Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wise Men were Wise Indeed

There is a lot of myth and legend surrounding Christmas, and the images we have of the birth of the Messiah are just as likely to come from the gospel of Hallmark as they are the gospel of Matthew or Luke. One of those myths is the belief that three kings traveled from the Orient to worship the baby Jesus.

Nowhere in original translations is there a record of three kings. Matthew’s gospel says, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. (Matthew 2:1)

These wise men weren’t kings. They belonged to a gentile sect of learned men called magi. From the days of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, gentiles had heard prophecies that during the rule of the Roman empire, there would come a deliverer from Israel who would reign as king of kings.

There is also no reason to believe there were only three magi. The magi are referenced in other ancient texts besides the Bible, and chances are there were many more who journeyed out to find their king. These foreigners must have made quite a spectacle as their caravan came trudging into Jerusalem, dusty and dirty from traveling across the desert.

Because, these wise men were looking for a king, they went straight to the palace and asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

Their inquiry must have come as quite a surprise to Herod, who was insanely possessive of his throne. “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled.” (Matthew 2:3)

Herod seethed, knowing that somewhere a king had been born who might threaten his authority for “when he had gathered all of the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.” (Matthew 2:4)

Sporting his best poker face, the oily King Herod “inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.” He sent the wise men to Bethlehem, and you can almost hear the contempt as he says “Go and search diligently for the young child and when ye have found him, bring me word again so that I may come and worship him also.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Whatever it was that guided the wise men, it is unlikely they saw a star in the sky, for they followed it directly to a house, (not a stable) where the young family was then living. Having traveled many months, not days as the Christmas legend implies, their quest was complete.

These foreigners from a distant land must have truly been open to the God of Israel because “being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:12)

When King Herod realized that the magi were not going to return, he flew into a rage. Based on when the magi reported first seeing the star, Herod ordered the execution “...of all children that were in Bethlehem, and in all of the coasts thereof, from two years old and under.” (Matthew 2:13)

But God had already warned Joseph in a dream, “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt...for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)

These wise men were truly remarkable. Their belief in the God of the Israelites and their willingness to travel to the ends of the earth to find this king of kings rightfully places them right at the heart of the meaning of Christmas.

From my home to yours, I wish you a merry one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Female Vermilion Flycatcher

I saw a bird on one of the neighbor's rooftops. Its size caught my eye because it was too big to be one of the common sparrow or finch residents. As it flitted off its perch and then back again, I knew it was some kind of flycatcher. A quick cross-reference and its a female Vermilion Flycatcher. I've seen the brilliant male Vermilion Flycatchers (They put cardinals to shame!) both last year and this year in a yard near the office.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

This weekend I heard a new bird while I was sitting out on the patio. When I finally spotted it, I made note of its markings including, "This guy has a yellow butt." As it turns out, his name really fits! This bird is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Since I've moved to the Southwest, I've found it interesting to discover how many variations there are within a species because of interbreeding and regional differences. That makes identifying birds out here a bit tricky. Back East, most birds look and sound pretty much the same.