(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, which extends from Advent through Christmas and into Epiphany. We are reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. My reflections on these will sometimes be put in a blog post.)
Well, I never expected that – an extract from Psalm 119 in a series of readings generally related to the Christmas story? I suspect that this is a ‘Marmite’ psalm – you either love it or you hate it: love it for its richness and depth, or hate all 176 verses for their dryness and repetition. I love it; and one of the reasons is that it gives a different perspective on ‘law’.
As Christians, we are used to the idea of contrasting ‘law’ and ‘grace’: law is bad, grace is good. But this psalm, although it talks of law, commands, doctrines, also uses ‘word’, ‘teaching’, and even ‘promise’. In this extract, for example, we learn that the law, the word (significant in the light of other readings in this series!) is something that revives a despondent soul, or that strengthens a sorrowful soul.
The Psalmist writes “I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding” (v32). Understanding, knowledge, learning – these are seen as ways of enhancing our faith and our obedience to God’s word.
Maggi uses this to contrast the different ways by which the shepherds and magi came to Bethlehem and to Jesus: shepherds after a revelation, and the magi from study and careful observation. She describes how her own faith was nurtured and strengthened by studying theology, by asking the difficult questions, rejoicing that such thinking and questioning was not only allowed but encouraged.
We don’t know how many magi there were; traditionally three because of the number of gifts, but at least two as they are described in the plural. And I’ve deliberately used the word magi, which is how they are described in Matthew’s gospel – because who says they had to be men? Was it possible that women also studied the stars? Anyway, because there were more than one, I wonder how much discussion there was on their journey, whether they all thought the same or had different ideas about what they had seen, how to interpret it, what they might find.
We are all on a journey, and have the opportunity to think about the meaning of the journey. We may come to different conclusions, but that’s fine.
May we all come to “understand the way of your precepts” and “meditate on your wondrous works” (v27).