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The Magi

Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” … [Herod] sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Matthew 2:1-2, 8-11

Our typical stories of the “Wise Men” may be incorrect. They didn’t arrive the night that Jesus was born, and we don’t know if there were three or twelve. We don’t know their names, although tradition has assigned them Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. We are not sure of their country of origin, but some scholars say most likely Arabia, and others say Persia. And they might not have traveled on camels; it is quite possible they traveled by horse. These men may have traveled some 800 to 900 miles.

What do we know?

The Bible speaks of magi, wise men, magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, especially in Daniel. Daniel was appointed chief, in charge of this group in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Of course, Daniel’s insight was a gift of the Spirit.

There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”

Daniel 5:11-12

Scripture prophesies a star as a future king and Jesus as the Bright Morning Star. Men who studied the Jewish writings would have been familiar with the prophecies of the Messiah, the descendent of David who would have a forever throne. The wise men tell Herod they saw “his” star.

“I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
    a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
    the skulls of all the people of Sheth.

Numbers 24:17

“I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

Revelation 22:16

The magi came to worship a king, one they believed was a deity. From their study of holy writings, they undoubtedly thought this child to be God’s anointed one. Did they know Jesus was the God-man, Emmanuel, God in the flesh? Maybe, maybe not – the depth of their understanding isn’t apparent.

The magi brought gifts that would have been expected, a tradition. Scripture records instances of people bringing gifts to representatives of Israel. Jacob (Israel) sent gifts to Joseph, a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds and silver. Saul brought a quarter of a shekel of silver when he sought out Samuel. And even though the Queen of Sheba had heard of Solomon’s great wealth, she brought spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones as gifts to him when she visited.

Herds of camels will cover your land,
    young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
    bearing gold and incense
    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:6

Last, we know that the magi worshipped the child, Jesus, bowing down before Him. (We don’t know how old Jesus was at the time of their visit, but since Herod commanded the murder of young boys age two and under, we assume Jesus was between one and two years old.) Their worship demonstrated great respect, reverence, and adoration. And it prophetically points to the nations, even the Gentiles, honoring the coming Messiah.

We might not be called to an adventurous global trek. But we are called to worship Emmanuel, God with us! May the Spirit of God open our hearts and minds to His revelation and guide us to serve Him well in loving others.

Radiant Morning Star,
you are both guidance and mystery,
Visit our rest with disturbing dreams,
and our journeys with strange companions.
Grace us with the hospitality
to open our hearts and homes
to visitors filled with unfamiliar wisdom
bearing profound and unusual gifts. 

from the Revised Common Lectionary

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