Huge, but slightly disingenuous, apologies to those who say I have ruined their Christmas, by my grumpiness about Christmas cards and Meadowhall... well, here I go again...
The three kings ...the wise men... I hate to break this to you, but the magi were not kings or wise. According to Neil Elliott they were menial servants of Persian kings and oppressed ones at that. Not kings or even royal dignitaries. They do not visit the royal palace, but are summoned by Herod and they do as they are told, as one would expect menial underlings to do. Gold, frankinscence and myrrh were actually quite mundane, cheap gifts. Gold was quite a typical possession for common people. (Matthew 10:9) What's more, they were not wise. They were astrologers and Jewish readers would have had as much admiration for them as Christians today have for those who read star signs. They were constantly duped by the king and the plan is averted only through a dream - not from any wisdom.
So I apologise to those sentimental types who love the Christmas cards with the three kings on their camels (no camels in the story either), but I find the story of these menial servants so much more exciting. It is a story about an oppressive king who taxed his people heavily in order to fund his grandiose building projects. According to Horsely he insititued what today would be called a police state, complete with loyalty oaths, surveilance, informers, secret police, imprisonment, torture and brutal retaliation against any serious dissenter. The account we have in Matthew 2 exactly typifies the kind of society he created. The magi act as informers, whilst this brutal king murders freely in order to keep his position secure.
The account reminds us of Pharoah and his edict to kill all the male children in Exodus. And in both stories there is a absurd mismatch - emperor against child. And both plans fail because their accomplices (Hebrew midwives, magi) deceive their superiors. We never again hear of Hebrew midwives or magi, but through their decision to resist, the entire course of history is altered - Moses is able to lead the people to freedom and Jesus is able to lead the new people of God.
Maybe we also need to explode the myth that we are kings. We live in a world in which we are told we have power - consumer power, political power - but in reality we feel impotent to change anything. Like Canute we cannot hold back the waves - whether it is Christmas consumerism or the war in Iraq - whether it is our addiction to possessions or the crisis in Darfur. Maybe we need to explode the myth of our power and acknowledge that humanly speaking we are not likely to make much difference.
Yet, because of God, maybe we can make a difference. Dare we assume that our tiny acts of resistence against the violence of the imperial system of our day, minor players though we be, might have consequences more than we could ever imagine? As our imperial empire acts for war in Iraq, supports the poverty of millions by its policies, refuses to act on genocide in Darfur - might we imagine that some small thing we do, might make some difference, because God is at work?
So, go for it, write that letter to your MP, refuse to buy products that are made under slave labour - maybe... just maybe, God will use it more than we imagine.