1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he 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.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
We have followed the star to its stopping place. This season of hope and love and joy and peace has not ended with the birth of Jesus, but with the wisemen, foreign sky-watchers, who are so moved by this news that they travel to see it in person – and joyfully present gifts of great significance and worth to this new king who has appeared, born to save to serve, and to shepherd.
We have had some journey this year – full of both joy and tears – with starts and stops. Seeking the whole way to follow the light of Christ, but it hasn’t been so straightforward as the journey of the wisemen seemed – summed up with 12 verses and 1 star and a prophecy. I often think about the challenges left out of the stories in scripture, the author’s brevity making it seem simple and concise matter.
As with the birth narrative we hear each year on Christmas Eve, this scene with the wisemen is just precious to us. Everybody loves the story of mysterious men following a star. Except when you start to look at the details. Then the story seems far less charming, and more dangerous and risky.
First of all wise astrologist academic dream-interpreting foreigners showing up in your country, asking THE king about A king, the other king, who was just born, wanting to honor HIM. That sounds dangerous. Can you imagine this conversation? What would any government do if a few men from another country just waltzed into the and said, we’re just going to traipse about the country for a bit and look for your next leader who by the way is already here. Promise we’ll let you know when we find him.
And they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Did all three of them have the same dream?? Did they wake up shaking in the middle of the night? What exactly was the content of that dream? Remember why they didn’t go back to Herod? We learn quickly that Herod was a psychopath. At least that’s what we call someone these days who orchestrates mass murders. A warning dream comes to Joseph too just then and tells him to protect Mary and Jesus. Just to be safe go live in a foreign country for awhile where nobody knows you. This is dangerous business.
The 12 verses from Matthew also fail to mention the hardships of their journey, their reception as foreigners, the long nights of looking into the sky, with their necks aching wondering if the star has disappeared or if it was just cloudy.
The 12 verses make things happen seamlessly and quickly, when their journey likely took years. Their fear of Herod’s power, their confusion at what they found in Bethlehem and how little he looked like a king and how little he was… But still they knelt. They did their duty and what they came to do – and then miraculously listened to that still small voice telling them to make a different choice in their road home.
These wise men, men who don’t even follow the same religious practices or beliefs as the Jews – recognize God at work, and defy the wishes of the powerful, by listening to God’s voice, and daring to take a different route. Herod acts out of worry and fear, and won’t make the journey himself, but the magi act with trust and faith, and make the journey with worship on their mind.
The wisemen’s journey was far from simple or straightforward – and I think that’s a good thing to reflect on as we continue our journey. We have seen the light – we have celebrated the birth – we have paid homage and knelt at the place where he has appeared – we have offered our gifts. In these Sundays after the Epiphany – we shall see where God is manifest, making God’s self known to his people in Jesus. We will see where God shows up, the stories from the word of God shedding light on our journey. Jesus first appeared in a manger, but God doesn’t stop there. So our journey continues. What’s the next step? Which way is God leading? Do we act out of worry or fear like Herod or do we face the journey with worship on our mind, trusting the one who is leading us, knowing we cannot return the same way we came. I fervently pray that we are not retracing our steps from last years journey, but that we see new road ahead. This new road, however unknown or unfamiliar can still lead us home – Home by another way.