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.
Who were these gift-bearing men who were recognized as being the learned of their day, and therefore called “wise”? Why did they travel to a foreign land to inquire about the possibility of a new political figure in a place that was far distant from their home?
The answers to those questions are more than a trivial pursuit when we research clues that provide some interesting responses, first to our asking, “Where did they come from?”
“From the East,” is how they are identified, which means they probably are Parthians, whose memory is filled with the history of vicious attacks of Roman legions they eventually drove back.
They also know how intent the Jews are on overthrowing the Romans.Extremists regularly stage guerilla attacks on Roman legions occupying Israel, fed with the expectation that their God will send a king who will dethrone the Roman emperor. Might the star be the sign? If anyone would know it would be Herod, and so they come asking,
“Where is he who is born king of the Jews?”
Their desire to “pay him homage” evidenced in the extravagant gifts they are carrying, might be a cover-up of who they really are:spies disguised as visitors, coming to determine if their land is about to be invaded, not by Romans, but by Jews. In exchange for information, Herod who has had his own family members killed to keep them from dethroning him,engages the travelers to report back, supposedly so he too, may pay his respects to the newborn king, a request that turns them into double agents, snooping for their own country, and for Herod.
When we dress them up in the grab our children wear on Christmas Eve, complete with gold crowns (though made from paper), coming up the aisle bearing mock-ups of their gifts, we have no inkling of the real intrigue hiding beneath clothes and in the hearts of the travelers they are dressed to represent.
The first listeners, living in those politically volatile times, would have known to raise the unwritten questions,
“To whom will they give their allegiance? Whose spy will they prove to be? “Parthian or Herodian?”
It is the all-important question that draws us into the drama and has us asking, “Why am I here?” and perhaps answering, “I had something to do in this service.”
Or, what anyone in our Confirmation Class might say,'Because it’s my time to have to attend and I only get five
absences.” The same answer a parent may give, as the driver of a son or daughter in this year’s class.
Some may say of a pastor, “And you are here because it’s your job; you get paid to be in church; that’s why you attend every Sunday.”
But there is another answer that echoes the phenomenal turnabout in the story that reports, 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.
The sight of “the child” changed them from being spies caught up in the politic powers at home or in Rome or in Jerusalem, to being like Joseph responding to a dream,
Scripture’s way of describing a message authored by God, call it a premonition, or, as John Wesley described it
“my heart was strangely warmed.”
That’s what is meant to happen to us this morning.It doesn’t matter why we came. What does matter is that we are caught up in the intrigue of what happened when those Parthian spies, or double agents, handed not only their gifts, but themselves, to the God Who met them in Jesus.
The ongoing intrigue that is ours when we leave this service, to go “by another road,” which in the Baptismal vow, affirmed in Confirmation has us walking the road mapped out in the words:“to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able.”
Along that way we will encounter pitfalls and dangers detours and incentives to become double agents for the voices that dominate the media and the power players in today’s world of politics.
We may find ourselves on the dead-end edge of a precipice that has us thinking we are the person in the poem displayed on plaques, in cross-stitch, and beach scenes, describing us, crying out to Jesus Who has abandoned us, for the double set of footprints in the sand has changing to one, and the answer comes, “My child, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
The intrigue and wonder and joy of what happens to us when we let ourselves be met by Jesus Who doesn’t come to us today as a Baby in a manger or a young Child cradled in His mother’s arms, but as the Host Who presides at His table where He bids us come to receive Him as our living bread and poured out love, and, because He gives Himself to us,we go from here “by another road,” setting out to be who we are…a servant church of the Servant Christ. AMEN.