Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 17. Strange Seekers
Mt 2:1,2 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 in the east and have come to worship him.”
Just when everything is settling down and Mary and Joseph might be forgiven for thinking it might be an idea to think about going home to Nazareth, a camel train turns up with three strangers. They are ‘magicians’ or wise men, possibly astronomers, possibly astrologers, not Jews. They are definitely foreigners and they have come from the east. They first turn up in Jerusalem and there they enquire after one who is the newly born king of the Jews. For the present ruler, Herod, this is disturbing (v.3) because he knows nothing of this but, as it seems to fall within the ambit of Jewish folklore or Biblical law, he questions the religious leaders who say that ‘the Coming One’, the Christ or Messiah, will come from Bethlehem (v.4-6). Herod sends them on there with a request to come back and tell what they have found (v.7,8).
It turns out that these wise men have apparently been following a star (v.7) which appeared in the sky, possibly a meteorite, which has led them to Judea. They leave Herod and follow the star which appears to stop over Bethlehem, confirming the words of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Somehow, and the text is not specific, they find this little baby: “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 and of incense and of myrrh.” (v.11) The fact of the mention of a house seems to suggest that Mary and Joseph had settled there for the time being at least and the fact of the mention of child and mother but no mention of Joseph, may suggest that Joseph was out working.
We very often focus on the three gifts but the easiest thing to say is that here were three gifts, expensive gifts, that could be easily sold and converted into money to keep them going in their travels, in the near future at least. These three men are God’s material provision for this little family. Now let’s note various thing about their coming and going. (We assume three men because of three gifts, but there may have been more).
First, they are foreigners. This shatters the Jewish illusion that they were the only people God speaks to. God is concerned for all of His world, people of every nationality.
Second, their means of guidance is somewhat strange to say the least. As good Christians, we might think that the Bible is God’s only way of communicating with people. It is not. It is our primary and essential source of our knowledge of Him and His purposes but this does not stop Him communicating with people through other means. Next to the Bible we would say the Holy Spirit is the second primary source of God’s communication and as critical as He is to our relationship with the Lord, He is not the only other way God speaks. God’s word – Old Testament prophecy – was involved here, but these seekers from the east also used signs – the star – and inevitably the sense that God gave each of them about this quest – maybe by direct communication that we might say was the Holy Spirit. The Lord speaks through many ways and the important thing is that we be open to hear what He wants to say to us, however He chooses to speak to us
Third, they come confirming the message heard previously, this child is a king and one worthy of worship – more than a mere human king, for only God deserves worship.
Fourth, they are sent on their way with a warning dream, a dream that says avoid Herod, so they obey it and do. These are men of faith, people who hear God, respond to God and worship God. May that be said of us as well.