The Magi Visit the Messiah
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 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.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He 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.”
9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Merriam Webster defines Epiphany as: January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles
a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
a revealing scene or moment
I think an epiphany happens when your brain stops thinking because suddenly your heart understands!
So who were these guys anyway? These wise men, magi? Matthew’s gospel is vague. They were from the east. If you look back in the old testament, Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon had a bad dream and called his magi and enchanters to interpret it with major threats if they couldn’t. Daniel saved the day with an interpretation and dream from the Lord.
Pharaoh of Egypt also had a bad dream and when his magicians couldn’t interpret it, it was Joseph, a Hebrew exile in prison that gave him God’s interpretation.
So the ancient Jews who heard this story wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the idea of magi.
There is a joke about a little boy who returned from Sunday School with a new perspective on the Christmas story. He had learned all about the Wise Men from the East who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. He was so excited he just had to tell his parents: “I learned in Sunday School today all about the very first Christmas! There wasn’t a Santa Claus way back then, so these three skinny guys on camels had to deliver all the toys!” And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his nose so bright wasn’t there yet, so they had to have this big spotlight in the sky to find their way around.”
The gifts that the wisemen brought to the manger must have been very costly but a bit impractical. It seems to me a crib and diapers and maybe an actual room would have made more sense. They came to the manger, worshipped for a short time and left their gold, frankincense and myrrh and went back home. Doesn’t it seem odd that they left so quickly? If you were truly wise, wouldn’t you have wanted to stick around? I mean, I don’t think you could have pried me away with a crowbar! The most important child ever to be born and you don’t stay to see what happens next? How foolish these wise men seem!
They were sent by Herod and it didn’t occur to them that his motives might be a bit suspicious? Luckily for the baby Jesus, they had a dream and knew to stay away from Herod. Of course Herod was crazy mad when they didn’t return to tell him where to find the child and to quote Frederick Buechner on Herod “For all his enormous power, he knew there was somebody in diapers more powerful still.” He was so mad that he ordered every boy child under the age of two killed. What an illustration of the wisdom of the foolish.
Can we find ourselves in this story? Are we the ones who come to discover Christ only to spend a short time worshipping and then go back to where and who we were? Do we bring our gifts to the manger and leave them thinking they are somehow important – forgetting that what Jesus wants most from us is our heart? Our life? Our everything? Are we wise in our own eyes? We have so much more than the wise men in this story. We have the benefit of the New Testament, preachers and books galore written by those who have spent years of their lives studying the bible and hours writing their thoughts about what they have studied. We have the whole story and yet how many of us would make a long journey on a camel on the chance we might catch a glimpse of a baby in a manger and then risk the wrath of a powerful king so that this baby would live.
But maybe, for all their wisdom. it was in the moment that they came to the manger, that they recognized who this baby was. Maybe they came face to face with the foolishness of their own wisdom and left forever changed by what they saw with their hearts.
I remember walking down a snow covered street at night in Michigan. How snow muffled sound and the sparkle from the moon on that snow. How the sky was so clear and in the silence it seemed like you could actually hear the stars. And how small and insignificant it made me feel.
I remember evenings in summer – that time before sunset but right where the light begins to change as the sun gets lower in the sky and the reflection on the lake that stretched to the horizon. I remember the sense of peace and security, the day winding down, knowing I would sleep and that same sun and lake would be there in the morning.
I remember the sound of my mother’s voice, calling us in from playing and how she looked, standing at the sink washing dishes while I dried and we had some of our most important conversations. A constant presence that anchored my life.
I can describe those things to you but I live somewhere else now and my mother has been gone for years. They are just foolish stories. They are words and facts. But in my heart these are truths. I can close my eyes and see with my heart and be right there.
I think of Thomas in the bible. We all know the story.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It doesn’t say that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds. I picture him standing there face to face with the resurrected Christ. Hearing the sound of Jesus’ voice, close enough to touch him. And I think, in that moment, Thomas stopped seeing with his eyes and saw his Savior with his heart. Jesus became real and alive for him. Thomas wanted facts. What he got was truth.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 says
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Men who thought they were wise, journeyed to a stable and found wisdom in a story that should be considered foolish. A poor young couple with nowhere to stay bringing a child into a world of poverty, pain, oppression, danger….who’s purpose in living was to go from the manger to the cross for you and I and inbetween, loving, teaching, feeding and healing.
So as we turn from Christmas and move into the new year, we too have left our gifts and walked away from the manger. The Christmas decorations and nativity scenes have been packed away until next year. We no longer hear the bell ringing Salvation army volunteers outside the stores and in fact, the stores were already stocking Valentines cards and candy before the New Year celebration had ended. Family has returned home and the weather is cold and compared to the noise and busyness of Christmas, there is silence. In that silence, may we all be able to close our eyes and with our hearts, return to the manger. May we meet again and again, this tiny new baby and have our hearts so changed that we drop our gifts and run to tell the world about this hope. Camels are optional…May we read the stories about Him in the bible and see ourselves in those stories so they become alive for us. May I rediscover that I am the prodigal son, welcomed back by the Father with open arms after I have gone and made a pigsty of my life; that I am Zacchaeus the thief who climbed up a tree hoping to get a peek through the leaves at this Jesus and found myself with an amazing dinner partner. That I am the disciple who had enough faith to step out of the boat onto the waves, but not enough to keep me from sinking without Jesus. May we, like Thomas, discover our risen savior and recognize the truth of Him with our hearts even when the wisdom of the world would tell us that none of this makes sense. It makes no sense that God would be born into a manger, walk the earth and suffer and die and be resurrected for ME! For YOU! But my heart tells me it’s true. My Lord and my God!
Father may we bring the gifts of our doubts, our foolishness, our homesickness for something we can’t even articulate and lay them at the manger and walk out into the world with the wisdom and truth that is Jesus Christ, your Son who comes to take away the sin of the world, to make us righteous, holy and redeemed. Help us live as a grateful people who love you and through our words and actions, to live every day as your foolish and broken but beloved children in our own walks from Christmas to Easter. Amen.