Three wise men set out from the East, their eyes set on a moving star that to them predicted the birth of some child destined to be a unique king. Too tedious was their journey through hostile terrains and climes. The star arrived at Galilee and stood still over Herod’s palace. The wise men found no newborn king in there. That suggested the star had just made a brief halt. Instantly, the star continued on its journey, and the wise men followed it till it stopped over Mary’s suckling, to whom they bowed and bestowed rare gifts.
At the time of Christ, the East was considered the depository of wisdom and the land of truth seekers. It was for a reason that the Evangelist gave the pride of place to the three wise men from the East in his Christmas story: He wanted to convey to the world that the Babe of Bethlehem was wisdom incarnate. And for that, He presents the magi a little less wiser than the babe Himself. They misinterpret that the star that guided them augured the birth of a mighty king who would perhaps become a world monarch. So they went looking for Him in the palace of a king. They could not find Him there. The star then led them to the crib. And the Babe they found in there gave them wisdom of a very new kind.
The Magi honoured the babe as king by presenting Him the gifts they brought. But they recognised that He was a new kind of king. A king who despises pomp and majesty. A king who had no place to rest His head. A king who would overturn the established notions of what a king should be like. A king who was God incarnate. A king who was the embodiment of wisdom, a kind of wisdom that was so akin to their eastern wisdom: Tat Tvam Asi – “When that day comes, you will know that I am in the Father, and that you are in me, just as I am in you” (Jn 14:20). Above all, a king who was no conqueror, but a revolutionary, who would redeem the world from reactionary forces by turning prevailing social convictions topsy turvy.
The Babe of Bethlehem would grow up into a revolutionary who preached peace, a peace that would come not through submission but through love: “The greatest one among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great” (Mt 23:13). To a world that believed in an-eye-for-an-eye, He would preach that one should love one’s enemies; to a world that was divided into the chosen people of God and the gentiles, He would preach that every man is a precious child of God; to a world that divided men into masters and servants, He would preach that the one who aspires to be a master should wash the feet of those whom He considers servants; and to world that believed man is for the Sabbath, He would preach that the Sabbath is for man.
It would take thirteen more centuries for the revolutionary wisdom of Jesus to bloom through the Renaissance. But reactionary forces are raising their heads, especially in India, and destroying all the gains of the past seven centuries. Under them our country is losing all the evolutionary progress the human mind has achieved over the past many centuries. Over those centuries, mythological man evolved into philosophical man and then into scientific man. While in the rest of the world mythologies were relegated to children’s story books, in India they continued to be regarded as scriptures, but they took a backseat. But now, we are being taken back to the times when mythology and mythological gods rule the roost. It is no more ‘The cow is for man’; It is now ‘The man is for the cow.’
A party that believes that we, Christians, along with Muslims and Communists, are a national scourge is ruling our country. We are increasingly being persecuted for no other reason than following the ‘foreign’ humanistic teachings of Jesus: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35,36). And they are also embracing those of us who like them are on the reactionary path, falling back into outdated traditions and ritual practices and claims of casteist or racial supremacy.
This Christmas, the Babe of Bethlehem is calling us to be preachers of His new wisdom in word and deed and to be willing to face the consequences of it. And when we embark on it, we risk torture and imprisonment: “Watch out, there will be men who will arrest you and take you to court, and they will whip you in the synagogues. For my sake you will be brought to trial before rulers and kings, to tell the Good News to them and the gentiles” (Mt 10:17,18). After a period of humiliating scandals, we now have in Fr Stan Swamy someone we can boast of. This Christmas, He deserves to be in our cribs as one of the Magi.