The people with the greatest credentials may not be the early adopters… but it’s great when they are able – finally – to get on board and join the party.
Last week, we celebrated the Shepherds. They’re supporting actors in the Christmas pageant, but in Israel, 2000 years ago, they were in the bottom quartile of the Jewish society. No upscale venue would have allowed them entrance, but they were the first outsiders invited to the Birth of Jesus.
You’ve received Christmas cards already showing Wise Men around the Manger, but those are artists’ renderings that are not based on the facts. Here’s the story, as told by Matthew: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’
“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
Magi. Their probable home was Persia – modern Iran/Iraq – and their title linked them to the learned class whose sophistication with science and religious traditions made them and their opinions matter. Likely tied to Zoroastrianism (a religious stew birthed in the 5th Century BC, in the Iranian empires), they had data from nearby faith systems, and their knowledge of the stars and the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures put them in-the-know about the birth of the Jews’ King.
High-ranking leaders assume that high-ranking leaders will have elevated knowledge of the most important current events: these guys landed in Jerusalem to network with Herod, the puppet-king of Judea who served as the Roman emperor’s local affiliate. Wouldn’t he know about the royal birth?
The King was clueless; he referred the question to “the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law.” If the promised Messiah had arrived, why weren’t the religious hierarchy seeking him? They knew where to look: “this is what the prophet has written: …Bethlehem…” but they were still in Jerusalem (just seven miles away). Their intel was spot-on, but their interest was at zero.
Herod feigns interest and sends the Magi as unwitting spies; his intent was to kill the competition. The Wise Persian scholars complete their mission – they deliver their worship and their treasures – and then make plans for their next steps. Herod’s orders: come back and turn in the young child (who was in a house with his mother, no longer in a manger in a stable). Heaven’s orders had been delivered in a dream: steer clear of Herod and Jerusalem, and take the long road home.
The Shepherds weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they arrived first. The Magi had the credentials and had to work through a torturous process to finally get alongside Jesus.
The mission: find Jesus, whatever it takes. What did it take for you to find Him?