“They asked, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.’”
Matthew 2:2 (Common English Bible)
Speed bumps are intentional obstructions along routes traveled by motorized vehicles to slow drivers down. They indicate the need for caution, that something unusual is present and requires particular attention for safe navigation forward. Ignore the speed bump and the driver will experience a jolt and, perhaps, minor damage to their vehicle. Matthew’s Gospel has placed a speed bump into the Christmas narrative. If ignored – or not noticed – the reader will miss a greater truth that Matthew wishes to convey. Rather than hurrying to the end of the story, Matthew wants the reader to make a rich discovery as the story unfolds: The magi made much of their journey to Bethlehem without the light of the star.
Notice the speed bump: the magi enter the City of Jerusalem and make inquiry as to where the “newborn king of the Jews” is born. They began their journey to find the baby when they saw a star in the east but now the light of that star is unseen. Now they must ask directions. Consulting with the chief priests and legal experts, King Herod learns that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod then sends the magi on their way in that direction. Only when they come to Bethlehem do they see the light of the star again. This is why the magi “were filled with joy”, Matthew tells us. They were on the right road and the promise of that star was about to be realized. Finding the child with Mary, his mother, the magi fell to their knees, honored him, and presented their gifts.
Matthew is writing to a particular people who are on the cusp of disillusionment and abandoning their faith. The decision to follow Christ has resulted in estrangement from those family members who don’t believe in Jesus. More, followers of Jesus are no longer welcomed in Jewish worship. Divided from their loved ones and unwelcomed in the faith community, it is easy to question if they are on the right road. The easy path would be to admit a mistake in following Jesus, abandon the Christian movement, and return to the embrace of family and cherished worship. The light that began their faith in Jesus has dimmed considerably and now they are traveling in the dark.
So it may be with our faith. Oftentimes we do not experience the power, the light, the vitality of the faith we once experienced. Difficulties overwhelm, the road becomes dark, and we are disillusioned. The path that was once clear is now an unknown way. Matthew wants us to remain confident in the promise. Circumstances may require that we stop, reassess our route, and seek guidance as the magi did in Jerusalem. But then, start out once again. There is much in the world – and in our lives – that we cannot change. It’s not our task to repair the brokenness all around us. What we can and must do, says Matthew, is speak of the promise of “the newborn king” that comes in the midst of that brokenness, kneel before him in worship, present our gifts, and trust that it will be enough.