“Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” – Matthew 2
The last few italicized words in Matthew 2 holds a deeper meaning. For when anyone comes to Jesus, with a contrite heart, neither do they return as they came. The dispositions that they held before are not those held after. After Christ’s birth was witnessed and celebrated by both the least and the greatest; the shepherds and the wise-men, all then returned to the real world. But took with them a validation of hope. For when they entered the cave they expected to see a babe, but, rather they saw the Universe. They saw not a king among kings, but the King of kings; greater than any on earth. For this King created the earth and all living things that walk upon it, swim in its seas or fly above in its skies. When in His presence, all there realized that they were because He is. Should God cease to love, then all would cease to exist. In this One solitary babe was the one Thought and Word that creates and sustains. He is the Divine Incarnate who is destined to do what no other could: reconcile God with Man.
Why would not Herod, too, be inspired in a such a way as these travelers. Because it takes, as I mentioned above; a contrite heart. God forces no one to come to him, but is always patiently persistently pursuing and is forever open to our yes. Herod loved the real world and, I imagine, believed himself god. He desired to keep it as it was and would protect it even unto the murder of God Himself. To drive God from his own creation. He would succeed in the “murder of innocents,” but not the One innocent he sought. Not until His hour had come, would Christ submit to death on the cross. For this reason He came into the world. Only through sacrifice can love triumph and death be rendered impotent.
In the film, Saving Private Ryan, the elder Ryan asks his wife as he stood over the grave of the lieutenant who led his rescue mission: “Tell me that I am a good man.” His bewildered wife answered: “Of course you are.” As he lay dying on a WWII war-torn street the lieutenant whispered something in the ear of Ryan as the American reinforcements overtook the attacking German troops. His comment was not heard by any other than Ryan. We, the viewers, as well, never knew what was said. Yet, what Ryan heard prompted his question to his wife. For the lives lost on that rescue mission not to have been in vain, then the life saved, Ryan, had to have been worth saving. Ryan’s wife’s answer confirms that he had lived a life worthy of their sacrifice.
Why would anyone’s life be so effected by another? Why be so compelled to alter one’s way of living? The answer lies not in a response of fleeting emotion but, rather, by a steadfast act of will. How great is the impact on one who is rescued from death by another. And more so when that other loses his life in the process. Each circumstance, like that of Private Ryan’s comrades in arms, requires a sacrifice and self-denial; the greatest testimony to love. Which of us would not be fundamentally changed and hold forever in their heart the honor for that one who gave all for our sake. And in recompense would not strive to live a good life in memory of the one who saved ours? Ryan by honoring the lieutenant’s request, in a sense, has lived both their lives.
How much more, then, did those who came to Christ in Bethlehem that night – or do those to this day – receive from Him their very creator? For this child, too, in thirty-three years hence, would make the supreme act of divine love upon a cross. Not for one, but for all; past, present and to come. And what was asked of Ryan – to be a good man – and thereby give meaning to his comrades’ sacrifice, now is asked of us. To not remain as we were, but to return to the world by a different way. The One who by His death on Calvary and ensuing resurrection restored not, solely, life but eternal life, can not be justly honored and glorified in living a good life alone; but, rather, by joining our will to His. In a similar sense, as Ryan, we are not living our individual lives. Instead our lives are joined to Christ’s in that union of wills?
The Magi in looking upon the infant beheld the infinite. An infinity desired by principled men and women. An infinity promising absolute truth, perfect love and eternal life. Had the Magi returned to Herod they would have ratified an unprincipled world view promising an infinity founded on deceit, betrayal, hatred and death. So they returned to their own country not by the way they came.