“Do you know who that is?” “Who are they with?” “What are they here for?” We may sometimes be in a group, a stranger enters, and you can hear the twittering among people asking these and similar questions.
As we recently heard the Christmas story of the three wisemen visiting Jesus, it seems that the same type of thing happened two thousand years ago when some strangers arrived in Jerusalem from the East (perhaps from what we today know as Iran, Iraq, or Syria). Surely Jerusalem had any number of foreigners passing through regularly. It was a major religious center and a large enough city to have its own king, Herod. But these visitors this day where different. They brought news that caused a commotion in Jerusalem. Imagine the talk they created that must have been going around the city, causing all to be troubled: “A king of the Jews was just born … don’t you think we would know that?”, “Who could possibly be the parents of such a king?”, “Who do these strangers think they are telling us about our ruler?”
The prophet Isaiah describes what the amazing experience will be for Jerusalem when the Savior, her Light, comes. It will be a happening beyond compare! Everyone will recognize when this time arrives since the signs will be many: kings from every nation will come bearing gifts, the riches from the sea will be given to her; her children will gather from distant lands. All will happen because the Lord’s glory will shine upon her. Just imagine this incredible event!
Psalm 72 echoes what this experience will be like, proclaiming: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” He then tells how all will witness the coming of the Lord from the mightiest and most powerful down to his care for the lowest and weakest. All will know him by his justice, compassion, and reign of peace.
This is how it was expected that the Christ, the promised one, was to be made known to the world. But his actual appearance is quite different for the magi who come seeking the “newborn king of the Jews.” It’s probably a good thing they don’t seem to know the references of Isaiah or Psalm 72 and did not come expecting a warm, jubilant welcome! (At least, we don’t have any indication that they were expecting this.)
When the magi appear, they pay homage and worship this child that they found in a simple place, offering their expensive, fine gifts to this newborn king. But when they were ready to leave, they have to travel a different road home since the way they had come is no longer safe — they had to avoid the king on their return. Indeed, quite a trip for them!
Simply by their presence, these magi let it be known that this child whom they had found by the light of the star, had come into the world not just for those in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but for all people. He was the Promised One, the long-awaited King of the Jews.
And what can we say about our experience today? Do we look for the Promised One, the Light of the World as described by the prophet Isaiah, or are we open to looking beyond the expected to find Christ wherever he may be? Are we open to seeking together as did the magi? Can we risk going a different way than was originally planned? There are so many questions we may ask as we ponder this Gospel.
Remember, the magi came together, following the star, seeking the Light of the World, the newborn King of the Jews, and they did not leave disappointed.