I only remember reading the Bible story of the wise people from the East who came to Israel looking for a baby at Christmas. Even then, it is usually a single song or reading at a Lessons and Carols service or a fun part of a Christmas pageant. As I grew older, sometimes churches would celebrate Epiphany Sunday. When I read Matthew 2: 1-12 as a separate story from the birth of Jesus, it reads like a parable on responding to the call of the Spirit.
In the Message (you can read this version of the scripture at the end of this post), the wise people are called scholars, people who are educated and love learning. Were they studying the stars as part of an astronomy class or actively looking for something new in the sky? They were curious enough about what this new light might mean to leave their homes and academic pursuits to find out more. How often am I so task-oriented, so busy pursuing my personal goals, that I miss seeing the spark of something I have never seen before that will open my mind to a whole new realm of understanding?
When the scholars arrive in Jerusalem, we hear about how Herod took the news that they were looking for a baby that would be king. Herod did not take it well, just as I often do not respond very well when I get an inkling that something is about to upset my comfortable, well-defined world.
Herod was afraid. I can imagine his mind racing down all the “what if” rabbit trails of what it all might mean for him. How many times have I felt a call and was instantly afraid of what that call might require of me? Like Herod, I want more information before I agree even to consider my next move.
Herod did what in his day was a Google search. He called his own crew of priests and scholars to get more information.
But Herod’s advisors gave him information that he did not like. They gave him facts from a source, the Hebrew scripture, that he could not ignore. But Herod was just like me. He began searching for a way around, a way to maneuver to keep his position and wealth.
Herod told the visiting scholars the truth about the prophecy but only pretended to want to pay homage to the baby. What are the ways I choose to be dishonest with myself and others about my motives? What am I afraid of having to give up if I am open to pursuing the Spirit’s call?
Matthew 2:1-12 (The Message)After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”
When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly: It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land, no longer bringing up the rear. From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”
Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”
Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!
They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.’