The shepherds and the wise men...
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - January 2, 2014 - 12:00am

Strange, but the greatest news ever told to man were not given to the important and influential people at that time, 2,000 years ago. Instead, the good news was proclaimed by angels on that very night to a ragtag group of shepherds out on their nightly chore of keeping watch over their sheep. They probably were hired hands or maybe, the children of the owner, but their job is not what you call an enviable one. But on this one dark night, they were told the Good News, and they went to see Jesus and worshipped Him.

Another unexpected group of people were also foretold of Christ's coming, and they came to see Him, not at the manger as traditionally portrayed, but in their house sometime later. We always imagine the manger scene with the shepherds and the "magi" or wise men paying homage, but actually the latter came at a later time, though they knew of this event earlier. They were guided by the "star in the east," that we now fondly call the Star of Bethlehem which we put at the top of Christmas trees, though I doubt if there were Christmas trees then.

Maybe, we should learn a lesson or two from these two groups of unexpected guests, because through them, God has proclaimed His message. This was at a time when the "children of God", the Jews of Israel were waiting expectantly for the "Messiah," in an era when they were in bondage under Rome. Well, in fact they were in bondage over most of their entire history - under the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Greeks, then later in Egypt. They had self-rule for a while under the Hebrew kings Saul, David and Solomon, but were subjugated again later, until being ruled by proxy under the Roman Empire.

To a race that was more often oppressed and fighting for freedom, the yearning for a "savior" was intense, maybe more on the physical realm rather than spiritual. But to the nation hungry for salvation, the news was not given to the spiritual leaders of that time but to lowly shepherds, who, as Jews likewise, knew of the prophecy and understood the message. Still, it was very surprising and unusual for them to leave their sheep unguarded out in the field and came to the manger to see Jesus and proclaimed what was told to them by the angel.

The other group is even stranger, for they came from a faraway land, and were not even Jews. No, they were not kings as traditionally known, nor did the Scriptures say there were three of them. And they came to see Jesus sometime later, in the house in Bethlehem, but they knew of Christ's coming earlier. They were the "magi," roughly translated as "wise men," but with the same word translated elsewhere in the Scriptures as astronomers, astrologers, or sorcerers. From the same root word we get our modern "magic," or "magician," and in those days, there certainly was no definite demarcation between science and supernatural studies.

They came "from the east" and if we look at the map at that time, they probably were learned scholars from Persia, India, or Central Asia where Genghis Khan ruled supreme a thousand years later. Of the three general areas, Persia is the nearest, but it will take months to reach Jerusalem even from there. They set out when the "star" appeared and reached Israel after Jesus was born. Herod, the Jewish king installed by the Romans, secretly asked them when the "star" first appeared, and probably computed that they travelled about two years, which is why he sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem, two years old and under.

These guys were distinguished foreigners, non-Jews, and probably Zoroastrians, but when they learned of the coming of the "King of the Jews," they stopped whatever they were doing, started a long, unforgiving journey to a foreign land, by foot or on camel, in order to worship Him. The shepherds in the field have their jobs to keep, but upon hearing the message of the birth of Jesus, they stopped what they were doing, left their flock to see Jesus, and they went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. Today we have parties and give gifts to each other, demand a bonus, and go on a continuous merry-making interrupted only by frenzied shopping.

Maybe, we should also stop at what we are busy about, and reflect on the message of Christ and worship Him, just like the shepherds and the wise men. Sometimes, we feel that Christmas is not Christmas without the modern-day trimmings that come with it. But the real Christmas is when we hear the message of salvation, stop whatever we're doing, bow down and worship God.

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