In the times of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observe hos star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:1-2)
Luke tells us about the shepherds and the manger. Matthew doesn’t mention these at all. In fact, Matthew merely states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He then tells us that sometime after Jesus was born., “wise men from the East” came to pay him homage. By the time the wise men arrived, Mary and Jesus were staying in a home.
I invite you to review what I have written about the wise men in The Journey and what I mention there concerning King Herod the Great. Here I simply want to point out that the wise men were likely Zoroastrian priests from the area that today we call Iran. They were also likely astrologers, a profession which at that time was highly regarded. Somewhere between modern-day astrology and astronomy.
God beckoned the wise men to make several-month journey to see the infant Jesus, even though these men were likely not Jews. What does this tell you about God’s concern and interest in the nations of the earth, not simply in the Jews? In some ways this story reminds me of the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet whom God used to call the Assyrian people to repentance.
When the wise men hound Mary and Jesus they were “overwhelmed with joy.” They then presented gifts they had brought all the way from Persia-gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
You may know that these gifts were signs pointing toward Jesus’ future identity. Gold is the gift of kings, and Jesus was the “King of kings.” Frankincense was used by priests in their offerings to God, pointing toward Jesus’ role as our “high priest.” And myrrh was used in embalming the dead, a gif that pointed, even then, to the fact that Jesus would one day die. The Christmas gifts of the magi also likely sustained Joseph, Mary and Jesus when they fled to Egypt, becoming refugees there, after learning that Herod wanted to kill Jesus.
Our congregation’s offering on Christmas Eve are one way of identifying with the magi in worship and of helping children in poverty. I’ve mentioned earlier in this book that on Christmas Eve night, our congregation gives away its entire offering, half to causes in a developing nation (currently, Malawi, Africa) and the other half to initiatives for children in poverty in Kansas City. This practice has proved to be very compelling not only for our members, but for the many visitors at the Christmas Eve services. Last year a young man came to me after worship and said, “I’m a Buddhist, and my friends invited me to come tonight. I loved the music and your message, but what most moved me was the fact that your congregation voted to give away the entire offering tonight for children in poverty. I’ll be back!”
Christmas has become, for most Americans, a season for gluttonous and overindulgent excess. But the wise men model for us a different approach to Christmas. They were not seeking to get more, but to give what they had to help the child and his family. Today we give what we have to help others in Christ’s family.
In recent years, a younger generation has sometimes accused Christians of judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and insensitivity to the needs of others. Yet this same generation is drawn to people and causes who, in the words of Micah, “do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” It may well be that when our celebration of Jesus’ birth begins to mirror the magi’s celebration, then a younger generation will begin to see the power of the Christian faith.
For more information about how you or your church can give as the magi did, or for possible projects to consider, go to www.JourneyThisChristmas.com.
Lord, help me to look for ways, in my sphere of influence and in my daily life, that I can “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly” with you. Grant me a generous heart. Amen.