Posted on January 7th, 2018
After describing the long, arduous trip that the Wise Men undertook, T.S. Eliot says in his great poem The Journey of the Magi,
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Folly – the world’s voices sang in the ears of the Magi, “Your journey to worship the Christ-Child: it is all folly! Worthless; meaningless; foolishness. Who would waste his time on such matters?”
The world says that to you as well. Folly! None of this is true. You are wasting your life.
Even if it is true – there’s no need to upend your life. A long journey, a deep investment of time and money – that’s fanatical, out of touch with the real world. Perhaps in darker moments, when your own faith was being tested, you’ve had similar thoughts about Christianity: “This is all folly.”
God’s Word calls us to embrace the folly. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.… [T]he foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” [1 Cor 1.18,21].
So the Magi go on their foolish journey. We know very little about them. They were likely practitioners of a false religion, but their journey to worship Jesus tells us they were seeking the true wisdom. They risked everything, sacrificed everything to find the only One who matters – Christ.
There’s no reason for the Magi’s journey unless something, someone unique and exclusive is found there. But despite the miracle of the star, the sign only takes them so far. Arriving in Jerusalem, the star fails them – or rather, they must now inquire from the true north star, the One source of truth, the Holy Scriptures. God’s Word points them to Bethlehem: “And they said unto [Herod], In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, Thou Bethlehem … art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Thus they learn where to find Christ: not by their own wisdom, emotions, or works; Christ is found only through the Word.
The men of Jerusalem show us our great peril: They hear and know the Word, but do not take it to heart. They stay where they are, rather than go with the Magi to worship. They are hearers of the Word but not doers. They have a form of godliness but know not the power. Will you meet the same fate? You know the Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, you’ve received the Sacraments – but will you become lazy and neglectful of the gift you’ve received?
Do not think, “I have the Gospel; I cannot lose it.” Luther said, “Just a minute, let us see whether or not you really have the gospel. If you believe the gospel with all your heart and are changing for the better, then you really have it. But if you become arrogant and scorn it, then you do not have it,” even if you talk all about it and have Scripture on your lips like Herod and the priests and scribes. They know where the Christ-Child is, but do not go to worship him. The Word calls us to press on with the Magi to journey’s end, to Bethlehem.
And what did they find, these wise men, when they arrived in Bethlehem, to the cradle of the infant Jesus? They find no earthly king; He is not robed in finery. His mother wears no diadem. If the friends of the Magi could see this scene, they would be confirmed in their opinion: this was all folly!
But these Magi recognize Jesus not with their eyes, but with their ears. This is He whom God’s star had pointed to, and God’s Word confirmed. They prostrate themselves, and present gifts. And while the frankincense is for the worship of God, the gold and myrrh foreshadow the cross; money to survive on the flight to Egypt, myrrh for His burial.
Listen to another part of T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”: One of the wise men says,
All this was a long time ago, I remember
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?
The Birth is for the Death – His death on the cross, our death to sin, and the trampling down of death by death. That is folly, but to us as to the Magi it brings “exceeding great joy.”
And it means a new journey, which the Magi show us by journeying home on a new and living way. They are avoiding Herod, which is more than mere practicality. Everything has now changed. Their old ways they shall walk no more, their false gods they shall worship no more, for the Jesus they worshipped is now the star that never fades and enlightens everything.
That’s how it now is for you. You’ve been set on a different path. What the world calls folly is the true Wisdom, the joyous light that no darkness can overcome. In Him will you live; in Him will you die; and His shall you be forever.