More like the wise men

“(9) When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. (10) When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (11) And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (12) Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:9-12)
                I have grown up watching the short cartoon versions of this, as well as one or two Claymation’s of how this event might have occurred. It is always depicted as a very solemn event with the three wise men being purely, wholeheartedly devoted to the task of finding baby Jesus to give him these gifts. As I read this passage as an adult I wonder what it was really like for these three men. First off to be considered a “wise” man back then one of the first things you needed to be was older. These were not young men in their teens or twenties. These three men were older men and they had to walk a very long way to reach the manger where Jesus was. The Bible does not indicate how far away “east” is, but I can guarantee you it was more than a few days walk. It probably took them months to complete the journey to Bethlehem. I am trying to keep that in mind as I visualize these three older men trekking along the hot desert sands.
                So in my head I am picturing these three wise men spot this star in the heavens. They somehow interpret this to mean the Messiah, the King of the Jews, has been born. Their first thought is to go pay the King of the Jews homage. They want to be a part of this enormous event going on in Judea. I imagine them making the arrangements to go. I am sure they might have even been excited at this final arrival of prophecy. I can imagine this hum of anticipation is carried with them as they make their way on camel and foot through the desert. I mean, heck, I get excited when a movie I want to see comes out. The five minute car ride to the theater is giddy for me and we all talk about how awesome we hope this movie will be. And that’s just for a movie. These three men were devoting months to uncomfortable and possible dangerous travel to meet baby Jesus. They had to be excited. There had to be this giddy rush of anticipation that grew on them every day for months. This is a huge amount of build up that would drive me crazy.
                I can imagine them one day out from Judea. There they all are, sitting around a camp fire, talking about what they will find the next day. I wonder if they talked about the various celebrations that were going on. I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought of magnificent feasts being held as they dined on bare minimums of caravan food life. Did they try to guess how big of a crowd would be gathered? Did they wonder how long they would have to wait in line to see baby Jesus? I wonder if any of them pondered on how good it was to be a Jew that day as they celebrated the birth of their King, their Messiah. Or did they wonder how strange it was to not meet any other travelers along this road coming to do the very same thing they were there to do? Did doubt nibble at all in their hearts, or did any of them explain it away by saying the gathering people must have taken another road? I wonder, as they went to bed that night, if these types of questions stole away some of the giddy anticipation the three wise men had when they first started out.
                No matter their state of minds that night the next day would dawn. In the light I am sure their spirits were lifted as they headed into Judea. I wonder at what point their smiles began to fade. How long did it take them to realize something was terribly wrong? Instead of finding celebrations and feasts as they walked into Jerusalem they found people going about their everyday lives as though nothing miraculous had happened. Did their hearts doubt in that moment? Did they question themselves, their sanity, or the months’ worth of toil it took to walk up to the heart of Jerusalem to seek out the King of the Jews? Nothing was going on in Jerusalem. No one seemed to notice the star. The priests of Israel were not out heralding the arrival of the Messiah. Songs of praise were not bouncing off the walls. The three wise men were walking toward King Herod as Jerusalem was settled in just another day. I wonder if they made excuses for the lack of joy and jubilation going on around them.
                Then these three men meet Herod the King. Herod’s reply to their inquiry of where the King of the Jews was born can be summed up in one word: “Huh?” I wonder how deeply that response burst their bubbles. Chief priests and scholars were summoned to figure out the truth of these three wise men. These Chief priests of the Jews and Jewish scholars all came back with the same response. What the three wise men had said to be true was true. The Messiah was to be born at this time. There was a star in the night sky. And again I wonder if the three wise men, upon hearing this, expected to see the celebrations begin that night. I wonder if their giddy anticipation lit again in their hearts as they imagined being in the beginning thick of it all. Did any of them hold their breath in wait of the heralding call of the priests or scholars? But nothing came.
                No word spread through Jerusalem. The synagogues didn’t explode with the news, teachings, and fulfilled prophecy.   How disheartening was it for those three wise men when they realized that the very people who should have known this day were completely oblivious and content to remain so? I wonder if any of them felt the nibbling nagging of doubt as they left Herod the King. Was there an argument around the campfire that night about whose bright idea it was to come all this way for nothing? If the Messiah had been born, after all, wouldn’t the Jews be the first people to know it? If I were one of those men I am afraid I would have been confused and completely disappointed. There were no celebrations. There were no feasts. No one was singing and there was no dancing in the streets. I might have even been a little frustrated and mad at having traveled for so long, for so far, and gone through so much simply to get here. And for what? For nothing. No one noticed. No one seemed to care. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of disappointment that could have gone on.
                But the three wise men didn’t pick up their ball and go home. Instead they found the star and followed it on to Bethlehem. I wonder if this confused them. Or maybe they knew of the prophecy of Him being born in this tiny town? I wonder if they consoled themselves with the possibility of celebrating occurring in Bethlehem due to the birth of the Savior there. But then again they were the only caravan on the road heading toward this small town. There wasn’t a line of people, nor were their growing crowds. As they entered this tiny place the three men were probably struck dumb by the lack of notice. The King of the Jews had just been born amongst them and no one noticed. They didn’t even find the Messiah in the best room of the finest motel. They found Him alone with His mother. Joseph was the only other man there. This King of the Jews was born into poverty.
                I don’t know how I would have responded at this sight. I don’t know what I would have done. I try to picture it in my head but I know I won’t ever get it right. I don’t know if I would have recognized my Savior when I saw Him as a baby. I don’t know if my first response would be to fall to my knees at the feet of this Child. But the three wise men did just that. They saw baby Jesus and fell down to worship Him. For a moment try to picture this instant from Mary’s perspective. I wonder how shocked and speechless she was. The three men then took out their kingly gifts and presented them to baby Jesus. They didn’t doubt or hesitate in that moment. They knew Him, even as a baby. I envy them that. I don’t know if I would have given the emotional rollercoaster I would have been on between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
                I am again struck profoundly by the cameo of these three men in the Bible. They aren’t major persons in any of the Books. They are only briefly mentioned. Not a whole lot is really even written about them. But they knew. They knew when an entire nation who should have known was completely clueless. And a lot of the times that is me. I am a new Christian so when I hear people talk about the Bible with such a thorough knowledge I feel uncomfortable. I should know those things. I need to know those things. I need to spend more time in the Holy Bible so I will know those same things. But I am pretty sure, back then, I wouldn’t have known.
                It is very strange for me to think of the three wise men as anything more than what those childhood cartoons showed me. They were smart, obviously wise, but hardly the big part in their own story. The focus is always on Jesus. As it should be. The birth of Jesus is so much more than anything else, but God mentions the three wise men in the Bible for a reason. The three wise men are a lesson I never really considered before because it comes to close to the main event so to speak. The three wise men aren’t only a hiccup of fact or a brief mention of detail. These three men present me with a choice of who I want to be. Will I be a wise man, a chief priest and scribe, or one of the masses?
                The Chief priests and scribes confirmed what the three wise men said. So they knew about the birth of Jesus but chose to do nothing with that information. How many people do you know today who know who Jesus is but choose not to do anything with that knowledge? The numbers of people I alone know who know about Jesus but choose to do nothing with that information is staggering. And I am ashamed to admit it sometimes in my life I act like one of those people. I know who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He is about, but I chose to do nothing with that information. I chose something else. Something a little shinier, a little flashier, and a little more selfish. I chose to ignore Jesus so I can continue doing what I am doing.
                Then there are those who are completely oblivious to Jesus. Today these are not just the people in the most remote places in the most third world countries who have never seen anyone outside of their village nor heard of the Bible before. Today these people are everyone who has heard of the Bible, who have heard the name Jesus, and chose not to know more. The commoners in Judea, people of the nation of Israel, had heard the stories and the prophecies since they were little. If any of them sought to devote time to Scripture they would have known what the three wise men knew. But they didn’t. These people didn’t investigate. They went about their lives to get through their lives. People today hear about God, hear the name Jesus, and turn their backs without investigating further. They are turned off before anything even starts. Right now I am not one of those people. I don’t say this with pride, but with fear. I can easily become like one of those people if I let sin take over my life. If I venture along my life too long in the role of a Chief priest or a Scribe…I will eventually become one of the masses.
                What I want to be is one of the wise men. Being one of the wise men isn’t about not having doubts. I am sure all of them had some doubts. They are human after all. But they continued on in the journey anyways. I wonder how many of us, upon arriving in Jerusalem, would have simply turned around and gone home. I don’t know if I would have gone the distance to Bethlehem. I would like to think I would have. I would like to think I could have that level of devotion. Every time I try to talk myself into saying I would have made it to Bethlehem I remind myself of Church. How many Sunday services have I missed for whatever reason? And it only takes me 20 minutes to drive to Church. I don’t have to walk for months on end. I don’t have to sweat and toil to get there. If I can sometimes talk myself out of a twenty minute drive, how easy would it be for me to talk myself out of days’ worth of walking? And I am a believer. I am saved.
                I need to be more like the three wise men. They walked for months to see baby Jesus. I will walk the rest of my life before I see Jesus. Our walk today is longer than theirs, but we have an advantage. My walk takes place in my home. I have food, water, and shelter. I have hot showers and comforters. Most importantly I have a complete Holy Bible in my hand. I know what Jesus came here to do, and I can read about what He did. I have countless things those three wise men didn’t have. So why then do I stray so easily from my walk? My reasons are really just excuses. None of those excuses are right or worthy. Jesus deserves better.
                The last thing I need to learn from the wise men is the lesson of gifts. What am I bringing to Jesus’ feet? He doesn’t need gold, frankincense, or myrrh. When I see my Lord and Savior the sort of gifts I can bring Him can’t be materials. The gifts I need to bring are faithfulness, servitude, love, and obedience. God has blessed me with various gifts. The Holy Spirit stirs up those gifts with divine intent. What I need to be doing is traveling toward my own meeting with my Savior carrying those gifts. I need to be developing them so that way He can see them along my way.
                It is a shame we can’t somehow put all of this meaning into those cartoons. Jesus is the point. He is always the point. But God never gives us useless information. We shouldn’t skip over the point and the lesson of the three wise men. They will help us better understand, and more approach the point of Jesus more profitably.
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