Do You See What I See?
In the summer of 2008, a movie came out called “WALL-E”. The plot is set many years in the future when Earth has become so covered with trash that nothing will grow anymore. All the people are forced to leave the planet and live in spaceships while trash collecting robots clean up the earth. WALL-E is one of these robots. One can imagine how sad the people must have been as they left Earth behind. Yet it was not without hope. The departure was only temporary. As soon as the Earth was cleaned up, they could return. They created a system of probes to go regularly and check on the Earth. As soon as plants began to grow again, the probes would bring back the evidence that it was safe to return.
In the course of the movie the great day finally arrives when a probe returns to one of the spaceships with a tiny plant from Earth. At last, the good news that had long been awaited has arrived. Everyone can now return home. However, instead of the expected great joy, something different happens. You see, the people had been living so long in the spaceships that they had grown accustomed to this new life. The movie shows them all fat and lazy, sitting on little floating chairs watching TV all day. In a great twist, the people don’t receive the “good news” as good at all. They’re not much interested in returning to Earth. Moreover, the one in charge of the spaceships kind of likes being in charge and doesn’t want to see it end. He tries to hide news of the plant and then even sets about frantically trying to kill the little plant. How could good news go so wrong?
I was reminded of this movie by our gospel today. Much like the people in the movie were supposed to be patiently waiting their return to Earth, the Israelites in Jerusalem were supposed to be anxiously preparing for the Messiah. However, as time passed, the Israelites began to grow accustomed to their enslaved state. They made compromises with the Romans and worshiped their gods. The began to fit in with the pagans around them and forgot all about waiting for the Messiah. Then one day in our gospel, the Magi show up and announce the good news that at last the long-awaited Messiah has been born. What is the reaction?
Just as in the movie, the good news is not seen as being so good. The gospel tells us that the Magi were “overjoyed at seeing the star” and yet when the people in Jerusalem get the news, they are “troubled.” A new Messiah would mean that all their lives would have to change. Even if this would be for the better, it’s often easier to just keep on doing what you’re used to. King Herod himself has grown rather accustomed to being in charge and doesn’t like the idea of a new king. Instead of welcoming his savior, he sets about trying to kill him just as they tried to kill the little plant in the movie.
What’s the message here for us? I think you have to ask why these outsiders, these Magi, were able to see something that everyone in Jerusalem missed. We don’t know exactly what the star of Bethlehem looked like, but it couldn’t have been all that obvious. Rather, these Magi were experts at studying the start. They probably spent many hours looking to the heavens and so they were watching when the star appeared and were able to identify it. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, people were figuratively looking at the ground. They were looking at this world and how to compromise and get by and stopped looking in the right place, toward heaven.
The message of Christmas is not just that Jesus came 2000 years ago, but that he comes to us today. He brings us good news. He offers to radically change our lives for the better if we follow him. Do we really see it as good news? Maybe we have become like the people in WALL-E and just enjoy being fat and lazy as we try to get by with our eyes fixed on this world rather than on heaven. The star shines for us today just as it did for the Magi. They left everything to follow the star. The question is, “Will we?”