It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for the wise men who came to visit Jesus and the Holy Family while they were still in the stable. King Herod ruled like many a dictator we know. Any and all threats to his power and Kingdom would have been dealt with quickly and decisively. He showed no discrimination in this regard in that no threat was treated more ruthlessly than another. Even, as it turns out, threats from children. This is the same king, who, just to be sure, ordered the murder of any all children under 2 years of age. It is hard to imagine how an infant can threaten the thrown of a dictator or any ruler. But apparently it did. I guess, to use his logic, babies grow to become children who grow to become adults. These were dangerous times for many. A day and age where visiting the wrong person, saying the wrong thing could cost you your life.
The wise men, on pilgrimage to visit the baby Jesus are called in to meet with Herod. He too, apparently at this point, wants to pay homage to the Baby Jesus and orders that the wise men search diligently for the child. And so, the wise men do just that, under the cover of darkness they follow the star that has been their guide along the way and they find Baby Jesus and his family. Then something happens. Instead of returning to Herod, they are warned in a dream and they return to their homes via a different way.
So, what is it that changed the minds of the wise men? While we may never fully understand or know what it was that changed their minds, we can certainly read into what has been happening to the wise men, based on our own experiences and what we find in Scripture. The central question for me is: “what did the wise men see?” What did they see and what did they experience while visiting the Holy Family? At face value, these men saw something that we all see every day, two parents caring for their newborn child. Now, I don’t know about you, but for many of us, when we first visit a relative or friend who has a new baby, we immediately are overcome with warmth and affection. We smile, we hold their tiny hands and feet. Many of us - you know who you are - are just dying for an opportunity to hold the baby. We are reminded of our own children and grandchildren. We remember how we felt at their birth, how we would gaze into their wide open and trusting eyes. We would wonder how they are going to grow up and develop. Who will they become? What are they going to do?
I can’t help but imagine a similar experience for the wise men. They traveled day and night for reasons unknown to visit a baby and his parents who they never knew and never met before. But something was in the air those days that compelled them to continue to follow that star. Something compelled them to continue through Jerusalem and onto Bethlehem to find that one stable, with one baby, one father and one mother. It had to be that baby and mother, not just any baby and his or her mother. When they arrived, they knew they had found what they were looking for. They just instinctively new that they had finally arrived and found what they were looking for all along - the radical and unconditional love of God as shown in how a parent cares for their child. We know this love too. We see this love too. We see it every day in how a mother holds her baby and we are overcome with warmth and compassion. We cannot help ourselves but want to hold the baby ourselves, to offer our gift to the new family, whatever that may be. The same is true for the wise men. They came, and they saw the unconditional love of God and they could not help themselves but offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and, myrrh.
While there may have been other gifts that were offered, and indeed the Holy Family may well have received other visitors, Scripture makes a point of noting these three gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. So what else did the wise men see? Perhaps the clue is in their experiences on the journey to Bethlehem and in the gifts that they offered. There is significance in these gifts. Gold is offered to a king, frankincense offered in the presence of deity and myrrh, oil used for the anointing of the dead. Something tells me, the wise men saw something more than what was immediately before them. Based on their experiences and what they were seeing and experiencing in that one stable all those years ago, they knew that this was a child for whom these gifts were appropriate. They could, in a way, see further than the immediate. They saw what many could not see, dare not see. They saw how one child had the power to overthrow Kingdoms and nations.
We live in a world where we are always searching for something. We live in a world where the people we meet are searching for something too. We are restless and anxious until we find what it is, we are searching for. Sometimes we find what we are searching for, sometimes it takes us a lifetime. Ultimately, I believe that all we are searching for, longing for is a place of belonging, where are accepted and where we can find the unconditional love of God. The good news for us is that we don’t have to look too far for this love and acceptance. God comes to us in our world in the flesh. The question is, do we have the eyes to see and recognize God in the world around us? Can we see what many cannot see, dare not see? The God of hope who comes into our world this year and every year to threaten Kingdoms and nations and to restore the dignity of every human being.