By TOM MAY
Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part series from Tom May leading up to Christmas. Read a new column each day through Christmas Eve.
We like to think ourselves wise during the Christmas season. We want to be wise shoppers. We think carefully about the person and the present. We painstakingly plan family gatherings, the preparation of food and the special seasonal events.
Closely connected with the Christmas story is a group of political and religious leaders who followed a star to meet the newly born child in Bethlehem. We have so many traditions surrounding this group of individuals. We call them magi — a transliteration of the Greek word found in the gospel of Matthew. We call them “three” — perhaps tied to the number of specific gifts that were brought. We call them “kings” — assuming their royalty in worshipping the King of kings. Most of all, we call them “wise.”
The wise men are such an integral part of the Christmas story that nativity sets include them for placement around the manger. Growing up, my mother placed a nativity scene on top of the television as she decorated for the season. My sister and I would take the three wise men and set them on top of the piano on the other side of the room.
Most scholars guess that it might have been almost two years before the wise men arrived. Remember — King Herod put all male children under the age of 2 to death when the wise men told him a new king had been born.
As they followed the star to the house where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying, these two verses from the Bible describe the scene.
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11 NIV).
Over the next several days, let's look at five concepts — overjoyed, approaching, opened, gifts and worshipped — from these two simple verses that will give us insight into truly being wise this holiday season.
As they followed the star to the house, the wise men were overjoyed. Perhaps there was joy that the star had appeared again and they knew they were on the right path. Their journey had been long. It had been filled with challenges and difficulties. King Herod had not provided the help they sought. And now once again, they felt assurance through the presence of the star.
Perhaps there was joy in seeing a small child. Ever bump into a woman who is a new grandmother? You will see dozens of pictures before you can blink your eyes. Hope glistens in a child. The future seems bright. The possibilities are endless.
Perhaps there was joy in anticipating seeing one who would someday be King. A couple of times I have seen an athlete before he became a star or a singer before she became famous. A little part of me smiles knowing that I saw greatness before everyone else.
But perhaps these men were wise enough to perceive that when they looked into the eyes of this small boy they were somehow looking into the very eyes of God. Perhaps they had figured out that the promises that God had been offering for hundreds of years about a coming Messiah was now standing in their midst. Maybe they understood that they were always falling short of pleasing God, and that this gift was exactly what they needed, but far more than what they deserved.
My oldest daughter is gleeful when she receives gifts. She is such a humble young lady. She is truly appreciative when someone cares enough to give her a present. She could be given a stick of deodorant and she would honestly be thankful.
But when she receives a gift that is more than what she expected, better than what she anticipated, beyond what she had hoped for — a look comes in her eyes and she smiles with her entire being. She is genuinely overwhelmed with joy.
When she sings songs about Jesus at Christmas, she gets that look. I would call her “wise.”
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.