Yesterday, I raised some questions here about the wise men, the trio of magi who meander through our Christmas traditions. We may think we know why they are there. They bring gifts to the infant Jesus. But if you think about it, the magi are shadowy strangers that you and I would probably never let near our children, at Christmas or any other time. But if we read Matthew’s Christmas story carefully, we realize both what we don’t know and what we can learn from these mysterious men.
We don’t know how many there were (we assume there were three because they brought three gifts with them) or where they come from (just “from the East”) or what they really did for a living (theories over the centuries include astrologers, astronomers, magicians, royal advisors, even frauds).
We do know that they followed a star, stopped to ask for directions (wise men, indeed), had a frightfully enlightening encounter with the Romans’ appointed king of the Jews (that Herod, what a nasty piece of work). Eventually, they laid eyes on the infant (the one we know as Jesus), presented their gifts and then hit the road, taking a different route home.
Now, it would take too long to unpack all that detail (I do try to do that in my book). But here are some high points: The magi -- strangers in the Christmas story -- were the characters who (1) acted with integrity, (2) behaved humbly, (3) moved with determination, (4) showed true courage and (5) had a kind of vision that many of us would envy.
You see, if we set aside Mary and Joseph, the wise men were the first people to literally lay eyes on Jesus, to recognize this infant as the king of the Jews (long before that title was nailed over his head on the cross). In other words, magi were foreigners, unknown, unrecognized, undocumented, unverified outsiders who first saw Jesus for who he was. The insiders in Matthew’s Christmas story -- King Herod and his advisors -- were ignorant, petty, selfish, careless and cruel. It’s the strangers in this Bible story who set the holiest example.
So, I would ask you to think about these strangers today as we hear about, judge, discount, shun, even condemn the strangers (including immigrants, refugees, rich, poor, people from other races, religions, backgrounds, political parties, etc.) that some of our leaders encourage us to fear. Strangers can be our teachers, if only we let them.
Sacred Strangers: What the Bible’s Outsiders Can Teach Christians at https://litpress.org/Products/4504/Sacred-Strangers or https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Strangers-Bibles-Outsiders-Christians/dp/0814645046