A caravan of ambassadors from Persia, you say? Headed this way? Herod knew nothing about any foreign delegation scheduled to be in his territory. He was obviously perplexed by the sentries’ report. Even more disconcerting, these wealthy dignitaries were inquiring about the whereabouts of a new king of the Jews, whose star they claimed to be following. They must be ill-informed; unless there was an insurrection of some sort festering secretly among the Jews? How could foreigners from a distant land know about political intrigue in his territory when he hadn’t so much as a clue? When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And well he should be troubled. The citizenry as well. There would be hell to pay if a conspiracy was brewing right under his nose.
The visitors were scholars of the heavens, they told Herod as they conversed in the royal palace. Their studies had convinced them that a great king would be born of Jewish lineage. The celestial bodies were revealing that the time of his arrival was imminent. We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him, they stated. Worship him?! Panic suddenly seized Herod (though he tried mightily to conceal any emotions that would betray him). No one, no one worships any king but the great Caesar-king in Rome – not in this domain. Any talk – even rumors – of a Jewish king could bring down battalions from Rome with heavy-handed control, and that would surely be the end of Herod’s long, illustrious (if not ruthless) rule. What could these foreigners know of Jewish internal affairs, anyway?
Herod knew nothing of reading the stars. He doubted that the Jewish priests and religious scholars did either. But he could leave nothing to chance. He hastily convened the ranking Jewish academics and historians and ordered them to do an exhaustive search of the Temple archives for any reference that might relate even remotely to royal Jewish royal bloodline. Find out, he ordered, if there is any prophecy in the holy writings that foretells a world leader. And as added precaution, he “respectfully” requested the assistance of his foreign visitors: Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.
Herod continued ruminating. What strange curiosity could compel prosperous men to head out across the desert following some stellar alignment and a hunch that a leader of historic significance was about to emerge? It was all so baffling. So unsettling.
But before Herod could question the visitors further, they were already heading south out of Jerusalem. Their heavenly calculations led them to a stable in Bethlehem where the newborn king-child lay. They accomplished their mission, paid royal homage to the infant, and then slipped unnoticed out of the country, vanishing into the desert, leaving no trail to follow. Their only remaining traces were the gifts they left for the child. They disappeared, leaving Herod with his paranoia.
What a strange, secretive Kingdom this child was about to introduce! There would be no regal trappings to adorn this king. No public announcement of his arrival with the exception of a few shy unnamed shepherds and three wealthy benefactors from pagan Persia who wished to remain anonymous. Why no priests? No prophets? No holy people? Scribes spent entire lifetimes poring over the minutiae of prophecy, deciphering its hidden meanings, studying the signs, postulating the timing of the appearance. Why were they not told? Why not a Temple announcement? Why did three star gazers from an unwashed pluralistic culture get a personal invitation?
It is a mystery – a mystery that continues to baffle those of us who would align ourselves with this Kingdom. It is confusing just trying to figure out who is in and who is not, who receives an invitation and who doesn’t. We would expect that Godly leaders would get an invitation, the ones with spiritual gifts whose wisdom guides the church. And preachers – surely preachers. But what about all the rest of us common folk caught up in the busyness of life, who spend too much time watching TV and too little being a neighbor. What is the likelihood of our receiving an invitation? And what about irresponsible people like Carolyn, permanently damaged from a lifetime of destructive decisions, who calls me regularly to unload her burdens and to remind me that God loves me. What about the homeless ones who wander the city streets tormented by mental illness? Are they included in the Kingdom?
It seems that the most predictable thing about this Kingdom is that it is not predictable. It takes us off guard, keeps us off balance, makes us expectant but unsure of just what will happen. Its message seems to be: keep your eyes open; God is up to something and it’s going to really surprise you. It is likely to appear where we least expect it. And when it does appear, it may even be in retrospect, like looking into a rearview mirror. Nor can we rule anyone out – not foreigners with unorthodox beliefs nor illiterate shepherds, not irresponsible people struggling with addictions nor homeless vagrants with impaired minds. Absolutely no one can be ruled out.
Immanuel has come. God is moving among us. Watch for Him. And be amazed!