Welcome to Matthew 2, our second "Out of Hiding: A Feminist Bible Study" devotional.
Before we dive into the final installment of Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, let's quickly go over what we covered last week. As we discovered, Jesus comes from a long line of strong women. Four of them are called out by name when Matthew details Christ's genealogy: tenacious Tamar, brave Rahab, loyal Ruth and dignified Bathsheba. These women were all marginalized, but through God's CRAZY love for His daughters, their lives were restored through their faithfulness. These women's names tend to get lost among the many names of men, but don't be fooled; they were always right there.
In Matthew 2, our saviour was born. In a small stable in Bethlehem, on a bed of hay in a manger, Jesus was gifted to the world by God, through Mary. There is a powerful juxtaposition to be found in his humble beginnings, compared to his role as the King of Kings. The wise men (or, Magi) arrived at the birthplace of God's one and only Son and gifted him Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. James Boice writes, "Gold is the metal of kings. When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule." Frankincense was used in the temples during times of worship. This gift recognized Jesus' place as high priest. Myrrh, a spice used for embalming, was a recognition of Jesus' eventually sacrifice through crucifixion. Mary, Joseph and Jesus would eventually have to flee Egypt as Herod slaughtered all boys under the age of two in a desperate attempt to murder the supposed King of the Jews. Eventually they would settle in Galilee, where Jesus' incredible ministry would begin.
Let's talk about how the magi found Jesus. Matthew 2:9 describes an incredible cosmic event, in which "the star [the magi] had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was." The magi charted the stars, tracking astronomical events and movements as a means to better understand the Universe. When they first noticed this incredibly bright, new star rising from the east, they believed it to be a sign of the arrival of the King of the Jews; Herod's worst nightmare. Scientists have long debated what could have caused this star. Ray Bohlin writes that some scientists believe the star " was a supernova explosion, others a comet or a conjunction of planets associated with specific constellations that would herald the birth of a king in Israel. Some have suggested that none of these astronomical events can adequately account for all that Matthew tells us within the context of his worldview." Perhaps it wasn't a star; perhaps it was the blinding light of God in the heavens.
Regardless of what caused this light in the sky, it was clearly described as a star. At this point you may be thinking to yourself, "what does a star have to do with feminism?" Here's an interesting take some feminist theologians have: because the star followed the sun, rising from the east in it's wake as an evening star, that particular star was astrologically feminine. One could then assert that feminine wisdom is what guided the 'wise men.' Personally, I see this connection as a bit of a stretch, particularly because it relies on astrology and not astronomy. However, I found the concept that feminine wisdom led the wise men interesting, which made me think, "were all the wise men really men?"
I was prepared to launch into an entire lecture in which I would denounce the exclusion of women from the magi, because historically women have been barred from higher learning, their council ignored by society. However, upon further research I came to find that not only were there female magi, but the wisemen who visited baby Jesus could have very well been women. If you want a super in depth study of this theory, I highly recommend you read Christine Schenk's essay on it, entitled "An Epiphany with Wise Women." You can read it by clicking HERE. Here are the highlights of this theory, which I have fallen in love with:
First, there is zero indication that there were only three magi who visited Jesus. The only reason we have perpetuated the idea that there were three magi is because Jesus was presented with three gifts. You guys, gold, frankincense and myrrh is expensive. It makes complete sense that a number of magi would go in on a gift together. So, even if you do think three of the magi were men, the others who were present could have been women.
Second, back then it was completely immoral for men to be in the presence of a woman without other women present. If you read Matthews account closely, when the magi arrive Joseph is not present. Matthew 2:11 says, "on coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him." Therefore, at least one of the magi would have had to be a woman.
Third, the specific greek word Matthew used for 'magi' was gender inclusive. Schenk writes, "Matthew's use of the Greek masculine plural magoi for magi can be used inclusively, just as the English word "men" often includes women." If Matthew had wanted to specify the magi as men, he could have done so. The female magi's presence is validated by the grammar itself.
If you're like me, you may now be looking at the nativity set you have on display for Christmas, with the distinctly male magi figurines, and wondering, "how did we miss this?" Once again, there is no question about it: women have always been there, active participants in the gospel.
I also think it is important that we look at Joseph and Mary's relationship. These newlyweds, who never even had the chance to consummate their marriage, had to travel to Joseph's town of birth in Bethlehem in order to participate in the census. Mary was due any day, riding on a donkey, led by Joseph on foot across hills, mountains, rivers and more. The journey would have taken them anywhere from four to eight days, depending on what route they took and how many miles they covered each day. This pilgrimage as a couple was done so in faith: both acknowledging their earthly duty to participate in the census, and heavenly duty to birth the savior into the world.
Every other Christmas my husband and I make our own pilgrimage from Calgary to Vancouver, his hometown. Our first Christmas married we embarked on the journey, spirits high. Our tummies were full, we had warm drinks from Starbucks, new winter driving tires and 10 podcasts ready to listen to. We sang road trip songs, marveled at the snowy mountains and were enjoying our time together; then it all went south. There was an accident up ahead of us, which left us stuck on the road for 2.5 hours in stand-still traffic. A blizzard moved in, and soon we were navigating pitch-black roads in white-out conditions. We began to bicker, our adventure slowly disintegrating into a total nightmare. We eventually arrived safely, but there were moments when I wanted to turn around.
I think about what Mary, fully pregnant, must of been feeling as they navigated the treacherous path to Bethlehem. Surely their trip was not the shining Christmas card we see each year. I imagine they too had moments of angry silence, doubt, frustration and more. Yet, they remained a team. They worked diligently together to ensure the safety of their unborn child. Joseph was their family's biggest advocate, finding his wife a place to rest and eventually give birth. He sacrificed his comfort for the safety of his family, fully devoted to his bride. They are an example of two people submitting to God, working in harmony to further the kingdom.
Can someone say #couplegoals?