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.” (Matthew 2.1-2)
Like all great stories, the Nativity saga gives us just enough information to set our imaginations aflame. Wherever we enter it, we find questions the gospel writers leave unanswered, opening windows for us to see ourselves in the characters they portray. Matthew’s tale of the Magi almost seems purposefully short on specifics about these men. We know they’re “wise,” they come from easterly pagan lands, and apparently they’re well heeled, possibly even renowned, because they have no problem getting an audience with King Herod. Beyond that, their background is vague at best. We’re told they journey from the East, led by a rising star, in search of the newborn King. But what compels them to seek Him out is open to speculation. They want to pay homage to Him, yet the nature of their adoration isn’t clear. Are they believers? Or are they diplomats? Could it be they’re the kinds of people who are always ahead of the curve—who sense a major shift is underway and go out of their way to be the first to show up?
In her sermon “Home By Another Way”, Barbara Brown Taylor imagines the Magi in this fashion:
They were all glad for a reason to get out of town—because that was clearly where the star was calling them, out—away from everything they knew how to manage and survive, out from under the reputations they had built for themselves, the high expectations, the disappointing returns. And so they set out, one by one, each believing that he was the only one with a star in his eye until they all ran into one another on the road to Jerusalem.
No one can say if her intuitions are more correct than anyone else’s. Yet the sensibilities she assigns to these mystery men seem right, as they reflect those we have during Advent. As the Bethlehem star comes into sharper focus, we can feel ourselves being led away. Gladly, we sense everything we predictably rely on—our knowledge and reputations, our ambitions as well as our shortcomings—falling behind us. All we bring to the manger are a compelling need to find Christ and gifts we offer. We start from different places. We’re moved by different ideas, desires, and beliefs. We’re clad in diversity. Yet somehow we run into one another along the way. At first, we are little more than traveling companions, beneficiaries of serendipitous timing. But when we arrive at Bethlehem, we become family, bound together for all time as we behold the splendor of the Word Made Flesh, Who has come to live in us.