At last, our wise men show up. Although our manger scenes usually include them, we can see from this passage they probably don’t arrive until Jesus is several months old. They meet him, Mary and Joseph in a house in Bethlehem and give their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Then, because they’re warned in a dream, they slide out of the country on the down low and avoid Herod the king. I just wrote that because I wanted to write “on the down low” in a sermon. But they do sneak back home, even though Herod has invited them back so he can join them in worshipping the new king.
What exactly is the warning? Is it explicit about Herod’s plans, or is it a more general caution that the king isn’t playing straight with them? Either way, the wise men decide to trust the apparently divine warning they receive, and be a little bit more skeptically about the human promise Herod gave them.
Obviously, that makes sense when you’re dealing with a murdering psycho like Herod. You want to keep him at arm’s length, and you’re willing to add a few thousand miles in for good measure. Herod’s agenda is evil because Herod’s evil. But it’s different because he’s the king, not a worshipper like the wise men.
We as the church and as Christians have a clear agenda for what God wants us to do – in the Methodist church, we phrase it in our mission statement as “Make disciples of Jesus Christ.” We say this because we think that a lot of the other things that Jesus calls us to do are taken care of by our being disciples and helping other people become and live like disciples as well. The poor and hungry and sick will be cared for and the gospel will be preached.
That’s our agenda. Nobody else’s. No one else is called to do it. Groups that help folks out are doing good work, but it’s our job as the church to help folks out as a part of our Great Commission.
See, those groups – businesses and media and such – they aren’t the church, so they have their own agendas. So do other groups and agencies, like our government and our schools. Our schools are supposed to educate children so they can learn how to take their place in our society when they’re on their own. Government is supposed to…well, there’s no way to say anything here without starting a fight, so I’ll let you make up your own mind.
These groups and agencies and institutions have their own goals, and some of these goals are good. Education, for example, is a high and worthy calling. But it’s not the same as proclaiming the gospel and worshipping God, and it isn’t supposed to be.
As Christians, we take our faith into the different places we go in our lives, and we hope it governs how we act as businesspeople, students, citizens, etc. We hope it governs how we act, though. It won’t always govern how those institutions act, though, and sometimes there are consequences.
Think about the respect paid to former President Gerald Ford in his memorial services, when people remarked on his honesty and decency. People focused a lot of attention on his pardon of Richard Nixon, a very controversial decision at the time.
This is just my opinion, but I see that pardon as one of the most Christian acts ever taken by a modern president, both in its character and its impact. I think it parallels the pardon God offers us.
Richard Nixon didn’t deserve a pardon – he probably wasn’t guilty of everything everyone said he was, but he had his hand in enough of it that he didn’t deserve the get out of jail free card he receieved.
Neither do I. I have sinned, against God and God’s people, and I can’t claim otherwise.
The machinery of government was winding up to get ready for full-scale investigations and trials of Nixon’s misdeeds. Months, maybe years spent digging and getting dirt, making sure that Nixon got gotten, but good.
The pardon put an end to all that. No trial. No revenge. No punishment. We had no choice as a nation except to move forward.
God deals with me similarly, except I might be a little better at confessing my wrongs than former President Nixon was. “I goofed, God. I did wrong, I broke your laws, I hurt your people, I disrespected you.” God says, “I know. But I pardoned you, so now what do you want to do? Keep talking about the past, or move forward?”
A Christian act, done by a man in public service, using his faith to inform how he should do his job.
And he lost the election. The political agenda of retribution clashed with the Christian agenda of forgiveness. It almost always will, and so thanks be to God that he has chosen to live out that agenda, to offer us what the world can’t.