Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wise Men

Of all the stories associated with the birth of Jesus Christ, the story of the Wise Men raises the most questions and intrigues me most. How did they know about the King of the Jews? How did they recognize the star? What made them come so far? Who were they? Did it take them weeks, or months, or years to arrive in Bethlehem?

I once heard a scholar speak about them and his assumption was that since they were from the East they were non Jewish. But there were many Jewish communities in the East as well as in Egypt. Therefore, my guess is that the Wise Men were Jewish people of the Diaspora whose families had been taken from Palestine during the Assyrian or Babylonian conquests or at least men influenced by Jewish people of the Diaspora.

But there are still more questions. Did angels announce the birth to the Wise Men as they did to the shepherds? Or did the Wise Men learn from scriptures or an oral tradition that a star would announce Christ’s birth? The wording in Matthew makes me think they had scriptures or an oral tradition that they recognized as fulfilled when they saw the new star. All we are told is that they saw the sign in the East and then traveled west to Judea—symbolically they followed the path of the sun. It was a long journey, and once in Jerusalem they began to inquire, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

News of their inquiries concerning a king reached Herod, and he sent for them under the guise of wanting to worship this new king. But in fact, Herod was troubled by prophecies that a child would be born who would rule Israel–after all, he was the king of this land. And being a ruthless king he would not let such a thing happen.

After consulting with his priests, he told the Wise Men of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and sent them on their way after instructing them to return to tell him when they had found the new king. But being warned by an angel that Herod’s intent wasn’t to worship the king, but to kill Him, they refused the order and after worshiping the Infant King returned to the east without telling Herod.

As the prophecy foretold the Wise Men found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Bethlehem, but not in the stable. By then Mary and Joseph had moved out of the stable and into a house. I often wonder what these intelligent, wealthy men thought as they beheld the helpless infant born to such humble parents. They’d had a lot of time to build up expectations as they traveled to Bethlehem. Did they go away confirmed and elated or disappointed and wondering? The decision was theirs to make, but I tend to think they were jubilant. They knew they had found the King of Kings.

Tradition always tells the story of the Wise Men following a star, but really they were following their own hearts. Thousands saw the sign, the star in the sky, but few had studied enough to be able to recognize it and fewer still cared enough to see where it led. No, it wasn’t the star they followed, it was their own hearts that guided them to travel west, to find their Savior, and to refuse to tell Herod. Thus we have a beautiful definition of what it means to be wise; to follow the righteous promptings of your heart.

That is one question the story does answer; the wise men and women of the world are those who follow the path of light to find their King.

No comments: