The Gospel story is familiar to us. It’s the story of the Wise Men who traveled from the Orient bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the most precious of gifts to be offered to the Christ child. The recorded story tells us that they followed a most brilliant star that had appeared in the solar system. They knew that this star was the unusual astral phenomenon that would herald this glorious event of a Jesus’ birth. And so these Wise Men, also called Magi or Kings set about their journey, determined to pay homage to this newborn King who had come to save His people.
But the Wise Men, after presenting their gifts, went a different route and so the message of God’s gift to the world went with them. The message was about God, who so loved the world that this gift of Jesus was offered, and whoever believed in this child Jesus would have eternal life. That’s quite a story to tell. It’s a story that has been told throughout the centuries and continues to be told.
The Gospel writer Matthew used this story to share with the Jews that indeed they had a mission to the Gentiles. By this very birth and early visitation of men from the East, God had been revealed for the world to see. No longer could their community or any community become so self-focused that they ignore the remainder of God’s people. This, indeed, was a new revelation for a faith community whose history had been wrought with trials and who now had some sense of stability and wanted to keep it that way, caring for their own kind.
God is revealed to us each day. Sometimes we notice — sometimes we don’t. How we view our lives and the world about us in large part determines whether or not we see an active God who calls us into relationship and partnership in a world broken by hate, wars, prejudices and fear.
We do know that the call of God in Christ is to be reconcilers, bridge builders, peacemakers. That is a tall order when we often feel so inadequate. But we have, in the past few months, as individuals and a nation, realized how vulnerable and subject to atrocities we are. We now, in an intimate way, share in the lives of God’s people in other parts of the world who have lived with tragedy daily. Putting the pieces of our lives back together again may be an extended process. But the God of people of faith, the One who was even before the beginning of time, moves before us still, lighting our path if we are willing to risk a new revelations that comes through encountering the other. Today, we find ourselves once again looking to the East to people who bring wisdom and leadership to the world stage – people who have their particular gifts to offer for understanding and peace on earth. We cannot do it alone for we do not live unto ourselves.
We have questioned and examined the religions of others whom we now consider partners in working for understanding and peace. We do need, as individuals and a nation, partners to help us build the bridges to a lasting peace on earth. We do need people of other religions and faith who comprehend God’s love enough to share in the mission of bringing hope and a mutual respect for all the people of God. It’s the arduous task of the committed, those who use whatever gift or skill that they have to the glory of God and will witness this in their lives — in small and random acts and in those that may make the headlines.
And how precious are the different gifts each person and community has to offer. God’s infinite wisdom gave each of us a special gift. For some, it may be writing, for others it is music, yet others a soothing voice or gentle smile. The list is as long as there are people who are willing to make the journey to meet the Christ.
Henry Van Dyke has written a story called, The Fourth Wise Man, also an Oriental King, who came from the farthest part of Gaul, a greater distance than the three we hear of in the Gospel. In other words, he heralded from the other side of the world.
His kingdom lay near the sea and he was exposed to the many wonders of nature. This King, like those in scripture, was made aware that the Kings of Kings would come down to earth and that this was the One hoped for to bring light and peace to the world. And so the King set out to follow a star that would lead him to this newborn.
He chose as his gift for the infant, three rare pearls which he had inherited from his ancestors. One was like pink mother of pearl. Its beautiful heart-shape harbored the beat of all that causes of joys and sorrows in the world. Indeed, it was a live pearl that represented that which was closest to the King’s heart; his emotions, his joys and sorrows, his hopes and his dreams.
The second pearl was green. In it could be found the reflection of all natural things of creation: the sea and its habitation, grasses and hillsides. In the giving of this green pearl, all of the King’s possessions including everything that he could admire would offered — his love as a measure of God’s love in God’s gift of the child.
The third pearl was transparent. In its nebulous existence, one could see the right path to follow and solutions to problems. Life was no longer complicated nor were relationships. In giving this white pearl, the King was offering to the Christ child, his soul and all the goodness that the King possessed.
So holding tightly to his treasure box, the King set out upon his journey. This journey was quite long as he encountered unexpected delays, but he arrived at last to the country where the star stood still. He learned from the villagers that the wailing and moaning heard throughout the town was because of Herod’s degree to kill all male children under the age of two. While sitting in the inn, a woman dashed inside, clutching her child with Herod’s henchmen in pursuit. The King asked to trade the child’s life for the pink pearl. After viewing this precious gem, Herod’s men snatched the pearl and fled, realizing that they would never have an opportunity of a gift so rare.
The King continued on his journey not quite understanding why the star could no longer be seen. He soon came upon soldiers taking away a thief. When he bargained fro the prisoner’s life, the soldiers wanted to hear none of it until the green pearl was presented. The soldiers quickly realized the value of such a pearl and handed over the prisoner to the King.
For a long time after this the King continued to look for the King of Kings carrying his one white pearl that was left. As he approached the City of Peace, a young girl ran to him and fainted. The men were planning to stone her to death for refusing to marry the one chosen for her.
When the King held his last pearl before the men, they could not refuse such a pearl. Lust for its beauty and value overcame their desire to pursue the girl any longer. Just as the last pearl was given up, the King heard quite a commotion and noticed that a man was being taken outside the city to be crucified. When the man turned his face towards the King, the King knew that this was the One that he had been looking for many years. And look at what was happening to him.
The King had nothing to offer him or him persecutors in exchange for His life. He had given everything on the way. But on the face of Jesus shone the three pearls. They appeared richer and more vibrant than when the King carried them in his treasure box. Then He heard the Son of God say to him, “Go in peace, as for your gift, I truly did receive it.”
The gifts that we bring to the Christ child and offer to God are those that we give to others as we journey along the way. Any offering that is given with love and care are precious in the sight of our Lord. We have seen such treasures offered from adults and children, often with children leading the way: blankets collected for the homeless and cold, money from piggy banks and allowances to help buy food for the hungry, precious toys chosen from the toy box to share with a child victimized by a fire. They are treasured gifts to the Lord.
May we continue to search our hearts in the spirit of Christmas, pooling our offerings, priceless as treasure, with all people of faith. In the words of William Chatterton Dix, “may we with holy joy, pure and free from sin’s alloy. All our costliest treasures bring to Christ our heavenly King.” Like the Wise Men, we too will find Him in the manger of humanity. When we see the face of God in others, we will go another way, for our hearts will be changed and we will be different. We have a wonderful story to proclaim of the love of God as manifested in Jesus the Christ, light of the world.