“We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
The words of the Magi to Herod. It is an ironic and bizarre scene. Here is the Judean King, at least partly Jewish, very highly invested in presenting himself as a devout, religious figure to his people (while privately being a cutthroat, power hungry, kisser-upper to Rome). He ought to know all about any King that is born to the Jews. He ought to be his own son in fact. And barring that, if it were described in the Jewish Scriptures, he ought to know that bit. But he doesn’t.
And here are some foreign wise men. They likely have some awareness of the Jewish Scriptures as they would likely be the distant successors to a tradition that would include names like Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. But the more striking sign to them is this star. Modern astronomy tells us that its first appearance was likely a routine astronomical phenomenon, Saturn progressing in its regular orbit. But for the Magi, it appeared very strikingly in what they considered the house of Judah. And so they came because they knew a Great King had been born. (The miracle of the star comes later when it moves in the night sky. Saturn would not shift from west to south so erratically).
So the guys who ought to be on the outside, have the inside track. And the guy who ought to be on the inside, is left in Jerusalem, picking up the donuts.
Familiarity breeds contempt. And contempt is most socially acceptable as apathy. We hear The Story so often that we become deaf. And not just the Christmas Story. The Story. The One that threads in all the errant stitches and frays of our lives, the One that puts it all right and points us toward the Hope we have.
Eugene Peterson liked to point out that if we really believed that the good news was really The Good News, we wouldn’t be content to come for a cup of coffee Sunday morning and a few covered dishes. The Pentecostals wouldn’t be exuberant enough for us, the Catholics not serious enough, the Reformed not preachy enough. We’d need fireworks, cannonades and acrobats.
So let him who has ears to hear, hear. A King was born that day, a ruler, who would not just shepherd Israel, but all humanity.