Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Defying Politics

Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2.12)
Their Savior, Too
Without the Magi, Christ's birth would play out as an inauspicious event featuring two young parents and a motley crew of shepherds. Despite their vigilant search for signs of the Messiah's appearance, the Nativity goes unnoticed by Bethlehem’s residents. That's because they don't anticipate a lowly entrance. They expect the coronation of a King, trumpeted by angelic heralds and brimming with majesty. The angels don’t come to town, though; their music fills the countryside. As for pomp and circumstance, well…

But how do locals miss the star? Living when people study celestial shifts like we watch market fluctuations, surely they notice a new light in the sky. Stellar activity is an important element of their faith. Daniel 6.27 directly links changes overhead with divine intervention: “He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.” The addition of a supernova to the sky must pique curiosity. Yet no one in Palestine evidently reads the new star as the Advent of Christ. Perhaps it draws little interest because the star rises in the east, hundreds of miles from Bethlehem, where astute astronomers and scholars put everything together. They caravan across the desert to greet Israel’s King, fully aware they’re defying convention. Israel is infamously insular and suspicious of pagans, which the Magi are. It’s likely they won’t be welcome to pay homage to the newborn Savior. Nonetheless, driven by conviction the star is given to them, they seize the opportunity to worship Christ as their Savior, too.

The Magi’s Miracle

Matthew implies the Magi presume the Jews have also observed the star, understood its significance, and identified its Messiah. Quite possibly, they anticipate word of The Christ’s birth will be widespread when they reach Palestine. This isn’t the case. So they proceed to Jerusalem, where they call on King Herod. If the news hasn’t been publicly released yet, he must know the Child’s location. Their inquiry catches the king by surprise. He quizzes the men about the star and realizing its importance, he urges them: “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2.8)
Herod misreads their their desire to meet the Christ Child as a politically ambitious effort to win Jerusalem's favor and respect. It's nothing of the sort.

While God’s people putter in darkness, oblivious to changes above them, the pagans look up for guidance. And that’s when the Magi’s miracle transpires. The star that illuminated their night and fixed itself in their hearts starts moving. Verse 9 says it “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Leading them step-by-step, it travels from Jerusalem’s palaces and temples, south-southwest over six hilly miles to rest over Jesus’s cradle. The issue of the Magi’s right to worship Christ is moot. Their star brings luminosity to His story, making them prophetic instruments: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60.2-3)

When the Magi kneel at the manger, their reverence is displayed in the rare gifts they present: gold, incense, and myrrh—an exotic ointment primarily used to preserve corpses, and hence a precursor to Christ’s sacrificial death. Had the Magi not heeded the star’s message and followed its lead, Mary and Joseph may not have had sufficient resources to escape Herod’s attempt to destroy Jesus by murdering every infant born under His star. In a way, the Magi’s gifts become the newborn Savior’s salvation.

The Magi’s Mistake

On the other hand, seeking access to Jesus through political channels constitutes the Magi’s mistake. It indirectly threatens Him and puts them in a dicey situation. Herod waits for their report so he can undermine God’s plan. Jerusalem sits between them and home. Men of their stature and appearance can’t possibly pass through the city unnoticed. Meeting Jesus face-to-face relieves their anxieties about defying politics, however. A dream enlightens their understanding and strengthens their courage to go another way. And while their obedience to follow an alternative route doesn’t disable Herod from trying to stop God’s work, their decision delays his strike, buying time for Joseph and Mary to steal into Egypt to protect the Child.

John 1.11-12 reads, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.” The Magi are the first in history to claim this right. It’s a right deeded to all—including anyone who’s been castigated as an outsider or pagan by “locals” who believe Christ is given exclusively to them. His star has risen in our lives, far though we may be from seats of power. It has fixed itself in our hearts and drawn us to Him. Many make the mistake of seeking access to Christ through political means, only to incite efforts to destroy God’s intention to accept all who receive Christ. If the Magi teach us anything, it’s the importance of defying politics to reach Christ. When we look up for guidance and follow His star, genuine believers will welcome us for the light and gifts we bring. The uniqueness of what we offer Christ and the wisdom in following our dreams for His sake can’t be undervalued. We are prophetic instruments, people of purpose, and vital to God’s plan.

His star is our star. It confirms He's our Savior, too, and guides us to worship Him.

(Next: The Reason, or Defying Criticism)


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post.

I'm especially moved by the picture of God's use of the gifts we offer up to Him. Think I'm gonna chew on that one for a while...

Tim said...

Thank you, Jake. This was a new reading of the story for me. I'd never given much thought to the political interplay between the Wise Men and Herod, never realized what it meant.

Each one of possesses precious gifts, unlike anyone else's. They may look superfluous or unnecessary to some--what does a baby need with gold, incense, and myrrh? But they have a purpose and will be put to good use for Christ's sake.

The story makes me wonder what would God's kingdom look like if everyone who's allowed themselves to be pushed aside followed the star and offered their gifts? How much more harmony and peace our world would see!

Blessings, dear brother. And use your gifts!