WAYPOINTS: Great quests lead to truths
“We Three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar. Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.”
So goes the beginning of the great hymn written by John Henry Hopkins as he meditated on the wise men who came to visit Jesus in Bethlehem not very long after his birth. Scholars tell us that these men were most likely Zoroastrian priests from Persia, for they were known for their study of the heavens. They would certainly have been aware of the Old Testament prophecy that a star would signal the coming of a great king in Israel. A star shall come forth out of Jacob, a scepter shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)
So here comes the picture so familiar to us all, a vast desert of rolling sand stretching as far as one could see, a caravan of camels (those great ships of the desert) carrying the wise men on their great journey to see the new king who has been born.
The question which begs asking is why in the world would some well-to-do Persians risk a journey of more than a thousand miles in quest of a little child? Perhaps they were in search of something which would give their lives meaning. Isn’t that what every quest ultimately is about? The whole idea of a quest is associated with everything that is noble in man — love of adventure, courage, skill, strength, endurance — all incorporated into a grand and glorious journey.
I suspect most of us can identify with such a yearning in our own lives. Like those wise men we are looking for signs to help show us the way. For them, it was a star. For us? A cross perhaps. And as we journey, as we follow the sign, we will also learn what it means to yield, to submit ourselves. Feelings of submission rarely coincide with the beginning of a quest. What is felt at that time is usually exhilaration, an eager anticipation of the challenges to be overcome in reaching our goal, coupled with a great deal of confidence in ourselves.
None of us knows what was going on in the minds of those priests so long ago, but we do know a lot about ourselves and what we have witnessed in some of our friends and neighbors after having an encounter with the Lord. It’s not that we, or they, were obnoxious, it’s just that starting their quest for a deeper relationship with him they brought with them an air of confidence not necessarily commensurate with their experience. They were there with all the answers eager to shove off toward the Kingdom, and delighted to confidently tell others how they could follow.
Perhaps we are not so different from those wise men. I can see them in my mind’s eye making the arrangements after receiving the celestial revelation. These were wealthy men, used to getting their way, used to getting things done, used to hobnobbing with royalty. We don’t know what happened on their journey. What we do know is that when they reached the house of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, they fell down and worshiped (Jesus). Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11).
This, friends, is an extraordinary image of submission. Except for the prophecies of others, they would not have known about the birth of Jesus. Except for the heavens, they would not have known of the time. Except for the star, they would not have located the Christ child. Except for God’s help, they would still have been sitting in Persia twiddling their thumbs and feeling empty inside. So these rich and powerful priests found themselves on their knees before his Son. That’s where they belonged — so do we.
It seems that all of us who embark on our great quest in search of meaning must eventually come to grips with the truth that in spite of how much we would like to think otherwise, we are not in charge of our own destinies — God is. And when it suddenly occurs to us that it is God, himself, who draws us towards our meaning, our real destiny, then submission is not only inevitable, it is natural. And it is this willingness to yield ourselves to God that seems to bring the star to rest over the stable for us and we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus. In his presence we discover that the more we yield ourselves, the more he touches our lives.
And we who are touched are called children of God. And God’s children are priceless in his eyes. And we learn to love our Father with all our hearts and souls and minds. And it is in the loving and being loved that we discover the meaning of life.
The Rev. Mike Hesse is senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin.