So what’s the general consensus on crystal balls?
Not sure how you feel? Perhaps this unlikely story will shed more light on this mystical topic.
On this third Monday of Advent, let’s talk about the Three Wise Men, or Magi, or Kings, integral characters in the story of Christmas. Let’s see … Who were they and were there really just three? And were they a part of the infant nativity or did they arrive significantly later?
All good questions. But not all that critical to the story, and not even answered very clearly in the Scripture. So we’ll just call them the Magi.
In Matthew 2 we learn that Herod did not take the news of Jesus’s birth very well. No surprise. He was a power-hungry ruler who had no patience with anyone who threatened his rule, baby or not.
So when the scholarly men from the East came to inquire about the newborn King of the Jews, Herod snookered them into thinking he was a good guy, asking them to share whatever details they discovered so that he could “worship” Jesus as well.
Truth was, Herod had no intention of doing anything other than crushing the opposition – even though it was in the form of a mere infant. He wanted to make sure that he made quick work of killing the coming Messiah, before He could cause any more trouble.
When the Magi arrived and saw Jesus for the first time, they were truly overwhelmed being in His presence and immediately worshiped Him. I’m guessing that will be the same reaction we all feel when we meet Jesus for the first time. It will look different for each of us – some will kneel, some will run into His arms, some will hide from His splendor, and some, most likely me included, will just break down in tears of gratitude and love.
The Magi were not confused or uncertain. Although it is hard for us to imagine being guided to the exact right spot by a star, there is no question that they had no question. They presented him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh, elaborate and costly gifts fit for a king.
And then it gets interesting.
After visiting the family, the Magi were told in dreams not to return to Herod with any information. We don’t know more than that, except that they mapped out another route home and ignored the requests of the man willing to kill even his own family members who seemed a threat to his power.
Joseph was given an unsettling dream as well, being told by God to leave Bethlehem, go to Egypt, and wait for further instructions. Joseph did not hesitate and escaped under the cover of darkness.
And then, when Jesus is safe, we read the worst part of the Christmas story. Herod, a madman without a heart or conscience, realizing the Magi had betrayed him, ordered that all baby boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside, under the age of two be found and killed, the horrifying fulfillment of a prophesy made by Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 31) hundreds of years before.
So now the questions start to emerge. How could such good news, the gospel story, the arrival of the Messiah, King of the Jews – Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – be tied for all eternity to such dreadful and vicious loss of precious life?
My questions are not about the goodness of God in an evil world. I’m not here to debate the question How could God let something like this happen? Not that I’m not curious – it’s just that something else is on my mind.
That crystal ball.
Don’t you just wonder what would have happened if the Magi had access to a glimpse of another future – a second dream or soothsayer that told them of Herod’s hidden plan? What if they had been offered a fork in the road… one leading to the death of one holy child that had been anticipated since humans first roamed the earth… the other leading to death for countless babies killed by order of a merciless ruler.
What if they had known that by protecting Jesus they would be sentencing baby boys they’d never met?
Not like when majors and generals, in the rigors of war, must make crucial and fatal decisions about where to send troops and what must be sacrificed – positions of leadership for which they signed up. No, the scholarly men from the East were most likely lifelong students, curious, hoping to discover something they had studied in the ancient scrolls and religious writings from centuries long past.
The thought of affecting the life or death of little boys and changing the future was probably nowhere on their radar.
And as I reread Matthew 2, recognizing that the Magi were given only the information and instructions God thought they needed – or could handle, I discovered the beauty and comfort of not having the ability to see my future – or yours.
I have a strong sense that knowledge would be, for the most part, too much for me to bear. I have a hard enough time making sure that I don’t accidentally set up booby-traps for people with my wonky decisions. I definitely don’t want to have the responsibility of saving the future.
And the next time I say to myself Oh, if only I knew how this was going to turn out, I hope I’ll remember the words of Jesus …
So do not worry about tomorrow;
it will have enough worries of its own.
There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.
Matthew 6:34 (Good News Translation)
So here it is… an unusual blessing and encouragement, indeed, on this third Monday of Advent, that, like the Three Wise Men, Magi, or Kings, you have the gift of not knowing.