"Where Is He?"
I. We encounter this question twice in the opening verses of this passage.
A. The magi, who have followed his star unerringly up until now, begin "asking around" once they enter Jerusalem. How come?
1. If we were looking for a royal personage, we'd probably go to the royal capital. Logical, isn't it?
2. But our logic is not always a good guide. The magi were no doubt reasoning along these lines: baby king, power, wealth, ruler, capital, Jerusalem: yep, we must be getting close. Anybody seen him?
3. As soon as they traded heavenly guidance for their own preconceptions, they had to ask humans for directions. This king would be found in a dusty little hamlet, not in a palace. The star, guys, follow the star!
4. Okay, give them a break: maybe the star had not been so prominent during the long trek. They saw the star to begin with, and that set them on their quest. But the star did not necessarily "hold their hand" every inch of the way. Maybe it had simply appeared in the sky, giving them a general sense of where they were headed. That's usually the way it goes, isn't it? God guides us, but rarely do we get a lot of detail ahead of time. A call or vocation comes to us, and we try to follow where we think we're being called to go, but a lot of blanks have yet to be filled in. Sometimes, even when the sense of call is there, we wonder if we're on the right track.
5. God answered their inquiry in a roundabout way, through the scripture -thanks to Herod, the "theologian"!
B. Herod also asked, "Where is he?" But he had a different motive entirely.
1. As soon as he got wind of the inquiring Magi, and the cosmic importance of the birth, Herod concluded that this just might be the Messiah. This would make Herod the first one to recognize Jesus as such. He was not amused.
2. When it came to perceiving possible threats to his rule, Herod was a champ. In Bible basics, he was a little slow. He even had to convene a panel of experts to tell him where the Messiah was supposed to be born. For him, that question should have been, "Minor Prophets for $100 please, Alex". But Herod didn't know it!
3. He was savvy enough to realize what was at stake. Dismissing the assembled scripture wonks, he spoke to the foreigners in secret. Maybe he feared there might be some among his own religious pro's who would actually welcome the Messiah's birth. "I don't want my own power structure to get wise to this quite yet". He shared the prophetic tidbit with the Magi and sent them on their way to Bethlehem. "Don't forget to write! I want come and adore His Royal Cuteness, too"! Right. First you'd better tend to the daily roster of innocent people slated for execution, Herod.
4. Herod is easy to hate. We have our Osama Bin Who?, they had Herod, the Evil One. Glad I'm not mean and nasty like that! Or am I? There is a Herod in each of us. We don't exactly do backflips when we hear that a new worker is aiming for our job. We might even try to set the record straight, and subtly let others know, this upstart is not all he's cracked up to be. Gossip and slander can serve our purposes very well-but only as a last resort. We can also go into a pretty good rage if circumstances require. If we possessed the kind of life-and death authority Herod had, no telling what we might do. There's a part of us that asks, Where is He? In order that we might extinguish his birth in our lives. Sometimes our religious self is a sham, just as Herod's was.
C. "Where is he", asked the Magi, and Herod, each for their own reasons. The families ripped to shreds by Herod's terrorism must have asked that, in some way. Maybe Joseph and Mary wondered about it on the dangerous flight to Egypt and back. Have you ever wondered, "Where is He?"
1. People at Ground Zero have asked that. People on the way to the gas chambers asked that. People who have lost their life savings to leaders they trusted are asking that. People who put their kids to bed hungry have wondered. People whose marriage is falling apart; people who have just been given a terminal diagnosis; people who've lost their kids to addiction; people who have seen things in war nobody should ever have to see. "Where is he?"
2. But such a question is not only a cry of despair. Sometimes, it is a spiritual turning point, the awakening of hope. When we hunger for meaning, or acceptance, or we just want to make a difference by helping someone, "Where is He?"can be a sign that God's light is coming into our lives, just as it entered the Magi's lives so long ago. Christ's star is rising within us. Our seeking God may be God seeking us.
3. Jesus himself has more answers for us to ponder. Where is he, we ask? In Mary's arms, of course. But also, "wherever two or three are gathered...." That's where he is. "Lord, when did we see you?" ...."Whenever you fed the hungry, visited the imprisoned, housed the homeless, comforted the traumatized, listened to the young, cared for the old, tried to heal the earth: that was me! That's when you saw me. I was THERE". And, "disciple-makers, responding to my commission, as you go, I'm there. I am with you always, right to the very end."
4. These are the words of assurance the risen Lord gives us. It's okay to ask, where is He? But his words raise another question for each of us to think about: Where am I? In relation to Christ; in relation to the people in my life, the purpose and commitments I have, Where am I? May God be richly present to us as we consider these things.