I think one of the problems that we, those of us who are life long Christians, have is that we tend to approach the various Bible stories in an “I already know that story” manner. I know I have mentioned this before. And, yep! This Sunday we have another of those stories that we can just gloss over if we are not careful.
We know the story: Wise men see star. Wise men bring totally impractical gifts. Wise men go home never to be heard from again. Now if we want to get a little deeper into the story, we may bring up the idea that we are not really sure who the three wise men were or if there was even three of them. We also may bring up the fact the wise men did not return to tell Herod that they found had in fact found the baby nor where the baby was.
We know these things, but what do we learn from the whole thing, the whole story? Really, with that understanding of the arrival of the magi, all we get is a few more figurines to place in the nativity scene. But with this understanding of the story of the magi, we don’t find the life-changing message that we should expect from the Good News of Christ’s birth. I suggest we take the story apart and look at the characters and see what we can learn and how we might possibly be able to apply what we learn to our lives. I suggest we look at how the good news of Christ’s birth and see how we can make those life-changing transformations that could be a New Year’s Resolution that we actually look forward to fulfilling!
One of the first people we should look at in this story is King Herod. You know, he really doesn’t get a whole lot of thought when we think about the story of the Magi. He is often seen as just a stumbling block in the Magi’s journey. But we can learn some things from him. As the Magi approach the region where the star seems to be leading them, they stop to speak to King Herod and to ask where they might find this one whom they seek.
Herod’s reaction to their question is one of anger and angst. He feels threatened – this baby is destined to become King?! What does that do to Herod’s position? He is fearful of losing his position of influence and power. What’s more, he reacts in anger to the thought of being unseated, not by the army of a rival, but by a baby! Not only is he angry that he is about to be unseated, but he is also angry that this news was brought by a bunch of foreigners! Why was he – The King – not kept informed of potential threats against his kingdom? Why didn’t he know about this threat long before? If what the Magi say is correct, then Herod know that things are going to get quit difficult for him. And you can bet, he is angry!
How many people do we know today react to the news of Christ with anger or worry? Those who truly believe that Christ is “God with us” often worry that their actions of the past or present will be brought into the light and that they will be punished. They believe that Christ is God, but do not believe that the gift that Christ brings is the gift of forgiveness.
There are others who react in anger at the very hint that there might be one in their midst who is more important than they are. We tend to live in an age where position and power seem to be everything, and for a lot of folks, having either of those threatened draws the same kind of response as that of Herod. A lot of people do not want to hear about Jesus. They don’t want to hear because hearing and receiving good news would mean that they might have to change, have to give up some of their “self”, and recognize the presence and grace of Christ in others.
But Herod is not the only character in the story. When Herod receives the Magi and is questioned about the birth, he calls in the chief priests and other religious leaders to ask them what this is all about. It is interesting to note that the chief priests seem to have an immediate answer. The priests are aware of the prophecies, but they appear to be apathetic to the possible fulfillment of those prophecies. The priests should have been on the forefront, they should have been watching for the one the prophecies spoke. The priests should have been the ones rejoicing at the possibility that, after waiting for centuries, the prophecies might finally be fulfilled.
Of course, if this prophecy were fulfilled, that would take away their authority over the religious lives of the people. They were very happy with the way things were and didn’t want it to change. They were respected, listened to, consulted by the king, and wielded immense authority and power. They had all they wanted. Why mess with that? Why let it be known that they did not have as much power as the people though?
Believers, and the church, have recognized and claimed the incarnation of God and all that accompanies that recognition. Yet, sadly there is much apathy in the church – news that should be met with true life changing joy and that should be proclaimed from the rooftops is often locked away Monday through Saturday. For too many, the public proclamation of faith in Christ would upset the status quo. Our positions and priorities would be threatened. The world, sadly, meets the good news of Emmanuel, God with us, with the same apathy that the priests showed 2000 years ago.
So, we have seen that the people who should have rejoiced the most met the events with anger, angst, and apathy. But now we come to the Magi. These strangers from far off lands came seeking something. Very possibly they weren’t even sure why they were there other than for sheer curiosity. Yet, they followed that star and when they neared the end of their journey, they sought help. Then they went on to Bethlehem and there they came into the very presence of God – they met this event with awe and adoration. They brought gifts; they knelt in reverence. Their lives were changed in that very moment.
How did the Christmas event affect these wise and learned visitors? I always find it interesting that the angel warned them to return to their land by a different route or as some translations put it, “in a different way.” We immediately assume that this change was for their physical route because of the threats of Herod, but what if there is something more to it? Could it be that their encounter with the Christ CHANGED the direction of their lives? Once they encountered God, face to face, their lives were never the same. Once they were able to see the one who was foretold, they were not able to return to their old ways.
How does Christmas and our encounter with the living Christ, affect our lives? Do we meet him with the anger and angst of Herod? Do we meet him with the apathy of the chief priests? Or do we meet him with the awe and adoration of the Magi? Are our lives changed by our encounter with Emmanuel?
You know, we never hear of these visitors again, but I cannot believe that they simply fell off the face of the earth or that they remained silent. I believe that they returned to their lands and told the story of their journey and told of the encounter they had with the Christ Child. I believe that the transformation that took place in their lives as a result of their encounter with God was evident as they continued their lives. I believe they told the story with joy, knowing that the truth they witnessed was greater than any story fabricated by the world.
We are coming to the end of the Christmas season. Soon, the “Welcome Home” bulletin board will be coming down. If you were paying attention, you will have noticed that we had moved from the small church in the field, through Christ being born, and finally to the magi arriving to give their praises. But just because the board is coming down, that does not mean that the welcome has ended. Actually, the opposite is true, the welcome has just begun!
Just as the magi went home by a different route, I hope our encounter with incarnate Christ will send us out into a world in a new and exciting way. I pray that we look to spread the message of “Welcome” to those whom we may not have initially considered. The magi did not return to Herod nor to the chief priests, they returned to their home. They did not go to the ones who had already heard the message and rejected it; they went to those who needed to hear the message. They were told to go out and spread the message to those who needed to feel the love of Christ.
We have been welcomed home through Christ, but now it is our time to spread that same welcome to others. It is time to reach out to the ones who may not quickly come to mind. Our encounter with the living Christ will lead us to New Year’s Resolutions that can only boggle our mind! The magi didn’t know what they would encounter, and neither do we, but if we are willing to reach out, go a new way, follow a star in the east, I can guarantee, we will not be disappointed.