The Christmas That Almost Wasn't

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We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.


Journey of the Magi, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836—1902)

The state doesn’t like competition, and especially from religion.

The religious leaders in the time of Christ tried to use this against him. They led Jesus to Pilate and accused him, saying: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2). When Pilate sought to release the Lord the leaders protested, saying: “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12). During the ministry of Paul the Apostle, the leaders accused the Christians of doing “contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7).

Yet, some of the state’s greatest apologists are religious. Pastors and other Christian leaders who serve as spokesmen for Bush, the Republican Party, and the war in Iraq are fond of reciting their “obey the powers that be” mantra as if that somehow means that Christians should blindly follow whatever the president or the government says.

It is a good thing that the wise men that came bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the young Christ child were not part of the Religious Right.

Herod the king was troubled when the wise men came to Jerusalem seeking Jesus after they had seen “his star in the east” (Matthew 2:2). Herod sent for the wise men and “inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared” (Matthew 2:7). Then he commanded the wise men to go to Bethlehem and “search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also” (Matthew 2:8). We know from what Matthew records later that Herod wanted to do nothing of the kind. Joseph was told later that “Herod will seek the young child to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13). After the wise men saw the Christ child, worshipped him, and presented him with their gifts, they were “warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod” (Matthew 2:12).

The wise men were faced with a dilemma: Obey the government or obey the command of God. To them the decision was a no-brainer: “They departed into their own country another way” (Matthew 2:12). Like the Hebrew midwives, Saul’s footmen, the three Hebrew children, the prophet Daniel, and the apostles, the wise men refused to obey the state.

What would have happened to Christmas if they had followed the typical evangelical leader of today? I can just see the wise men extolling the virtues of Herod even when faced with evidence that he was against their religion and had blood on his hands. I can see them warning their followers to “obey the powers that be.” And what would the wise men do when Herod claimed to be pro-life yet at the same time ordered the slaughter of innocents (Matthew 2:16)? If they were dupes and lapdogs of the Republican Party, like so many Christians are today, the wise men would certainly defend Herod’s actions and label his opponents as traitors and anti-slaughter weenies. Then they would associate his opponents with that evil political party that was against Herod for purely political reasons.

The state is no friend of religion, and especially Christianity. Why do so many Christians defend, support, and make excuses for the state, its politicians, its legislation, and its wars? Why do they complain about the state allowing abortion, gay rights, and pornography, and then look to the state to enforce morality or fund faith-based initiatives? I suppose that only God himself knows.

As a Christian, I thank God for the courage of the wise men and the fact that Christmas was. Merry Christmas.

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