Coming of the magi
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Thoughts on the passage:
In the Christian calendar, January 6th is known as Epiphany. It is the twelfth day of Christmas and the traditional day to celebrate the arrival of the wise men to the house where Joseph and Mary are with the baby Jesus. The origin of the world comes from the Greek verb “to reveal,” and its meaning is now associated both with the idea of a revelation: “after being hit by an apple, Newton had an epiphany about gravity” and the religious concept, that an epiphany is a moment that gives us an insight into the divine, in this case the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.
So what sort of epiphany did the wise men have? The wise men had been searching for this new king that was born so that they could honor him. They had been looking for a while and asking for help. They also brought gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh to present to him. Their epiphany experience is less that a king had been born, but rather the nature of who that king was. When they finally found the child, they had a profound experience of the divine. After all, why else would people looking for a king, been willing to believe that this humble child, born to simple parents, could be someone special if they did not sense that this child was holy. They came looking for a king and they found God.
While the Bible makes no specific mention of what the three wise men might have been expecting when they searched for the new king, song writers and theologians have since pondered as to what they were looking for. The song “We Three Kings,” gives a particular meaning to each of the gifts given. Gold is meant to celebrate the kingship of Christ who is meant to reign over us. Frankincense is given as a reminder of his divine nature because it was often used in religious rites. Myrrh, which is used for embalming, is given to foreshadow Christ’s death and resurrection. Together these gifts capture our different hopes for Christ, earthly king, divine presence, and redeemer of us all. They reveal to us all the ways that Christ offers us hope.
Have you ever gotten a Christmas present that was more amazing than you could have imagined? Last Christmas, my in-laws got me a Bose headset with a noise-cancelling feature. When I opened them, I knew they were a nice set of headphones, but I was not too impressed. I don’t listen to that much music and I was not sure how often I would use them. Boy, was I wrong. These things are amazing. Not only are they Bluetooth enabled, so I don’t have to worry about cords when I use them, their noise cancelling feature is incredible. It is great when I travel because it gets rid of the background noise of other passengers and the unending roar of the plane, so I can relax and listen to what I want, or just go to sleep. They are also great at home to tune out my kids, but I would never use them for that. They were way better than I would have thought when I first opened them.
It is my belief that for the wise men, finally reaching Jesus was a similar experience, just on a much greater scale. They knew they were looking for a new king, so they came with some lofty expectations, but when they found Jesus they were just blown away. Jesus was beyond anything they could have expected. In Christ they found, not just a king, but the saver of the world, not just a child, but the Son of God.
2017 was a turbulent year. Beyond the political drama in our nation, there have been hurricanes, floods and drought. We have seen a rising stock market but also rising health costs. As a nation we are as divided as ever around social issues and faced with continued threats both external, like ISIS and North Korea, but also internally from shooters who even threaten our most sacred spaces. In our church we have dealt with potential leaks to our roof and very real plumbing issues in our basement. We have held hard conversations about our future and what God is calling us to do. As we enter 2018 it can be hard to be hopeful about what the next year will bring. I saw a cartoon recently that capture this sentiment. One character is asking the other how they can be so optimistic about the coming year. The other one says that they think it will bring flowers. When asked why they simple state, “Because I am planting flowers.”
Flowers are not the solution to the problems of the world, the challenges in our church, or the struggles in each of our own lives. They certainly don’t hurt though either. The reality is that we also do not have to base our optimism on flowers, because we have a better reason for hope: Jesus. Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but I think Jesus really is the answer to the problems we are facing right now.
When I toured the Capital building in Washington, I got to go inside the chapel there. While I know the space gets used, I wonder if it gets used enough. How many of the disputes would be solved if Republicans and Democrats spent more time in prayer with each other and for each other? Just think of the difference that might make in how they spoke about each other and how they might start working together. Certainly, Christ has a lot to say about praying for our enemies and finding ways to love even those we do not agree with.
What is more, I have heard the stories over and over about how people’s lives were changed when they began to follow Christ. I know that Jesus does not just offer us hope on the big problems, but can also have a real effect in each of our lives. I think we know it and I think we believe it. What are we going to do about it?
In 1784, following the end of the Revolutionary War, Anglican priests were returning to England. After trying to persuade the Bishop of London to send more priests to the colonies, John Wesley consecrated Thomas Coke as a Superintendent and sent him to the United States with order to also consecrate Francis Asbury to the same role. It is said that Wesley’s final instruction to Coke before he left on the voyage was this, “Offer them Christ.” Coke would consecrate Asbury at the Christmas Conference of 1784 and the Methodist Church was officially formed. In spite of the momentous task before them, Wesley knew that what they really needed to do was to offer people Christ. Wesley knew that Christ was enough for them and enough for us.
We can get overwhelmed with the challenges in our lives. The negative events of the world can seem insurmountable. It is easy to feel like there is no reason to be optimistic. Yet, we have a gift to offer the world. We have glad tidings of great joy for all people. We have seen the king of kings, the savior of the world, the Son of God. Our challenge is to go and tell the good news. Our task is to reach out to those who are struggling and those who are hurting and to offer them Christ. We need to reveal to others that the Son of God has been born and is offering us all new life and new hope for the coming year.
Questions to Ponder:
What are you most worried about in 2018 and how can Christ help?
When was a time where God was revealed to you?
Who is someone you know who needs to learn more about Christ?
God, we give you thanks for the miracle of Christ’s birth and the good news that you are at work in the world. Help us to find ways to offer hope to those in need and Christ to a world in darkness. Give us the wisdom to see your presence in our lives and the courage to go and tell others about it. Amen