Summary: Not everyone who encoutnered Jesus was wise. WIll you be wise in the way you respond to him?
It’s a familiar story. Wise men, kings(?), Magi, astrologers, come from the east to find a child that’s born to be a great King. A new star has appeared in the eastern sky heralding the birth of someone destined for greatness and they’ve come to worship him. This is no ordinary child, this is someone who has the marks of deity.
You can imagine these magi, with their entourage, their camel train and servants and all the rest. They’ve been travelling for months and as they get closer and closer it begins to dawn on them that the star appears to be stopping over Israel. How strange! Well, they do have a King, but he’s a fairly minor player on the world stage. They certainly wouldn’t warrant the sort of star they’ve been following. Rome hadn’t had much trouble knocking them over not so many years back. How could such a great King be born in a place like Israel? Surely this God-king couldn’t be a Jew? But that’s what it looks like.
So naturally enough, they head for the palace of King Herod. That’s where you’d expect a King to be born. But no. It’s all a bit of a surprise for King Herod, isn’t it? And a nasty one at that! The last thing King Herod wants to hear about is a usurper to the throne. There’s only room in this town for one King. No, this is very disturbing news, really. Though, diplomat that he is, Herod doesn’t let his upset show too much. He’s seen enough court intrigue to know how to handle a situation like this.
Herod has a bit of a bad name over what happened in this story, doesn’t he? I mean, sending your soldiers out to kill all the boys in the area under the age of 2, doesn’t look too good on your CV does it? But you know, he wasn’t all that different from lots of people today. Not that they go around killing anyone who gets in their way, but there are lots of people who’ll do just about anything to avoid the possibility that they might lose control, that someone else might have sovereignty over their lives. Most people in fact want to run their own lives the way they like and they don’t want to have to worry about what someone else thinks. They certainly don’t want Jesus Christ coming along and upsetting their equilibrium with demands for godly living, let alone giving up their Sunday mornings to worship him!
But also, like Herod, many of them are well versed in how to sidestep the issue. Say the right words. Express the right sentiments. But never commit themselves to doing anything about following this King.
You see, that’s what Herod does. He plays along. He calls in his advisors. From the description that the magi have given it’s clear that this isn’t just a rival king. This isn’t a child of the resistance. There’s a spiritual dimension to their description. This is a king who should be worshipped, according to the magi. So he calls in all the chief priests and scribes of the people. Notice that, by the way. These weren’t his chief priests and scribes. I guess he had too many practical concerns on his mind to worry about something as ephemeral as religion. Leave that to the people! It’s good for them anyway. It keeps them happy. Let them dream of a golden age when God will send a deliverer to rescue them from slavery and set them free. It never hurts to have a dream. But we men of the world know that it’ll never happen.
So the chief priests and scribes come in and are asked where the Messiah will be born. Well, it doesn’t take them long to find the answer. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, or so the prophet Micah had said some 700 years before. Yep, that’s the place to look. You see, these priests and scribes, these teachers of the law, knew their scriptures. They knew all the stories, all the predictions of the coming Messiah. But again, that wasn’t enough was it? It wasn’t enough to know the prophecies. It’s not enough to just know the Christmas stories. Thomas Merton once wrote this: "there were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem. The ox and the ass understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same today." Well he was right. There are plenty of people around today who know the stories about the baby Jesus. I mean they’ve been hearing them since they were in pre-school, unless they went to one of those progressive kinders where the Christmas story is banned. But knowing the story doesn’t help if it doesn’t lead to us worship and follow the one the stories tell of.