Return home a different way

December 15, 2010 | Viewpoints | Volume 14 Issue 24
Phil Wagler |

The most unsettling participants in the “Christmas story” are the most biblically literate. Asked by magi where the king of the Jews was to be born, King Herod turns to expert priests and scribes for help. Confidently the clerics reference the answer in the scroll of the prophet Micah: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet. . .” (Luke 2:5).

King Herod the Horrible devises a sinister plan. If the Word is true and the time is ripe, then his hold on power is tenuous. He will act, because of Scripture, and Bethlehem will mourn like never before.

After providing their scriptural answer, the priests and scribes recede to the silent margins, pulling them out some 30 years later to justify killing the child of promise, just like Herod.

The gentile magi of the east act because of Scripture and venture in faith towards Jewish Bethlehem convinced stars and Scripture have aligned undeniably. Often missed in our re-telling of the Christmas story is that these foreign astronomers alone responded rightly to the prophetic promise of Scripture. This is deeply troubling and laced with hope.

It is troubling for me because, as a pastor, I am supposedly a biblical “expert.” I would have been among those asked to find the answer. There is plenty of justifiable angst about the pathetic level of biblical illiteracy these days. At the same time, we must be careful. Biblical literacy does not automatically produce biblical living or even mean the acceptance of biblical authority.

Knowing chapter and verse can merely produce religious obesity, where we recline on our spiritual couches, instead of putting feet to the promise. In Luke’s account of the epiphany visitation, the most biblical are the most irrelevant and, ultimately, irreverent. The magi—and even Herod—respond as if Scripture might actually be living and active, whereas the students of Scripture miss the plot while knowing it best.

Some Christians—and even some Christian scholars—treat the Word as if it were intended for our pompous and expert deconstruction and revision, rather than a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. This should disturb us and drive us not from careful study, but to the practical hermeneutics of wise men and women who blend the signs of the times, the truth of revelation, and a readiness to obey the authority of what God has breathed into a mosaic of living and active faith.

Despite all this, there is hope. Given the post-Christian culture we live in, the Scripture speaks with fresh power and profundity to those on a search. Those who grew up with the biblical story can forget how incredible its revelation is. People adrift in a decadent, rootless age are often primed and eager to hear from Scripture, and even receive it as living and active hope. To them it is like fresh bread in a world of day-olds. They are the new magi. Have the story-keepers become the complacent experts?

So let us search the Scripture diligently, but let us not stop there. Let us proclaim its truth relevantly and unashamedly, but let us not stop there. Let us receive what it declares and go all the way to “Bethlehem” and then return home a different way—because the Word has been made flesh, and this world and all its kingdoms will never be the same.

Phil Wagler is the author of Kingdom Culture and seeks to walk the way of the wise as a student of the scriptures and loves seeing eyes opened and lives changed by their light (

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