Did the Wise Men have 20/20 vision?

Welcome to the new year and new decade: 2020. 20/20 vision is a term used to express normal clarity or sharpness of vision measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. Having 20/20 vision does not necessarily mean you have perfect vision. 20/20 vision only indicates the sharpness or clarity of vision at a distance.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us the story of the Wise Men or Magi (from the word Magician. This group of men (we don’t actually know how many, just that they brought three very precious gifts to give to a very precious person – a new king). The story tells us that the men lived a long way to the East from Bethlehem. They may have come from Persia (now Iran). In their own country they were revered for their knowledge of the night sky. They made charts to show all the known stars, galaxies, constellations. They studied everything that had been written about the night sky of the Northern hemisphere.

When this very learned group of men saw a new star rising the first thing they did was to consult their books and charts. But they could not find the star. It was definitely new. What they did find was a reference to a new star being a sign that a new king had been born. This was very exciting. So much so that they collected precious gifts and set out to follow the star as it travelled, to see where it led so they could worship this new king: pay him homage.

The Church of England has traditionally been described as a three-legged stool.

The Church of England has traditionally been described as a three-legged stool. Why? The thing is with a three-legged stool is that if one leg is not quite right, say a bit shorter than the others, then it would just topple over. There have always been three key supports for the Christian faith: the bible or scripture, tradition, that is, how we have come to be as we are, and reason, that is, how we know what we know and what more can we know based upon our study of scripture and the traditions that have formed us. It has always been important to keep these three legs in balance. But there is a fourth leg.

But it is growing a fourth leg.

The fourth leg is experience. Learning from our protestant friends we are coming to understand that we need the fourth leg of experience to understand the scriptures and our tradition to be able to reason or understand. We need to experience in order to know. Education has understood this way of learning for years: experiential learning. In religious terms we need to experience the Holy Spirit at work in our lives for the rest to fall into place.

Back to the wise men and 20/20 vision.

The Wise Men are a great example of a four-legged stool. They used their sacred texts and their traditional understanding of what a new star could mean to reason that, if this was the case, they needed to go and check it out. They had 20/20 vision! They had the clarity of vision to see that they needed to go and find this new king wherever he was. This meant a dangerous journey. It meant taking risks. It meant going among people who were different to them. Most of all, it meant riding out for themselves. They needed to live the experience.

and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

Were the Wise Men changed by their experience? Reason tells me they were. Wouldn’t you be? But there is something else as well that suggests they were transformed, made new by seeing the Christ child. This was the Son of God or Emmanuel – God with us, after all! King Herod, the despot ruler, was seriously threatened by the thought of this potential usurper of his throne. So he asked the Wise Men to return to him once they had found the new king. You would expect them to do that. After all, out of respect they had called on Herod first. But they didn’t. Instead they went home by a different route to keep the Christ child safe.

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Here it is. A message from God in a dream. We can read in scripture that the people of God often receive messages from God in dreams. Joseph also received the same message. You have to be open, trusting and receptive to God to receive those kinds of messages. Yes, the Wise Men certainly had 20/20 vision. They studied, reflected, reasoned but essentially, they experienced the living God, in the world, and starting in 2020 we must do that too.