It’s Tuesday night and I just came from Byrd’s cafeteria. On the way home, all I could think about is the magician we hire each Tuesday evening to entertain families from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. We are trying to promote parents bringing their kids to dinner and embracing the idea of eating together each week. That’s something that was very common when I grew up, but nowadays, people are so busy that meals together are somewhat rare – or they are squeezed in between soccer practice and time in front of the TV playing video games.
Coincidentally, I met the magician first hand last week-end at the Santa brunch with our grandchildren at Woodland CC. His name is Mark and he is really something. He has been practicing magic for more than 27 years and he has almost an endless array of card tricks, rope tricks, sleight of hand illusions and the banter to go with it all. One of the things that really makes a great time at the restaurant is that he was universal appeal – young and old alike are caught up in his “schtick” and they love it. It’s so fun to see families laugh and joke around together.
Especially at this time of year, when we can’t help but thing of the birth of Jesus and the coming of Christmas, the celebration of His birth. Of course, most of us write it as Xmas, at least on the boxes of ornaments and decorations of the season. That’s because in the original Greek, the name of Christ is spelled “Xristos” and when you are in seminary, there are so many notes to take that you tend to develop a sort of shorthand and Christ is represented by the letter “X” – hence, “Xmas.” And you can hardly think about the birth of Christ without thinking of the other details surrounding the Christmas story.
I spoke about one such element several days ago when I wrote about the shepherds “abiding” by the flocks in the fields. But tonight, another part of the story comes to light. And that is the story of the Magi, those “wise men” who were part of the narrative in the book of Matthew. Because Herod, the king, wanted to know where the birth of the baby had occurred and the Magi, uncovering Herod’s plot to kill the baby Jesus, left to visit Him and then returned by a different route to spoil the plot of Herod.
Although we have come to think of these three “kings” as “wise men”, the truth of the matter is that they were probably leaders of provinces, not necessarily kings of countries, and while we are at it, I might as well let you know that they weren’t necessarily “wise men.” They were Magi and you have probably guessed by now that it is from this word that we get our word “magician.” Yep, that’s right.
Now Magi is the plural form of Magus, the name which was used to refer to a priestly class of Persian ruler. But it had another connotation as well – it was used to refer to a sorcerer. These types of individuals, including magicians, astrologers and soothsayers, were sought after by kings and Herod was no exception. There are stories about these magicians in Samuel, Daniel and other books of the Bible as well. In this case, Herod was trying to learn the location of the birth of the baby Jesus with the intent of killing Him. Fortunately, the Magi “tricked” Herod and the plot was foiled. In fact, the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrhe to the holy child.
Their role in the whole narrative has been immortalized in song and verse since the earliest recorded versions of the Christmas story. And that brings us to the verse for this evening, Matt. 2:7-8, 12″Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” ……. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
The encouragement for this evening is that God will achieve His purposes, even if it seems that there are attempts to foil His plans. Because God already knows the outcome and the future is never in doubt when it comes to God. Certainly, in the case of His Son, He gave a present to the whole world – a way to re-connect with the Father through the death and resurrection of the Son. My prayer this evening is that you will take a moment this Christmas season to remember the greatest gift that you have ever been given; the gift of eternal life – from the best gift giver who ever lived. And this is the true Magi(c) of Xmas. From our home to yours, may your season be filled with the peace and joy of the remembrance of the birth of our Savior….