Christmas is in the rear view mirror. In fact, Janet and I spent the week-end, with the help of our daughter Jill and grandson Drew, taking down the decorations. That’s quite a job because we really decorate for Christmas and this year, with both of our daughters in new homes (new to them, that is…), we hosted more of the events of the season than we normally would. Combine that with Janet’s absolute love of converting our home into a Christmas wonderland and you can understand that this is not an easy task.
Not only do we put up four trees, but we do some lighting outside that adds to the spirit of the season. We also see lights coming down at the neighbors and soon things will be back to normal.
But after the birth of Jesus, the celebration of the occasion consisted of a visit and announcement by the angel, shepherds visiting the Christ child and a star appearing in the sky – the traditional Christmas story we all know from the Gospel of Luke. However, according to historians, the wise men (most nativity scenes show that there were three of them) probably didn’t visit the baby Jesus right away. And, frankly, there is absolutely no biblical evidence that there were three of them. Just because they gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh doesn’t mean that there were only several of them.
In fact, although there are several theories about the wise men, it is pretty generally accepted that they were really Magi. They were sorcerers, or magicians. They weren’t really kings in our traditional sense of the word. They may have been rulers of provinces east of Jerusalem and by some accounts, they were hundreds of them. Some others place their numbers as high as 700 or so, but most historians place the number of Magi much lower.
It is interesting to ask why these Magi would visit Jesus. Some historians believe that they may have come from as far away as Babylon, where the exile of the Jews took place earlier in history. About a third of the Israelites never returned to the land of their forefathers after the end of the exile and, instead, they made a life or themselves in the region of Babylon.
Also, the story of the Magi is sandwiched between the chapter recounting the birth of Jesus on one side and information about the adult Jesus in the following chapter. So all we have of the childhood of Jesus are these several verses in the second chapter of Matthew. However, it is a miracle that these “wise men” would travel the long distance they did to worship the Christ child. It is certainly one of the miracles of the Christmas story.
Herod, the king at the time, wanted the Magi to tell him exactly where the star led them so Herod could visit Jesus himself. But, his intent was to kill the baby king, not worship him as others had done. In fact, Herod issued an order to have all baby boys two years of age or younger killed, in an attempt to make sure that Jesus was among the slain children. This passage give us some insight into the probability that Jesus was more than several days old when the “kings” from the east came to visit.
More likely than not, Jesus could have been about 1-1/2 years old by the time all the wise men had travelled from afar to behold the Savior of the world. And in the Greek, there is a significant difference between the words that are used to describe a newborn baby as opposed to the words that are used to describe Jesus when we are told about the visitors from the east.
Our verse for tonight is a simple one. Matthew, in his introduction of the Magi, tells us in Matthew 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.”
My encouragement this evening is that this season provides a remembrance of the time when God sent His Son as a Savior for all of us. My prayer is that we may all gaze with wonder at Jesus as we come to worship Him, just as the Magi did, and that we may pursue a deeper relationship with Him all the days of our lives. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…