As I watched the wise men head for home in my imaginative musings, I was left with a handful of questions to ponder. If the Jewish spiritual leaders were aware of the wise men’s search of the child born King of the Jews – in other words, the Jewish Messiah – why did they not show more interest in Jesus and his parents, whose home the magi visited? Why did they not pay more attention to the details of Jesus’ birth and compare them with the well known prophecies? History as recorded in the Bible seems to answer this question—they were more interested in protecting their own positions of authority and power. A real-life Messiah would certainly bring unwanted changes to their comfortable lives, as Jesus ultimately did.
Were the folks living in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the surrounding area changed because of the wise men’s holy visit? Surely this singular spectacle of exotic looking men in their foreign garb, traveling among a great entourage, was a once in a lifetime sight in the drab lives of the locals. Shouldn’t it have elicited a heart-change of some sort, as these peasant-folk followed the wise men’s quest to its awe-inspiring conclusion? Or was it merely a Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey experience…see the queer procession and then go home to bed?
How sad. Sad for the Jewish leaders who thought only of themselves and completely missed greatness in their midst. And sad, too, for the peasants, whose only crime was not knowing the right questions to ask. Unfortunately, we are all guilty of both at times.
One person was dramatically affected by the wise men’s visit. King Herod took a keen interest in their pursuit to find the child-king, but not for the reason he stated (“that I might come and worship him also”). History proves that Herod was an evil man. Not only did he eliminate anyone he remotely suspected as being interested in his throne – including his own family members – it is said that he ordered the destruction of an entire town upon his death to ensure that mourning would ensue. But he didn’t have to wait until he died to hear those mournful cries.
Warned by God not to return to Herod with news of the One born King of the Jews, the wise men took the round about way home; they were long gone before Herod realized it. Irate, blind with rage, fear turned to violence. Herod saw red. Having already learned from the wise men when the star appeared, he reasoned that the child must now be a toddler. He would find him and kill him, just as he had killed so many others!
It was the middle of the night, yet Herod wasted no time putting his plan into action. Immediately he sent out soldiers to search every home in Bethlehem. Not knowing exactly how old the child-king was, what he looked like or his parents’ names, his orders were wide-sweeping…kill ALL of the boys, 2 years old and younger.
Here’s where Hollywood has lent a hand. Without too much trouble a half dozen scenes come to mind (for instance George Lucas and Ron Howard’s “Willow”), of soldiers carrying out the crown’s bidding by breaking into homes without warning and tearing goods apart looking for a particular child. But unlike in “Willow,” where Elora is not found (not then anyway) when Bavmorda’s soldiers come to town, Herod’s soldiers find their prey, and every last boy under age 2 is slaughtered without Herod batting an eyelash.
This isn’t the stuff of movies anymore. It’s a Holocaust of epic proportions for that era and locale. If the religious leaders didn’t react to the wise men’s story, or the peasant-folk, Herod made up for them all.
So what about you and me? How do we respond to this story of the Epiphany?
Probably the most pronounced statement that floated to the surface of my mind from musing about the Epiphany story is this: The wise men are called “wise” not just because they were learned for their day, but also because they exhibited wisdom, and I would do well to learn from their example. An unknown 4th Century church leader stated once that “wisdom comes only to prepared hearts.” A popular bumper sticker says it this way: “Wise men still seek Him.” Both show awareness and intentionality, eyes wide open, not a haphazard approach to life. It shows purpose, and the tenacity to pursue what wisdom reveals.
Thank you for traveling down this dusty Epiphany path with me this past week! I hope you will join me as I seek holy wisdom this coming year.
This concludes my series that began on 1/8/2015.