The beginning of the Good News in Mark’s Gospel is John the Baptizer’s voice crying out the in the wilderness to prepare the way.  In Luke, the glory of the Lord shone upon the lowly shepherds and they made haste in route to Bethlehem.  For John, the Word was God until it became flesh and lived among us.  And for Matthew, the commencement centralizes the wise men, these foreign astrologers from the East, and their choice.

What faithful decision do the wise men make?

Matthew 2:1-12 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, 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.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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.

Congregational Responses:
To disobey the government in the name of God, starting the first Christian resistance movement.
To honor the Holy Spirit’s direction even though they didn’t know where they were going.
To read the word of God in creation, witness the revelation in the sky.
To offer God the very best of their gifts.

In his poem, “Journey of the Magi,” T.S. Eliot writes,

“And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly.
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it. At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.”

What faithful decision do the wise men make?

God’s revelation of Good News always elicits a response.  For the priests and scribes, the retort is indifference. The Institution is preferred to the Incarnation, the comforts of the Church to the challenges Christ.  For Herod, his reaction is a cautionary tale that nothing is more dangerous than the paranoia of a fearful man in power, that Empire and Emperor prefer genocide to giving up the throne.

But for the wise men, their choice is sheer folly, a lack of prudence, an absence of good common sense.  The Israelites were militarily weak and politically insignificant.  The King of the Jews then should be nothing more than a footnote of irrelevant history.  Still, the Magi traveled nearly 800 miles to seek out a Savior they had never met only to find a twelve-year-old mother, a confused father and a homeless baby boy.  After chasing the constellation, they offered gold, the metal reserved for royalty, and frankincense, the divine aroma and the essential oil of prayer, and myrrh, the perfume of death that symbolizes dying to all that isn’t of God. In spite of the nonsense, they worshipped, bowed down and paid him homage.

It is an act of irrationality, an absurdity of faith, that the wisest of men are always fools for Christ.

Fellow travelers, the star is shinning and Bethlehem is beckoning, calling us to make yet another foolish decision: wrap that gift for the estranged relative, invite your enemy over for eggnog, dump out your treasure chest in the manger, and gather your life around the cosmic revelation wrapped in diapers, believing that Christmas comes every time we return home by another road.