The following is an excerpt from an essay by Frederick Buechner:
The foolishness of the wise is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than by the way the three Magi went to Herod the Great, King of the Jews, to find out the whereabouts of the holy child who had just been born King of the Jews to supplant him. It did not even strike them as suspicious when Herod asked them to be sure to let him know when they found him so he could hurry on down to pay his respects. Luckily for the holy child, after the three Magi had followed their star to the manger and left him their presents, they were tipped off in a dream to avoid Herod like the plague on their way home.
Herod was fit to be tied when he realized he'd been had and ordered the murder of every male child two years old and under in the district. For all his enormous power, he knew there was someone in diapers more powerful still. The wisdom of the foolish is perhaps nowhere better illustrated.
One of the things that Buechner is pointing out here is that the so-called “wise men” weren’t all that wise. How could they have been so foolish as to go to Herod, the King of the Jews (!), and ask if he knew the whereabouts of the infant who the prophets said would replace him? And how could these “wise” men have agreed to come back to Herod and tell the old despot where his new rival was located?
Ironically, Herod is the wise one here. Not wise for trying to kill Jesus, but wise for recognizing Jesus as a threat. While he might be acting diabolically, he is certainly not overreacting. Herod has learn from his friends the Romans; the best time to take out the competition is when they’re still too helpless to defend themselves.
As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, I thought we’d start off in a bit of an unconventional way. Instead of rejoicing at the beautiful picture of Jesus in the manger, I thought we’d try to honor the way that the Messiah has come to turn things upside down. May those of us who have ears to hear listen…