Suppose they all came back to Jerusalem today all of them: the shepherds who heard the angels, the three kings, even the kindly innkeeper who loaned out his stable? What would amaze them? The fact we kill in the name of religion? No, they knew that well enough. Maybe the military presence in the Holy City would stun them. But then the Roman army had Jerusalem under its thumb 2,000 years ago.
Would the racial hatred leave them numb?
No, they'd been there, seen that. The same with class tensions and economic tensions. All old news.
No, what they'd notice would be the miracles. Carriages that move without horses and great metal "birds" whisking people through the skies. They'd be stunned by the electric lights, the running water and the buildings taller than Babel. And they'd be amazed at the bounty the hundred types of bread, wine and fruit. And once the shock and awe of modernism had worn off, what would they think?
Perhaps they'd wonder what people today wonder. How can a world so filled with abundance, filled with so many skills, so much knowledge and so many gifts, not find a way to purge itself of ugly racial attitudes, the need for standing armies and the hatred of people whose faith is a bit different? If modern Jerusalem and by extension, the world can produce miracles that would make the ancient kings and sorcerers gasp, why can't modern people find a miracle to cure the world of cruelty?
They are questions each new generation has asked from the days of Herod's temple to the days of Herrod's of London. In all our getting, when will humanity get understanding?
They are questions people need to keep asking, until there's an answer.
This Christmas, as Christians celebrate the Prince of Peace, these questions should be challenges. They should be thoughts that draw people into action. Even small steps are welcome. Instead of helping a person you like, maybe it's time to help someone you don't. Instead of giving gifts to the people you love, maybe now is a time to give gifts to the people you would rather avoid.
The world doesn't need more random acts of kindness. It needs more deliberate, carefully planned acts of caring. This season, in fact, is the time to take a page from the book of B.Y. Williams, an American newspaper editor. Williams wrote of Christmas:
Who are the Wise Men now,
When all is told?
Not men of science
Or the great and strong;
Not those who wear a kingly diadem
Not those whose hands
Pile high the gold,
But those amid the tumult
And the throng
Who follow still
The Star of Bethlehem.