Three Kings

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-13
Ephesians 3:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

And the Soul Felt its Worth

Behold, there came wise men from the East.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Can you imagine a world gone mad? A world where children disown the most sacred values and customs of their families and ancestors? A world where decency has been displaced by the raw pursuit of pleasure and an "anything goes" ethos? A world where alien morals, or should I say "a-morals," guide both culture and personal conduct? A world in which even your native tongue is disappearing while a language foreign to you dominates? Contemplate what it might mean to watch the disintegration of ... not only your world, but of a lifeworld that had remained mostly intact for thousands of years, a lifeworld governed by the Stone Tablets of Moses stored in the Ark of the Covenant within the holiest part of the Temple, a world where the display of the Ten Commandments would be outlawed!

Picture all these things, and you will begin to picture what Bethlehem was like on the night of our Lord's birth, on the eve of Israel's destruction. For the Temple on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem, and all the outlying areas would be reduced to rubble only a few decades ahead. And seeing the coming desolation far in advance, Temple priests had removed the Ark of the Covenant to a secret place that it might not be carried off to pagan Rome with the rest of the holy spoils.

What I am sharing might make no sense to those who only know of modern-day Israel. Perhaps some do not know that Israel, as we call it today, was erased from the map of the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. and its people scattered to the several winds. It would take a world war and the will of the British Empire to issue a Balfour Declaration in 1917 setting aside a homeland for worldwide Judaism. It is a remarkable fact that we living in the twentieth century were the people to see the return of the Jews to Judea and Israel, which occurred in the mid-twentieth century, following their expulsion in the year 70. Yet, even today faithful Jews are a small minority in the modern, secular nation of Israel. Needless to say, the Temple has never been rebuilt, and the Ark of the Covenant has never been recovered.

Now, according to the science of the time, the starry heavens, called "the firmament," was understood to be a changeless domain of perfect truth. Meantime, beneath the firmament, the world below was seen as being corrupt, changeable, a restless place — notoriously rebellious, even ungovernable. Why, the invincible Roman Empire, every revolutionary and zealot knew, had its vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Yet, high above this chaos and strife and dust were the nearly silent precincts of the firmament. Perfectly governed and ruled and by One Whose name is incommensurable with the word invincible. The only sound heard here was the "music of the spheres" — perhaps not audible to human ears — as great crystalline balls with their starry points of light were guided in perfect rotations and frequented by angels. And wise men fixing their gaze on Heaven might easily follow the purposes of God through the vagaries and perils of this world.

Now, I do not dispute that the three, star-led wizards (as Milton called them) might have been Zoroastrian astronomers from Persia, as scholars today hypothesize. I do not dispute that their mathematical calculations might have rightly divined the purposes of God writ in the secret code of the firmament. But I remind myself and my friends that until the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council, the primary meaning of Scripture was understood to be spiritual, not literal. The literal meaning, also true, is a different level altogether. Or as St. Robert Bellarmine repeated in the seventeenth century, "So it turns out the Scriptures are not about how the heavens go, but rather how to go to Heaven." That is, God's moral purposes have their own hold on the world, beyond political, military, or other human purposes. And God's purposes continue to hold us in His hands. And the Scriptures continue to function as starry firmament guiding our individual lives today. As we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews, "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

May I share the thoughts of my own heart at this moment? Do we not recognize a kinship with the three, wise men who arrived at the crib of the Lord's Christ? They saw the world nigh to Bethlehem as it was — a corrupt Arab king ruling on the Judean throne; Roman soldiers everywhere to be seen; the language of the marketplace no longer Hebrew or Aramaic; young men aping foreign culture, even surgically reversing their circumcisions to conceal their religious heritage and their covenant with God and its holy obligations.

In a land of people who were becoming strangers to themselves, three wise men followed a star to draw near to the strangest riddle of all: the King of the Universe lying in the cold amongst barnyard animals whilst warmth and merriment proceeded apace at a nearby inn. These wise men fell to their knees laying before Him the kingliest of treasures and made obeisance, prostrating themselves before His Most Royal Presence. And once they had completed this most holy pilgrimage, rightly discharging their solemn obligations, they avoided all further contact with the fallen world around them, returning to the East "by another way.

But what if they somehow strayed in their journeys home through your town or city? What would they come to understand as they watched our television programming and surmised our culture and its values? What would they think of a world that has mostly and publicly disowned its God?

Needless to say, Scripture must be carefully discerned. It is not a manual, nor a book of cartoons communicating lifestyle tips. It is God's mysterious and beautiful will for our lives and is living and active. Scripture speaks into our lives ... the words of our own deliverance. Think today on three, mysterious holy men from the unknown East. They looked high above the noise and the disturbing images of this world that they might arrive to brink of perfect Truth. They knelt at the crib of that Truth. And they honored Him as the world would not. The greatest and most royal and most sacred privilege of our lives it to kneel before Him. He is the Lord of the Firmament and of your life. And He has brought you news ... of your own salvation.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.