In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to
are by no means least among the rulers of
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to
Enter the wise men, stage right. In their hands they bear frankincense, gold and myrrh. The Holy Family receives them graciously, illumined by the bright star overhead. The cows moo, the sheep baaah. It’s a scene that is played out in hundreds of Nativity plays in churches all over the world.
We don’t know much about the wise men. We know they came from the East, which could have been
Matthew’s word for the wise men was “magi”. Magi was a kind of generic name for all sorts of men, from those who professed to do magic to astrologers, philosophers, and scientists. These “wise guys” were probably the intelligentsia of their day. They probably knew as much as anyone could know in those days about science and philosophy. They must have been very well read, well enough read that they had read the Jewish scriptures contained in what we call The Old Testament. Knowledgeable enough to know what the sight of that particular star must mean, once they saw it.
Yet there were other men in
These wise men of Herod’s, these priests and scribes of the people were not out looking for Jesus, in spite of the fact that they probably knew about him. Jesus, after all, was brought to the temple in
“all those from
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.”
So why weren’t the priest and scribes headed out to
The answer lies in the nature of wisdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor and leader of the German resistance movement in Nazi Germany said this:
To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.
The priests and scribes of the people had all the facts. But they missed the essential nature of what was happening. These wise men from the East were not Jews, after all. Why should they pay any heed to what Gentiles said? Obviously, God was not going to reveal the Messiah to anyone but his
In our own time, we see a lot of false wisdom. We see it in well-regarded scientists, philosophers, thinkers, and writers who stubbornly insist that there is no God; those who refuse to believe in a God they cannot see. These are people who do not perceive the essential nature of things, despite all their knowledge.
But we, ourselves, also fail. We fail to perceive the significance of God’s gift to us of Jesus, our Savior. We put our emphasis in the wrong place, worrying over things that are trivial while the greater wisdom of God eludes us. We hold on to the little that we know, rejecting all that does not fit into the feeble framework we build out of “facts”. We choose facts over faith and fail to fully live the abundant life promised to us in the gospel. We put limits on what God can do in our lives by refusing to have faith in all that he can do for us and through us. We lack the wisdom of faith.
Unless we come to the wisdom of faith, where we lean on and trust God to fill in the blanks, we end up missing the point entirely. The wise men set out on a journey consisting of hard travel of hundreds of miles in a countryside that was infested with robbers, into a land where the people distrusted and despised them, following a star that wasn’t exactly as precise as a glowing Motel 6 sign might be in guiding them to our destination. They had the wisdom of faith. And through their faith, the Holy Spirit guided them to the place where Jesus lay. These men were truly “wise”.
We, too, can heed the call of the star. We, too, can find the babe underneath its guiding rays. All it takes is the wisdom of faith, a faith that lets us see the significant in the factual, indeed, sometimes in spite of the factual. Arise! Shine! For your light has come!