 

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah . . . from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old . . . (Micah 5:2).

This prophecy sounds like they’re talking about a revolution. As Tracy Chapman once sang

Don’t you know?

They’re talking about a revolution.

It sounds like a whisper.

Poor people gonna rise up

And get their share.

Poor people gonna rise up

And take what’s theirs.

Don’t you know you better run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run

This ruler of Micah’s prophecy is not born with a silver spoon in their mouth. This peasant monarch will challenge the status quo and bring true peace and prosperity to those who have long been trampled upon by the empire. 

Herod is a quick learner. Based on his insights and shrewd leadership, he makes the visiting astrologers his informants in hopes of gathering intel on any pending insurrection. And the rest is history.

The Magi mount their gold and spices on their camels and head down the dusty road to the little town of Bethlehem. Once there, they find the Chosen child, the One who many hope will offer a more peaceful alternative to the powers and principalities of their age.

But all this long-expected baby can provide the Wise Ones at this moment is spit-up from his virgin mother’s breast milk. (I like a shirt that says “Peace Takes Guts.” Someone should embroider the phrase “Peace Starts Here” on baby burp cloths.)

After paying homage to the uncrowned king in his lowly estate, the Magi have a dilemma. In a dream, an angel warned them that danger was coming. That dream was a moment of discernment; fate was awaiting their choice.

What if the Wise Ones had chosen to return five miles to Herod and had spoken truth to power?

What if the Wise Ones had chosen to return five miles to Herod and had spoken truth to power? 

What if they’d returned to Herod and imitated Shiphrah and Puah of Moses’ day? They could have lied to Herod about what they had seen. (Of course, when the midwives told lies to the mighty Pharaoh, it didn’t end any better for those Jews under his oppressive regime either.) 

The Magi chose neither. Instead, they opted to circumnavigate Jerusalem and avoid Herod’s wrath. Their actions, however, fueled Herod’s inescapable rage.

We call these Magi wise. If self-preservation in the face of state-sanctioned violence is wisdom, a rational decision, prudent, or sound judgment – all traits of wisdom – it’s also weak-hearted.

I can hear one of the Magi singing as they leave Bethlehem and not via the yellow-bricked road:

I’m afraid there’s no denyin’

I’m just a dandy-lion

A fate I don’t deserve

I’m sure I could show my prowess

Be a lion, not a mouse

If I only had the nerve.

Were the Magi wise, cowardly, or both? Would they have acted differently had they known their actions would become the pretense for the slaughter of countless children and the unconsolable loss of too many parents?

Wise or not, one thing is for sure; the Wise Men were not courageous.

Photo credit of Cowardly Lion –

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