Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
Focusing Quote: “Then [Herod] sent them to Bethlehem saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” Matthew 2:8
So there they are, the three wise ones. Some called them kings, of course, and many a Christmas pageant has reflected this tradition in their dress—shiny bathrobes and paper crowns. However, they are not kings. They are counselors and advisors to the king, the only true king in the story. Yes, I am talking about Jesus. I like to think of these three as intellectuals. Gazing up at the stars, trying to make sense of the world in the accepted way of that time, they notice something different and then proceed, like all adventurers of the mind, to investigate. They might just as well have been the crew of the Beagle or astronauts or National Geographic photographers. Something as yet undefined was happening and the hunt was on.
Of course, they did bump into that other king, Herod, didn’t they? Apparently our heroes needed to ask for directions. Herod was a hard man and a practical one. What, after all, would the king of the Jews want but to dethrone him? For those of us who have been moving our way through the Christmas story this moment can come as sort of a shock. First it was about the babies (John and then Jesus). Next came circumcision and the presentation, perhaps even an adolescent Jesus teaching in temple, but that is all in Luke. Here in Chapter 2 of Matthew, adulthood steps in again. The tragically un-magical world that we live in every day crashes down upon us and we see humanity’s tendency toward evil, pettiness, and vice. Where is our hope for the world now?
Of course, we are familiar with the Herods in our day as well. I do not think I need to mention names! The news over the holidays has included some strange tales of politicians and of everyday folks acting out of the darkest parts of their hearts. If we are to be honest, I suspect that after a few weeks of family time, dear reader, even you may have had the less-than-charitable thought and perhaps are looking forward to getting back to the normal cycle of things. If this is the case, searching my own heart, I can assure you that you are not alone.
Now, of course, those wise men make it to Jerusalem with their rather odd birthday gifts. These are trappings, again, for a king. A little boy would probably appreciate something a bit more fun. His parents probably want a diaper service. The point is that he is special, he is changing the way in which people see the world. What the wise ones see in that moment in the town of Bethlehem is worth the trip.
For us, then, the question may have to do with the journeys we are on. Are they worth the trip? Sometimes, when we return to that world of advancement and survival, we forget that there is much more to living. Sometimes we may even stop to wonder where that person—child, adult, or in between—that we once were has gone. When was the last time we got excited about something? When did we last follow a star, seek the answer to a puzzle or mystery? When did we do something as drastic as put down our cares and worries and obligations to seek wisdom? Perhaps, in this new year, a shift is in order. Perhaps we need to change direction for the sake of a dream and a vision.
Seeking wisdom is an active endeavor. It is also one fraught with pitfalls and peril at times. Things worth doing often have risks. This doesn’t mean we refuse to leave the comfort of our homes. It doesn’t mean that we should close our minds to what may be out there. However, it does mean that we proceed with the wisdom we have and use it. After all, the travelers in today’s story figured old Herod out.
Perhaps what we need is to proceed with God’s help.
Prayer: Dear God, help me to be not Herod, but a wise one. I have dreams. I have hopes for the future. I am also open to surprises. I am open to learning new things beyond my understanding and my capacity to describe them. In fact, I am searching for the new discovery, the insight and the tasks they may imply. Help me to be strong, O God, in the coming days. Help me to be alert and awake to your will and your presence. Help me to beware those times when my feel falter and I wish to surrender to the easy way. Amen
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Matt. 2:12)