Of shepherds and kings

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete - The Freeman

In many Filipino homes, we often see a tableau representing the nativity scene or the birth of Jesus Christ, come Christmastime. Traditionally, it’s depicted as an animal sty with the baby Jesus and his earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, some shepherds and three kings. It illustrates the lowly circumstances of our Savior’s birth, though it probably is not an accurate picture of that midnight clear.

The odd “addition” to that humble midnight celebration are the three kings, who were really not kings but were “magi,” nowhere in the Holy Scriptures did it say there were three, and they arrived to see Jesus, months, or even years, after he was born. They were not present when Jesus was born. But why did they come in the first place? To see Jesus, of course, and see who it is who would be the Messiah. But is this because of the magi’s own volition or because God himself wanted it and told them so? The more spiritual question would be: Did man reach out to God or isn’t the truth really that it is God who reached out to man, as far as advent is concerned?

God did not tell the magi to welcome Jesus --they wanted to investigate that astronomical phenomenon. Magi can be roughly translated as “wise men,” the same word translated elsewhere in the scriptures as astronomers, astrologers, or sorcerers. From the same root word, we get our modern words “magic” and “magician”. They came “from the east”, learned scholars from Persia, India, or Central Asia, and would have known many of the Jewish traditional beliefs from the latter’s Babylonian captivity and exile centuries before. When they saw the “star” they searched for that supernatural event to learn more.

It was not so for the shepherds. They were sleepily keeping watch over their flock that pitch-black autumn night, waiting for it to dawn, when “an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” (Luke 2:9). They were frightened, of course, but the angel told them of the birth of the Savior and gave them directions where to find him. Charles Spurgeon once said, “It has been truly remarked that the shepherds did not miss their way; they came to Christ at once, while the wise men, even with a star to guide them, yet missed their way, and went to Jerusalem instead of to Bethlehem, and enquired at the palace of Herod, instead of at the stable where the Christ was born.”

The essence of Christmas, and of the entire Christian faith for that matter, is that of God reaching out to man and not the other way around. Our salvation was always God’s initiative and priority. Sinful as we are, we always tend to do things our own way, by our own will. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way …” (Isaiah 53:6). By God’s own volition, he reached out to us, and offered us salvation through Jesus Christ, a free gift, but the most precious ever given eternal life.


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