Summary: It is too easy to get distracted by an intellectual search for Jesus. Tonight is about being drawn to the manger to experience Christ.
Away From the Manger
Christmas Eve, 2007
A social worker was called in on a case that involved a family which was unable to take care of their personal health needs. Specifically, they had trouble remembering to take their medicine. Now that is not an unusual problem for many senior citizens who may have a variety of different medications to take each day.
What puzzled the social worker was that this particular family consisted of a mother and father in their early forties, a daughter who was in Jr. High School, and a grandmother. All four of them were on medication but they kept going back to the doctor because they were always sick. The reason behind their illness was that they just couldn’t remember to take their medicine at the right time – if they remembered to take it at all.
The social worker made an appointment with the family and arrived at their house at the appointed time. She found appalling living conditions. The family lived in a fairly upscale neighborhood, but the house badly needed a coat of paint. Trash had piled up around the side of the garage. Weeds had overgrown the yard.
Once inside, she noticed that the house was a mess. Each room was filled with clutter four or five feet high. In some rooms, there was just a path wide enough to walk through. They sat down in the living room filled with old newspapers and leftover mail, and the social worker discovered something she had not expected. This was a family of incredibly high IQ’s. These were folks who would score close to genius on any standardized testing. All three adults had significant scientific backgrounds and each had done revolutionary research. The daughter was attending college classes while still in 8th grade. But they couldn’t remember to take their medicine.
Their lives were such a disorganized mess that each day was defined by chaos. They could be fascinating conversationalists as they talked about politics, history, and physics, but they couldn’t remember to take the garbage out or fill the refrigerator with healthy food or wake up their daughter in time to get to school before the first bell of the day.
As the social worker drove away from their home that day, she thought, “They are so intelligent. They are so dumb.” Though they had some of the best minds imaginable, they didn’t have common sense or the ability to bring order to their lives. They never learned the basics of being responsible citizens.
Tradition has it that three wise men came following a star, and fell down before the infant Jesus to worship him as King of kings and Lord of lords. They had studied the stars and had come from far away. They traveled over trackless deserts, across swollen rivers, and through inhospitable mountains to bow down to this infant. They knew that the great celestial event they witnessed was a once-in-an-eternity happening, so they followed the star and were led to the Christ child and his family.
Did you ever wonder why there were only three? Were they the only ones who saw the star? Were they the only ones who ever looked to the sky? Were they the only ones who had a sense of adventure? Were they the only ones who had a sense of awe and the presence of supernatural power?
Tradition has it that their names were Melchoir, Balthasar, and Caspar. But don’t you wonder where Abu, Ibrahim, and Jamal were? Why weren’t there more who came to Bethlehem following the star?
I can imagine that there were other wise folk around at that time and place. It makes no sense at all to me that there were only three who saw the star. But perhaps, the others were so smart that they were dumb.
Perhaps their worldview was limited to what they could explain. Perhaps the spectacular had no place in their intellectual systems. Perhaps they saw the evidence, but couldn’t make it fit into their thought processes. Perhaps the explanations for which they searched left no room for the supernatural. Perhaps they didn’t understand that all of the knowledge in the world can never replace simple faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
On this Christmas Eve, we come to the manger in which we find our Lord and Savior Jesus. We experience him in the candles, the carols, the readings, the Sacrament, and the general atmosphere surrounding us here. Faith is like that. Faith is that which we experience “in our gut.” Yet, we have this tendency to try to explain it. In the final analysis (and I know there are those who would disagree with this), I’m not sure that we can explain Christ.