This Sunday we'll consider our seventh "character of Christmas"--or maybe seventh, eighth, and ninth, since there are three "wise men from the East" who come looking for the one who is born King of the Jews, guided by a star.
These "wise men" are unlike the rest of the characters we've considered. First, they are indeed "from the East", and not from Israel--and even moreso not part of the line and heritage of David. They are not personally impacted in terms of their family lives by this birth; they are also not impacted politically by it, as we recall in this story that any family with a child under the age of two is--as Herod seeks literally to eliminate the competition for his power. These "wise men" have no personal skin in the game--rather they are intellectually curious and inquisitive. They are obviously willing to undergo a long trip to see personally what is going on, but their day-to-day lives are not threatened in any way, nor are they bringing any hopes, dreams, and "national" longings to their visit. Their interest is not connected to their national heritage, or their faith. They know that this one is born "King of the Jews"--their interest is not as Jews.
Second--they do not have any engagement with any angels. Joseph does; Mary does; Zechariah does; the shepherds in the fields do (didn't even incorporate them into the "Characters of Christmas" series). The "wise men" are led by a star--a unique star, that connects with what it is that they apparently do, which is why they follow it. Again, their interest is not tied in with their religious beliefs or background, but they are obviously intensely interested.
The easiest and most obvious conclusion to draw about these two facts of these visitors to Jesus is that Jesus draws people of all types of backgrounds to himself. Most of us DO have some sort of faith perspective in our background, no matter how active we have been with it, and no matter how much of a priority it has been in our lives. For some of us, it has become pretty routine--our Christmas celebration has involved an expression of our faith for as long as we can remember. And it comes around every year, like clockwork, and we may have lost the newness, the freshness, of our celebration of this gift of Jesus, God With Us, to the world--to our personal worlds. I mean, seriously, how many of us can say the Lord's Prayer without even thinking about it?
But I had a conversation last month with someone who said "This is the first Christmas in my whole life that has included church in any way". That boggled my mind, as a "preacher's kid", whose first Christmas in church was spent in my own mother's womb. And every one since then has been in church, too. But to experience it for the first time--it must be like the "wise men from the East" who haven't been anticipating, who come at it from an entirely different background, and whose experience of it must have been entirely unlike everyone else in the story. And yet, they too encounter Jesus, God With Us, and Matthew 2:11 says "they knelt down and paid him homage". Just something about God With Us moves us to our knees, literally or metaphorically, even if we're not usually attuned to it, once we open ourselves to that encounter.
GOSPEL Matthew 2:1-12
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, ‘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.’ 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They 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.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then 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.’ 9 When 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. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.