We should probably talk about where these Wise Men come from. Matthew says, “from the East.” Well, the main nation to the east of Judea at that moment in time went by the name Parthia. Before that, folks knew it as Persia. Before that, it ruled a good chunk of the known world going by the name of Babylon. Matthew seems to be implying that these Wise Men, most likely Zoroastrian priests, sought out God from Israel ancient enemy and former captor. All the stories in Daniel about Lion’s Dens and friends with interesting names not burning up in a furnace center on standing up to this Godless empire, this spiritually devoid, self-congratulating monster. Yet, here they are, traveling hundreds of miles, across mountains and deserts and mountainous deserts, to kneel at the feet of Christ and offer gifts of great value. It’s a bit of a change.

We can see great beauty in this. The enemy becomes the worshipper. God draws them in and allows them to worship – laying aside the crimes and sins of old. God’s word broke out from one small corner of the world and reached beyond borders – even borders with great pain behind them. The power of Christ draws them in even before the most powerful and miraculous events occur. One of the overarching themes of the New Testament is that you never know who is going to show up to God’s party. The Magi shouldn’t belong. They’re priests of another religion and official representatives of an ancient enemy, yet two chapters into the New Testament, God uses a star to draw them into a relationship with Christ. Amazing.

We see deep sadness in this, as well. Herod and the Temple leadership get at least as much screen time as the Wise Men, and each action shows the weight of their rejection. They get news that the Messiah might have been born. Theoretically, they’ve been waiting and hoping for this exact event for hundreds of years. They know the prophecies so well that they can quickly tell the Magi exactly where to look for the kid. This should produce jubilation. God’s long-awaited promise has come to pass. Instead, fear reigns. “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.” (Matthew 2:3-4 NRSV)  

For every Magi unexpectedly showing up, there is a Herod or a Chief Priest, who should be there but isn’t. The people who understand the most about who Christ is often end up trying to kill him. Herod kills hundreds of babies on the off chance that Christ could turn out to be the true King of the Jews. Matthew gives us the powerful dramatic irony of Herod wanting, “to pay him homage.” The Magi may not know it, but the reader immediately knows that the fix is in. Herod’s villainous turn and the Temple’s lack of excitement hold no surprise for us because we know our history. We should be scandalized by the very thought. In the history of the faith, this is one of those great disappointments – like Solomon’s flirtation with idols, like Saul’s losing God’s favor, like the mountain of terrible kings balanced with only a handful of good ones. God’s people disappoint at least as often as they rise to the occasion.

We can see the tremendous power and necessity of God’s grace. An ancient enemy can experience welcome and redemption. This is grace. People who should know better keep getting chances even though they keep disappointing. This is grace. The nature of grace implies a history of and potential for future transgression. Even for the surprising redemptions, God had to first know the disappointing history for that history to be reversed by the power of grace. By giving us free will to choose God or not choose God, our loving heavenly parent has known an eternity of pain, of watching loved ones make the wrong choices over and over and over again stretched across the entirety of human history. If we have ever fantasized about wanting to be God, we should lay those thoughts aside.

Thank God for grace. Thank God that the unexpected wanderer can know the joy of kneeling before Christ and offering whatever gifts they have. Thank God that we still get more chance even after we should know better and still manage to disappoint. Thank God that wherever we are on the journey, God’s grace remains there for us.

Praise God for God’s strength and forbearance.