by John McLarty | 19 December 2018 |
According to legend there were three. Old men living in Persia. Devout and philosophical. They saw a new star and understood it to be the sign of the birth of the Jewish Messiah, a divine king. Their convictions were so strong and their resources so deep they organized a caravan to travel west to pay their respects.
Arriving in Jerusalem they inquired of the whereabouts of the new king, with no luck. Finally, they got a hot tip. The baby was supposed to be born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. They rode the few miles to Bethlehem and found the child. They had traveled a thousand miles to find this baby. And finally they were there, in the house of the Messiah of prophecy, the fulfillment of a lifetime of hoping, the satisfaction of months of seeking.
For two thousand years we who call ourselves Christian have looked through the eyes of these travelers and adored the Christ child. Influenced by the teachings of the adult Jesus and by two thousand years of Christian theology, we have learned to look through the eyes of the Wise Men and see that every child born to woman is also a child of God, even if that child was born a thousand miles away.
The delight of the Wise Men is reflected in our own delight in the little people in our lives. Arriving at church yesterday, I helped a grandmother unload poinsettias to decorate the church. Before we carried the flowers into the church, I had to see pictures of the new granddaughter, two days old. It was the cutest granddaughter ever, of course! The Wise Men on their camels had nothing on this grandmother in fiery passion.
In today’s world, every moment of cuteness invites us to pull out our phones. We are all photographers, looking for beauty to capture. And we who are parents and grandparents are certain that the child on the other side of our camera is the smartest, prettiest, most clever child in the whole world. Our child reminds of us baby Jesus. In the lovely face of our own precious baby we see the face of God.
This year, as I meditated on the story of the Wise Men, I imagined turning the camera around. What would we see if we joined the God-child in his bed and looked out at those pointing the camera our direction? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of Jesus back at the Wise Men?
The story of the Wise Men is in Matthew 2. In Matthew 5, Jesus exhorts us to show indiscriminate kindness because doing so mirrors the habits of God who sends his rain on the just and unjust. Linking the two passages, I imagine looking outward from baby Jesus and seeing in the face of these wealthy benefactors the face of God. Their generosity to a needy baby in a foreign land was a mirror of the generosity of God. And still, today, every act of generosity by those who are wealthy is a mirror of God. God is the generous father, the loving mother, the kindly benefactor. And we are wealthy, some of us by the standards of Seattle, all of us measured against global poverty.
Where is God in the story of the Wise Men? God is in the child they journeyed to see, yes. God is also visible in the faces and in the adoration of the Wise Men who journeyed to see the child. We, too, can join the Wise Men in adoring and serving the child . . . and children. When we place ourselves and our wealth in the service of needy foreigners we are acting like the Wise Men, we are acting like God. Every impulse of love that arises in our hearts toward the little ones is a mirror of the heart of God. Our generosity befits us as image bearers of the divine.
John McLarty is senior pastor at Green Lake Church in Seattle, and owner of Talking Rocks Tours, which offers geology tours in Utah in May.