“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.’
“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 2:1-2,11
Christmas time quickly approaches, and, as it does, I hope you are fixing your eyes on the One to whom the “Christ Mass” is devoted – Christ Himself! The story of His entrance into humanity is as strange as it is beautiful, and one of the strange elements of His story that has become so dear to us is the part the magi played in honoring Him.
Popularly called “We Three Kings” or “the three wise men”, what Matthew actually tells us about them is limited to their function (“magi”), their plurality (more than one), and their general geographical origin (“from the east” of Jerusalem in Judea). They weren’t royalty, but they almost certainly served royalty as advisors (thus, “wise men”). They came from outside the Roman Empire, for the land of the Jews was on its eastern-most edge, and the magi came from even further east. As magi, they were pagan men of learning who practiced astrology (which God forbade in Moses’ law). Their title and gifts suggest they were wealthy, and their reception by king Herod suggests that they were highly regarded in terms of social rank.
So why did Matthew include this episode in the messianic story when the other Gospel writers left it out? At the very least, the message that this episode communicates is entirely consistent with the overall message of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew was very purposeful and consistent in broadcasting the implications of Jesus’ coming for the peoples and nations of the world outside of the Jewish people. While Luke highlighted the visit of the shepherds (a group of low esteem within the Jewish culture), Matthew highlighted the visit of pagan magi (outsiders of a different kind). Both the shepherds and the magi were privileged by God with heavenly revelation of Messiah’s birth: for the shepherds, an angelic announcement; for the magi, a celestial sign in the sky. In both cases, the ones who received the revelation were willing to respond to it.
God is no respecter of persons! He is willing to show Himself to unexpected people in unexpected ways, and if they are willing to hear and respond, He will honor them. We have no indication that these magi became followers of YHWH, the one true God. We have no way of knowing whether they would later become followers of His Son, the very One they honored with precious gifts. Yet, God certainly used them to demonstrate to His covenant people – and to all who would hear Matthew’s account – His vision of gathering people from all nations and ethnicities into His Kingdom. That includes you and me! What a wonderful and strange story we’re a part of, Disciple! Meditate on it, savor it, and share it with others this Christmas season.
An outsider called to belong,