The telling of Christmas is incomplete without the message of the wise men. So integral is their part that nativity scenes have long included them at the manger in an effort to condense the story surrounding Jesus’ birth. In truth, they didn’t find Him until He was a toddler nearly two years later. The star that marked His arrival continued to light their way.
These kings, men of great stature and authority, had set out to find and pay homage to the King of kings. It was no impulse. For long years they had studied Scriptural prophecy and the science of astronomy and, through Divine guidance, perceived that the foretold birth of this King had finally come. And so they set off on an arduous journey.
It took little time for Herod to learn the mission of these royal travelers once they entered his city and, hoping to gain their confidence through pretense, he feigned a shared devotion of their mission. Herod was consumed with absolute power. He recognized the authenticity of the noble seekers before him and obsessed with masked hatred, that they possessed a vision denied him and his astronomers. Parting Herod’s company the caravan continued it’s quest ~ never to see him again.
The long journey finally brought them to a house where they beheld God Incarnate. No palace could have displayed a more radiant glory. Awed by the presence of the Author of Life, they dropped to their knees to honor this toddler King with gifts symbolic of His character: gold to represent His royalty, frankincense to identify Him as the Son of God and myrrh to signify the death He would endure for us.
To this point, only a handful of shepherds and kings knew of this Holy Child and the paradigm shift His arrival would offer mankind in relationship to God. Though the reading of Scripture was observed in the synagogues and debated in the marketplace, the world was oblivious that Grace and Mercy had come to them. For the moment, life remained unchanged. The faithful awaited the promise, the godless mocked the premise and the powerful feared the possibility. Yet He came with the offer of salvation to them all. Without fanfare, God was with us. History has forever been altered by His birth and the course of eternity is determined by our response.
Herod sought to be a god unto himself and forfeited knowing the God that could have saved him. Allowing himself so great an evil as to covet the glory that belonged to the Holy One, he ultimately justified killing male babies two and under in an effort to eliminate all authority but his own. We recognize the wickedness of Herod, yet function in a world that largely desires to do the same.
How different the perspective of the Magi! These were truly noble kings. Though they possessed earthy power, they were humble of heart and recognized the limitations of their humanity. They sought Truth and found life. They are rightly called wise men.
Defining what we seek is essential to the direction of our lives. Consider an encounter 30 years later as Jesus engaged with his first two disciples. “And looking at Jesus as He walked, he [John the Baptist] said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them ‘What do you seek?’” John 1:36:38
The question is profoundly relevant. What are we looking for? Do we genuinely want to follow Jesus or do we see Him as interfering with our pursuits? Even among Jesus’ disciples Judas choose the latter. He walked with Him, watched Him, ate with Him, was taught, loved and nurtured by Him, yet never surrendered his willful expectation that God should fit the plans of man.
Jesus made clear that following Him meant laying down the old willful self in order to become a new creation. He declared that we cannot please both God and man in our choice. One or the other must take first place and wisdom recognizes that truth.
So what do we seek? If we covet worldly gain alone, that mindset will drive our motives, attitudes and actions to behaviors that will surprise even ourselves. We will embrace a completely godless perspective ~ one that justifies a self-indulgent pursuit in life’s journey.
Human nature is such that we are capable of seeking the temporal things of this world and putting them above the eternal Truth that God has clearly revealed. Even this very hour, men and women are making individual journeys to their coveted destinations; the fool making thrones for himself and the wise kneeling before the throne of the King.
There is an end to every earthly journey. One day the things that seem so important at present, will have no value at all, while the truths held to in faith will ultimately bring us to the eternal presence of God. How foolish we would be to forfeit eternal life because we worshiped what we cannot keep and rejected what cannot be lost through Jesus.
As we enter a new year, perhaps a worthy resolution would be to truly examine what we are seeking. If it is following Jesus, we will indeed be numbered with the wise.