I don’t envy the people who have to make the decision each week as to what their church sign will read. It’s not a task I have ever had or aspired to, so I have sympathy for those who might choose to recycle turns of phrase that have worked throughout the years, especially around various holidays. However, let me offer my humble plea for removing the phrase “wise men still seek him” from the marquee rotation, as well as from Christmas cards and elsewhere.
My objection to this pithy statement has nothing to do with the yearly debate about whether or not the wise men should make the manger scene. Whenever they arrived, they are certainly a part of the unlikely birth and childhood of the Son of God. In fact, Eastern nobility quietly kneeling in the stable seems to be more in tune with the message of the incarnation than the veiled pride found in the pronouncement that those who follow Christ should be crowned with the title of “wise.” Zechariah, another character in the Christmas narrative, would be the first to tell us that any attempt at applying human wisdom to the miracle of “God with us” will get us nothing but nine months of muteness.
On the other hand, Mary, who exercised humility in the midst of partial knowledge, saw that the coming of Jesus would not serve to highlight those revered in society. Rather it revealed the uniqueness of what God was doing in sending his Son to be born of a virgin: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53 ESV). Her words set the tone for all that Christ would emphasize in his life and preaching. From the incarnation to the foolishness of the cross, Jesus did not exalt the wisdom of the wise but destroyed it (1Corinthians 1:19).
The wisdom of the Christmas wise men was destroyed the moment they knocked on Herod’s door. They assumed the king announced by a star’s appearance would be found in a palace. Like Naaman, they had no concept of a prophet living on the outskirts of town. The beauty of these men then is not their wisdom, but their humility – their willingness to set aside their assumptions and be reshaped by the reality of the meek child before them.
How unexpected it all must have been. Surely Jesus was not the king they were originally seeking, just as none of us seeks after God. No human heart is naturally searching out a king to reign over it, because we all feel like we are doing just fine on the throne. Stars in the sky and longings in our hearts are supernatural gifts that may get us on our camels, but any of our seeking is a wandering in the dark wherein perhaps we might feel our way towards God and find him (Acts 17:27).
Christmas is not about wise men seeking Jesus. It’s about wandering fools being found by Jesus. The incarnation glorifies the extent to which God would go to seek out those who were running from him. That being the case, it is not surprising that as we consider the members of God’s family and our calling as such, we find that “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” And why? Because “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV).
Christmas excludes boasting. It glorifies the wisdom of God and reveals the foolishness and blindness of humanity. It reminds us that it was when we were helpless sheep, lost coins, wandering prodigals, and self-righteous older brothers, God sought us out. The wonderful news announced then and now is not that wise men seek Him but that God still seeks wandering fools like us.