So hang with me on this.
The way the story goes, is that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the world falls into disarray, and the world first couple moved East. But actually, it was more people than them who moved east, it was the entire world. Re-read Genesis sometime with an eye for this phrase. Because story after story ends with the refrain…And they moved East.
Until we get to Babel, the beginning of what would become known as Babylon through the Bible. The beginning of Empire, of people trying to manipulate the world into what they want it to be. But more than that, it was a way of trying to replace God. And the story starts off like this, “As people moved eastward…”
What’s interesting to me about Babylon, is that most of the times when we think about the Biblical Babylon or Empire, we tend to think about the more overt evils that these Empires were known for. The Slavery of Egypt, or the persecution of Christians by Rome, but the truth is the evils that the Bible were hardest on are actually things that we are pretty familiar with.
A guy named Richard Beck pointed this out for me yesterday. Notice the specific things that the book of Revelation pronounces Judgement on Babylon for:
“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In one hour your doom has come!’ “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves. “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment…
Tell me that’s not a great Christmas passage.
See for John, the Empire wasn’t just doing intrinsically evil, some of the biggest problems of Babel were economic. They were about Self-indulgence. Which I know is something that none of us can relate to this time of year. And more specifically, part of the judgment was on their use (or misuse) of Frankincense and Myrrh.
Now these were important spices back in the day. In a world where people didn’t get to bathe that regularly you can imagine how this might be important. But they were more than just that they were medicine, they were great commodities.
And with all that in the background re-read Matthew 2:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi came from the east to Jerusalem … On coming to the house [of Mary and Joseph], they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Is it ironic to anyone else that at a time of year which celebrates a God who gave everything up, we push and shove to get more? Our national economy, our Empire depends on us buying quite a lot at this time of year. And I’m not opposed to giving presents (specifically to a young preacher you might know) but does any part of you ever wonder if we get Christmas wrong? Revelation seems to think that the Gospel has got some pretty serious economic implications, specifically about self-indulgence and over-extravagance.
See the truth is that Frankincense and Myrrh were the 42′ inch LCD HDTV’s of the day. They were hot commodities in which people would buy and trade for. They were something that you would be taught to try and accumulate. And the wise men gave them up. Which is why, perhaps, they were wise.
But they did this, coming from the East. From the direction that human history has been running from for thousands of years. Adam and Eve hid from God and moved East. Here are Wise men searching for God, moving West.
And in their hands they bring gifts.
And maybe this is part of what it means to return from the East. To see that God is good and can be trusted, that the impulse to over-accuumulate goes against the grain of trusting God. It is in the vein of building bigger towers. And so these Wise Men gave what was rightfully theirs to the one who had already laid down His rights. They gave their gifts to Jesus. They returned from the East.
May we all.