Whatever we call them, three wise men – or just wise men, as the gospel says – or three kings, as is common practice in most middle and eastern European countries, fact is that they must have been men of certain means. Travelling vast distances was a costly undertaking, not to mention the precious gifts they were bringing. They must have been men of some social standing also. Entering a foreign city and start asking around wasn’t a poor man’s privilege. And how else can their visit to Herod’s palace be explained. Considering the man’s paranoia that must have been quite a rare occasion.
Visiting that palace was a huge mistake to begin with of course, but who can blame them? Isn’t that the place where we all would expect a royal child to be born? That is the course of affairs we are most familiar with. And knowing God as a strong and determined creator of things it could easily have happened that way. Except… it didn’t. This royal child Jesus was not born in a golden cradle with blankets of the finest wool and silk because it wasn’t meant to be.
A few weeks ago I told you about the child that would come to bring change, to turn the world upside down. Precisely for this reason he had to be born among commoners. Not secluded from the world and every day life but right in the middle of it.
How right and natural it might seem for this young king to be born in a palace, it’s even more right and logical that he isn’t, for the turning upside down is not limited to Jesus’ working years. The whole program of ‘last shall be first’ and ‘blessed are the poor’ is not something that is launched all of a sudden by a man in his early thirties. It is the essence of a massive plan, made up long, long before he was born. A splendid plan of redemption and salvation that many people, his parents among them, had so vigorously dreamt of and hoped for.
The turning upside down isn’t something to be waited for any longer. It began way earlier with the choosing of Mary and Joseph as his parents, and Bethlehem, the royal town of David, as his place of birth.
The welcoming of simple, poor and downtrodden people is not something for later days, it is happening now, and not in a palace but here, out in the real world where the real people live.
Obviously the three wise men that came from the east are open to this upside-down mindset. They must have been. Why else would they have left the safety of their home in the first place to wander off in a faraway land by merely following a star? And not just that, they are open to having their own world turned upside down. They enter the place where the child lays and kneel before him. Among the common people, the paupers, the farmers and the shepherds they kneel.
Whenever stories tell us about two kinds of people, it’s almost always about making choices. Myths, parables, fairy tales are precisely about that. The two persons, or groups of people, we meet in the story represent the sides we can choose from. The choices are, needless to say, of a serious nature. It’s not a cake-or-icecream kind of choice. It is about what profession to take up, whom to marry, which road to take, right or left. And quite often it is about whether or not wanting to move at all, as is the case with Herod the king in Jerusalem.
Unlike the three wise men who came from god knows where, Herod isn’t the least bit eager to even leave his palace. A prisoner of his own might and wealth, he distrusts the outside world, because that’s where things change, all the time. And Herod, the king, fears change more than anything. Of the two positions one can take in stories like this, he most definitely represents the person who maintains the status quo. Or at least he tries to. Whereas the three wise men crossed an entire continent in search of change.
Now where do we put ourselves, in the face of this choice? Are we with Herod, with the status quo-people, the remainers, the comfort-zoners? Or are we off with the seekers, the dreamers, the wanderers and the wonderers? Longing for a brand new understanding of divinity, humanity and of life itself. Following stars and angels, trusting our own hearts desire to finally, finally find a world turned upside down and a life worth living.
Next week the last issue of the Christmas cycle.