By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him.” — Matthew 2:2
Questions of Christology
Let me invite you to reflect with me on the question raised by the Wise Men from the East, who were searching for the newborn King of the Jews as recorded by Matthew the Gospel writer. “Where is he?” they asked. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt. 2:2).
This searching question of the Wise Men is an appropriate and relevant question to also ask ourselves this Advent and Christmas Season; For it is very much possible for us to have gone through all the motions of traditional Advent and Christmas celebrations, and yet we have not really encountered the One who has been born King of the Jews.
Perhaps, like the Wise Men, we have also seen His star, the sign of His coming, but probably we are yet to have a personal encounter with the newborn King. The star we have seen this Advent and Christmas Season may not be the kind of star seen by the Wise Men from the East.
The star we have seen might have come to us in the form of lanterns hanging in our homes, or in the form of blinking lights that have adorned private homes, public buildings, and commercial establishments, or it might have come to us in the form of Christmas carols played in the air, or in the form of children caroling on the streets or of people exchanging Christmas text messages, Christmas cards, or Christmas gifts.
All these things might have served as our star, the sign that the King has been born! But the question is: where is he? Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? Where can we possibly find him today?
In the Medieval Period, theologians had debated endlessly on the nature of the Christ. And the question they were raising was the question as to what is the Christ? Is He human or divine? Some insisted that He is human, while others claimed that He is divine. But the church affirmed officially that Christ is both human and divine. That however did not resolve the Christological issue, because it did not seriously take into consideration the work of the Christ.
The meaning and significance of the Christ could only be found in the work of the Christ. Jesus was called the Christ simply because he “did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mk.10:45). In fact, the divinity and humanity of the Christ were shown concretely in the work of the Christ. Hence, the question “Where is the Christ?” is a relevant question to ask in our attempts to understand Christ’s presence in our world today.
Where to find Christ today
To answer the Christological question “Where is the Christ today?” we have to start looking into where he was born, where he grew up, and where he gave his life to redeem many people. This is where our Biblical story of Jesus’ birth recorded by Matthew would be of great help to us (cf. Mt. 2:1-12)
The Wise Men from the East who visited Jesus when he was born were believed to be influential men of learning and of authority. They were the so-called skilled scientists of their day: skilled in the field of philosophy, of science, of medicine, and astrology. They were also believed to be the priestly order of Persia, the ministers and advisers to the Persian rulers. But what is most important to emphasize about the Wise Men is the fact that they were serious seekers for the truth. No wonder they had traveled all the way to Jerusalem searching for the newborn King!
In those ancient days, people believed that they could foretell the future from the stars, and they believed that a person’s destiny was settled by the star under which he was born. It is not difficult to see how that belief arose. The stars pursue their unvarying courses; they represent the order of the universe. Then, if suddenly there appeared some brilliant star, if the unvarying order of the heavens was broken by some special phenomenon, it did look as if God was breaking into His own order, and announcing some special event.
Of course, we cannot really tell what star the Wise Men saw. But nevertheless, it was their professional task to watch the heavens, and some heavenly brilliance spoke to them about the entry of a king into the world. And so, from the East they arrived in Jerusalem searching for the newborn king, desperately asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”
Perhaps, this is the same question we are asking today. Where is he who has been born, not only king of the Jews, but King of kings and Lord of lords? Where is he who has been born the Savior of the world, the One who will bring light to our darkened lives? Where is He in our life as a nation and as God’s people? Where is He today?
Star in the East
Reflecting on the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth written by Matthew, we could glean some answers to this question (Mt.2:1-12). First of all, the story is telling us that the newborn King could not be found in the star itself, although the star guided the Wise Men to the newborn King.
Nature religions claim that the natural world is God Himself. Hence, their adherents worship nature: the moon, the sun, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the stones. We may say this is the religion of the ancient past. Yet wittingly or unwittingly this somehow still finds expressions in the way we practice our faith today. It is concretely shown, for instance, in the way materialism has infected our Christmas celebrations.
As one writer rightly puts it, “Christmas has come a long way from Bethlehem, where the idea first originated. Today, Christmas trees come from Taiwan, ornaments from Hong Kong, and the lights from Japan.” The material world may guide us to the newborn King, but it should not take the place of our worship and adoration that is reserved only for the King of kings. Indeed, the newborn King could not be found in the star itself. He could be found somewhere else.
City of Jerusalem
Moreover, the Biblical story is also telling us that the newborn King could not be found in the City of Jerusalem, the so-called center of religious, economic, and political powers in those days.
The Wise Men thought that they could find the newborn King in the City of Jerusalem. But to their own dismay, he was nowhere to be found at the very center of religious, economic, and political powers. What they got was just a word, a word from the chief priests and scribes through King Herod, saying that the newborn King was born somewhere else, not in Jerusalem.
It is important to note that oftentimes, like the Wise Men, we also come to the centers of religious, economic, and political powers of today to search for the Christ, for the newborn King. Say, for instance, we come to the church to find the newborn King. But sometimes also to our own dismay, the Christ the newborn King is nowhere to be found. Sometimes what we only get is the faith and the assurance from the preacher that the newborn King is born indeed! That he is alive! But that he is to be found somewhere else; that he is to be born somewhere else, not inside the church.
Little town of Bethlehem
And so, finally, the Biblical story is also telling us that the newborn King was found in the little town of Bethlehem.
He was born to a poor, ordinary couple by the name of Mary and Joseph, who, according to the Lukan account, had been struggling to pay the taxes imposed upon them by a powerful imperial decree. This couple gave birth to their own son in a lowly manger, because they had no place in the inn (Lk.2). And if we would continue reading Matthew’s Gospel, we would discover that Mary and Joseph had to escape to Egypt and lived the life of refugees or evacuees, constantly fearing for their own lives and that of their own son, all because of King Herod’s lust for power.
I don’t think it is just a coincidence that the newborn king was born this way. I do believe God had intended it to be this way. And God seems to be saying to us that if we want to encounter Christ the newborn King, we have to discover him among the poor and the lowly in the Bethlehems of today.
We cannot find the new born King in the comfortable palatial homes of the Herods and Pilates of our time, not even in the sacred confines of today’s Annas and Caiaphas, the so-called guardians of religion and morality. Perhaps, not even in beautiful resorts where people on holidays would enjoy themselves.
God is saying to us that we can find the new born King in today’s little towns of Bethlehem – among the poor people of our day, who, like Mary and Joseph, are also victims of unjust taxation; we can find Him among the many refugees or evacuees in our own time who are also desperately struggling for their own survival, because of a senseless war going on not of their own making, or because of a devastating typhoon that ravaged their communities.
Yes, we can find the new born King among the victims of political harassment and victims of corporate greed in our time; who are in constant fear for their lives and their future. I do believe that the new born King is there present with them, giving them hope in the midst of hopelessness, giving them life in the midst of death.
And so, if we are seriously searching today for the newborn King, then we have to go where He can be found. And like the Wise Men from the East, let us also bow down before Him and truly worship Him, offering unto Him the best of what we are and what we have for His glory and for His sake. Amen.
Merry Christmas to everyone! # nordis.net