(for the Epiphany of Our Lord, Sunday, January 4, 2015)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“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.”’
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 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.’ 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:1-12, NRSV).
They attract significant attention. Wise men; magi; magicians. Whoever they are they obviously hail from elsewhere. Then there are those mysterious questions: ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?…we observed his star…have come to pay him homage.’
It ‘frightened’ Herod. It frightened all ‘Jerusalem’. A new star? A new king?
The response stands in stark contrast to Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. These brim with joy and anticipation. The elite of the holy city, however, are terrified. For them the ‘child’ is a threat. The chief priests and scribes do not help. Their prophecies identify Bethlehem, but also a coming ‘ruler’, a ‘shepherd’ for Israel.
No wonder Herod responded. He collects his information. Secretly sends the visitors. Asks that he may eventually join them in ‘homage’. They innocently leave the palace.
And the universe guides them to a stable.
I wonder how their hearts responded as they edged around the cattle? Did they cringe at the smell? Were they tempted to conduct a spring-clean? Were they confronted by such an unpromising beginning? Did they wonder at how childlike this ‘child’ really was? We are not told.
What we are told, however, is remarkable: ‘they were overwhelmed with joy’; they entered; saw the child and Mary; ‘knelt down and paid him homage’; they gave generous ‘gifts’.
It is far more than the Israel’s King will offer. Their return home is at least as secretive as their disclosing meeting with him. A dream. Another road. Guided here. Guided home.
For the reader the expectation increases again. Powerful enemies are established. Both fear and joy are inspired.
And the nations are coming already!