It was a moment of hope for them. It remains a moment of hope for many. For it is in this moment that a lasting system of belief in God and his ability to give and forgive also would be born. The wise men were the first believers.
What would they think today, were they standing among us?
Surely they would be overcome with the joy of knowing that they were right, that the message of the Christ child has been lasting, that it has covered a world they did not, could not, imagine would ever exist. They would be amazed at the tradition their act of giving has become, at the symbolism of a star atop a tree. They would find more than 2 billion believers across the world, and they would stand in awe of the masses singing his praises, of the cathedrals, the statues, the beautiful music.
And then they would see the distraction. They would wonder why attention to the birthday of Jesus is shared by a large man in a red and white suit who appears below the star bearing gifts but riding something other than a camel. What symbolism is this? they would ask themselves, confused by the need to make this day anything more than it is.
To his birthplace they would be drawn, and it is there they would be devastated by what they would see. Five miles south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is visited by Christians from all over the world, but the city is in the West Bank, a volatile, troubled region occupied overwhelmingly by those of another faith, Sunni Muslims, occupied militarily, not religiously, by the Israelis.
They would find a place where travel restrictions have to be eased so pilgrims can visit the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, or the Grotto (believed to be the actual place of birth), as they celebrate Christmas and its true meaning.
They would find the hate that his message sought to overcome is still rampant in the land of his birth, the lands over which he traveled preaching and praying and healing. They would find gunbattles blazing, blood in the streets. They would find the hate for his Jewish people undiminished.
The irony would be noted, and they would wonder, "What does Jesus think?"
But they know, these wise men do, just like others who ask and trust and believe, if only they think about it.
They know that Jesus would weep, that he is weeping, for those who cannot find hope in a peace obscured by their hatred. He would preach, at the risk of his life, convinced that the power of the message would make the difference. He would pray, endlessly, that God would forgive them for what they do.
That star still shines on a clear night, and wise men still visit mangers and bring gifts, not just in symbolic recognition of an event, but in honor of its purpose.
Wise men still have hope for peace, too, and an expectation that it will be the result of a belief system born of a child who was laid in a manger.