The Magi Visit THE King
New Revised Standard Version
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Today is the 9th day of Christmas. The one when the ladies dancing are added to the gift list – already a long list of items that won’t fit in the car to take home.
· 8 maids (a-milking)
· 7 swans (a-swimming)
· 6 geese (a-laying)
· 5 golden rings
· 4 calling birds
· 3 French hens
· 2 turtle doves
· 1 partridge in a pair tree
By the time Epiphany rolls around on January 6th, 10 lords (a-leaping), 11 pipers (piping), and 12 drummers (drumming) will join the crowd of animals and people.
Epiphany, rather than a day that bookends the season of Christmas with Christmas day at the beginning, stands on its own. On this day, we remember the visit of the wise men – also called the kings and the magi – who came from the east to see the baby Jesus.
Who were these travelers from afar? The passage in Matthew says they were led by a star they saw in the sky. These kings were star readers.
In ancient times, reading the stars was a mathematical and scientific study. One learned the positions of the constellations and charted the meaning of current events. This study sought to understand the significance of the stars and to use them in foretelling the future.
The magi probably spent years studying the charts, mapping out events, drawing out meaning, and connecting the dots, so to speak. Through the stars, they believed that they knew all they ever needed to know – they could find the truth in every situation.
Then a new star appeared announcing a new king. One that didn’t fit on their charts. A star so compelling they were drawn to follow it. God called them to a distant place and to a new life.
The magi packed, loaded their camels, and headed out on a journey to an unknown place. In their packing they included gold and other gifts suitable for the king they were going to meet.
Why make such a long journey? Perhaps it was curiosity. These wise scholars naturally want to find out more. It wasn’t enough to know that a new king had been born. They wanted to see for themselves.
The story of the magi seems like it was just dropped into the gospel of Matthew. We don’t hear about these wisemen anywhere else. Nothing in the previous chapter indicates such visitors from a foreign country would appear on the scene. Their story elevates the birth of a child in the small town of Bethlehem to an event of seismic proportions.
The magi from the east come to see the new king. When they ask Herod about the baby they identify as the king of the Jews, the world is turned upside down. Herod met the wisemen and was frightened. All of Jerusalem was frightened, too. They are afraid of a baby. A baby they didn’t even know about until that moment. Herod felt his firm grasp of power slipping. He had to act.
Herod tells the magi to report back to him so that he, too, can pay homage to the child. We don’t know if they believed him, but they were warned in a dream not to return to him. They ignored the order of the King so returned home by another road. It was a good choice. Herod was angry that he didn’t know where the new king was. He ordered the massacre of all infant boys 2 years old and younger to get rid of the threat.
Perhaps by having met the child and paying him homage, it became clear to the magi that one can worship the king of the Jews or worship the emperor, but you can’t give allegiance to both.
Giving allegiance to Jesus is a life-changing choice. A choice to follow a different type of king, the Messiah king. Jesus initiated a new kind of kingdom. God’s kingdom. In this kingdom, the last become first, leaders serve, God loves, and people love their neighbors.
The magi followed a different road home. They returned home different men. Meeting and worshiping the King, Jesus, changed their allegiance and changed them. Meeting and worshiping Jesus changes us, too.
There’s an old book by Henry Van Dyke called The Story of the Other Wise Man. It chronicles a magi who misses the caravan to Jerusalem because he stops to help an ill man on the side of the road. He still travels to Bethlehem, but he’s missed the holy family, who has fled to Egypt, and he’s missed his magi friends, who have gone home by another road.
He goes to Egypt and searches for Jesus in the refugee camps and settlements. He ministers to those he encounters on the way, even as it delays his search for the child. He spends the gifts he’d brought for the baby to feed people, to free people, to care for people.
Finally, 33 years later, he’s back in Jerusalem as Jesus is about to be crucified. The magi is headed to the cross and encounters yet one more person who needs his help. He’s feeling a failure, having missed the king he’s been looking to give homage to his whole life, when God speaks to him, thanking him for his gifts.
The man responds with “Lord, when was it that I saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that I saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that I saw you sick or in prison and visited you?,” the author paraphrasing a passage from the end of Matthew’s gospel in chapter 25.
And God responds to this other magi, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Marci Glass suggests that Matthew 25 is the way the author of this gospel invites us to follow the star. We too missed the original caravan. Yet the work of our lives is to follow the star in search of the Christ, so we can show up and help the people we encounter. The star doesn’t promise we’ll always see the path clearly or know where we’re headed. But following the star is life changing.
Today you will receive a star word to focus on, pray about, and ponder during the next year. My hope is your star word will lead you to Christ anew.