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between our steps 01 09 19 double
The writer we speak of as Matthew knew a story with portents and dreams. It is a birth story accompanied by dramatic, difficult change.

Matthew's telling of the story begins with anger. A man, Joseph, discovers that his fiancé is pregnant. Rather than making a public issue, he decides to end the engagement quietly. That would still be devastating to his fiancé and the child. A dream comes to him, telling him that the child is special to God, a chosen one. He agrees to be the child's foster father, the woman's husband.

The writer goes on to tell us that some people in what is modern day Iran noticed a portent in the sky. Pondering its meaning, these magi decided that a king of peace had been born in Judea. Wanting to see for themselves, they put together a caravan to cross the dry lands, the wilderness.

Coming to the land of Israel, they were astounded that no one knew of the king's birth. Who ignores a royal birth? Who ignores portents in the sky?

With no better idea suggested, they went to the palace. No child had been born in the king's family. At this point, they realize that it will not be a simple inheritance from father to son for this king of peace. The child will rise a different way. This happened. Quite a lot in ancient times.

The current king offers to research for them where the promised leader would be born. Scholars suggest Bethlehem. This makes sense as David, the first great king, was from Bethlehem. This worries Herod for a child from David's line would have credibility. If news got out even now, some might challenge his right to rule. If a man arose later claiming David's heritage, claiming he had been recognized by wise men from afar, rebels might well gather around him.

As the magi caravan leaves Jerusalem, the difference of this child's path sinks in for them. They are leaving the centre of power, the glory of temple and palace, travelling a road that becomes small and narrow, arriving in a village and an ordinary dwelling.

They tell their story to the parents in halting words or through a translator. They bring kingly gifts--gold and incense. They also brought myrrh, a liquid used in annointings in the temple, but was also thought to have medicinal properties. Perhaps they sensed that this child chosen by God would have a complicated journey.

There are two more dreams in this story. In the next, the magi are warned not to return to Herod. They go home another way.

The king knows they intentionally avoided him. Perhaps his spies watch them avoid Jerusalem, discover where exactly they had been. A caravan is hard to miss in a village. The final dream comes to the child's father, a warning that the king will seek to kill the child. Joseph flees with his wife and child, escaping to Egypt for a time.

Eventually, when this king dies, they will return to their homeland, but not to Bethlehem where they had settled. They head for rural Galilee and an even smaller village, a different path to home.

I said that the writer Matthew began his story with anger. But there is a prelude, a genealogy that traces the lineage of Jesus. In this list of ancestors, there are three women. Mary appears, but that is not surprising given the circumstances. Back before David, a foreign woman, Ruth, is named. And earlier, in the time of the patriarchs, when the people had just come to the land, Tamar is mentioned, a woman to whom great injustice was done. The list is mostly fathers, but three women are named so that those who read the story remember the challenges of life for women, the injustice put upon them, and the hope that inclusion and generosity produce. A different way can arise.

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay.

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