Summary: This catchy slogan has appearred on commercial Christmas material for ages. The implications of the statement bothers me. What does it mean? What is it’s implication for us?
The story goes an angel appears at a faculty meeting and tells the dean that in return for his unselfish and exemplary behavior, the Lord will reward him with his choice of infinite wealth, wisdom or beauty. Without hesitating, the dean selects infinite wisdom.
"Done!" says the angel, and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning. Now, all heads turn toward the dean, who sits surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispers, "Say something."
The dean looks at them and says, "I should have taken the money."
Tonight we read the story of the wise men and their journey to Bethlehem to visit the young child Jesus.
We’ve gotten ahead of Christmas just a little. As we read in the story, we see that the wise men found Mary and Jesus in a house, not still in the stable. Matthew refers to Jesus as a child, not as a baby.
These words indicate to us that it was some time following the birth of Jesus these wise men actually paid their homage to him, not the night of his birth which is what we are led to assume in nativity scenes, Christmas cards, videos, and films.
When the wise men do not return to Herod as they had been warned in a dream, Herod orders all of the baby boys two years old and under to be killed. This information has led to speculation that Jesus may have been as old as two years old when the wise men concluded their journey in Bethlehem.
Truthfully, we don’t know exactly how old he was, but it has been tradition to signify this passing of time between Jesus’ birth and the visit of the wise men by the passing of time on the calendar.
Epiphany, the discovery the wise men made in Jesus, is celebrate two weeks after Christmas on January 6th each year.
So we are in some respect putting the “cart before the horse” to be reflecting on their visit to the Christ child when we haven’t gotten to December 25th yet.
But if you’ve been with us here much on Monday nights, you know I have a bad habit of preaching different holiday material at the wrong time of year on a regular basis. I’m afraid you’ll just have to bear with me.
Looking through all the holiday stuff that has been out in sales flyers and catalogs in recent days, there have been a myriad of Christmas items I have come across, with a slogan on it that has been bothering me lately.
It’s not new. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Some form or another of Christmas decorations carries a picture of three Arab gentlemen on camels with a large star in the background. Somewhere will be imprinted -the phrase:
“Wise men still seek him.”
I’ve seen this slogan around for ages but for some reason its really been bugging me lately. Now although it makes perfect since to me why it bothers me, I’m not sure I can explain it to you ... but I’m going to give it a try.
There are two words in that phrase I have trouble with, and really, they are kind of “opposite sides of the same coin.” From either way you approach it, it has the same implication to me.
You may be thinking one of the words that bothers me is “men,” but that’s not it. Though its use might suggest that only men are wise enough to seek Jesus, or that only men are worthy enough to seek Jesus,
the literature lover in me is understands and is attracted to the play on words. I realize that to say, “Wise people still seek him,” loses something in the metaphor process.
No, the two words I have problems with are “wise” and “still.” Let’s take “wise” first. It implies something about the wise men in the Bible that’s not even meant by Matthew. It implies that these seekers who were gentiles - non-Jewish types - were smart enough to catch on to something Jesus’ own countrymen didn’t get. It suggests they recognized & acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. But that’s not the case.
Another way to translate wise men is to use the word magi, which some versions of the Bible do. They were astrologers, magicians, sorcerers, pagan priests, occultist.
They came from places like Babylon & Persia (modern day Iraq & Iran)
They put a lot of stalk in the stars. The stars were signs of great events to come. Pagan beliefs associated the birth of new rulers with astral phenomena. The stars were great forecasts and fortune tellers of the future. The magi believed the truth was in the stars and the people from their countries revered these men as knowledgable priests.