In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.’ 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. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
There is something of the pantomime villain about Herod, you can almost hear the boos and hisses as he enters the stage. But let’s be honest, there is nothing funny about what he does.
Herod the Great was a political survivor, astute at seeing which way the wind was blowing and swapping sides to retain power. He was a clever and efficient ruler, but he was also a cruel tyrant. Jews never accepted him as their rightful king and this incensed him, and he set about violently subduing any potential opposition including murdering members of his own family. So, the arrival of these wise men with news of the birth of the king of the Jews unsurprisingly sent him into a downward spiral.
But what of these visitors from the east? We know very little about them other than they were persistent. Coming from the east we can assume they travelled from Babylon; a journey of some 1700 miles that would have taken four to five months along ancient roads and mountain passes. You can understand then that when they reached Jerusalem and saw a palace, obviously that was where a new king would be born.
We don’t know what they think when they finally reach the place of Jesus’ birth – whether they were surprised or horrified at such a humble beginning for a king, but when they enter they are in awe of the sight that greets them and so bow down and offer their gifts.
Whether we have been to the manger just once or many, many times, may we share the reaction of our royal visitors. May we too stand in awe, bow in adoration, offer all we have, and be open to the Word of God as to where we go next.
Emmanuel, God with us, from east and west and north and south, may the light of your love shine through us this day so that all may be touched by your loving presence. Amen
The Rev’d Branwen Rees, East Wales Regional Minister