Hiding inside the Christmas story are a thousand meditations. God reveals his ways. He’s faithful. He’s sneaky. He’s a risk-taker, he is unpredictable, he hides his work in plain sight, he comes right on time yet it’s when you least expect it. A teenage girl in the story observed, “he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
This year my favorite Christmas meditation regarding the ways of God? It’s not enough to get the right answer.
Matthew’s gospel tells the familiar story of three outsiders who find their way into the very presence of God even while the religious experts of Israel demonstrate surprisingly little regard for discovery:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
"'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
The story is so familiar we could be excused for missing one of those meditations hiding inside the narrative we know so well.
Have you ever noticed? These rich pagan astrologers had only the faintest understanding of the birth of a new King, yet they traveled great distances to pay him homage. As they neared their destination they stopped at the center of Israel’s religious life and asked the “experts” for help. The experts answered the question correctly, but not one of the scholars packed his bag and went with the Magi.
These Magi, strangers to the the covenant of Moses, were willing to act on the merest bit of information. They traveled far. The chief priests and scribes, who had all the revelation of Israel at their fingertips, would not even travel six miles to worship their own Messiah.
It’s not enough to get the right answer. The know-it-alls did not find their way to the feet of the Christ child.