Significance of the Visit of the Magi

Matthew 2:1-12

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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EPIPHANY

Christians celebrate the feast of Epiphany,

* from the Greek word epiphaneia,

meaning disclosure, manifestation, unveiling or appearance.

* At the simplest level, on Epiphany Christians commemorate the “appearance” of the magi from the east

It is interesting that Matthew was the only biblical writer who recorded their visit.

WISE MEN/KINGS –WHO?

here came wise men—literally, “Magi” or “Magicians,”

*KINGS?

KINGS?  Why would they seek to pay homage to another KING

Asked a KING for directions to KING of Jews?

*Why ask at all, if following the star,   and continued to follow the star?

*Left for their own country… where?

More likely a priestly caste of *Zoroastrianism, noted for their study of the stars as part of their religion. 

Zoroastrianism

  • Possibly the oldest             monotheistic faith
  • pre-Islamic religion of       ancient Persia founded    by Zoroaster in the 6th    century BC.                              3500 YEARS AGO
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy calls Zoroaster

 “the world’s first philsopher

  • echoes of his words in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 
  •  Zoroastrians were also known for their devotion to truth and wisdom.
  •  They place a strong emphasis on protecting the environment.
  • Also within his religion, Zoroaster taught the existence of angels, demons and saviorsideas that can also be found in ChristianityJudaism and  Islam.                                                                 Zoroastrians use the Avesta as their sacred text. The Avesta contains hymnsritualsand spells against demons.

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NAMES

  • Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar,                                                       
  • do not come from the Bible
  • and did not appear in Christian literature until over five hundred years after the birth of Jesus.
  •  Nothing in the Bible says the wise men rode camels (or any other animal);
  • they may have made their journey from the east on foot for all we know.
  •  And despite the familiar lyrics of the Christmas carol “We Three Kings,” no biblical source depicts the three wise men as kings. (They were most likely learned men, perhaps astrologers.)     

probably of the learned class who cultivated astrology and kindred         sciences.

TRADITION

prophesied – a star would come   out of Jacob /  giver of  light

and exercising kingly power  might have come down to them by tradition;

 but nothing definite is known of them.

FROM THE EAST – where

from the east—Arabia, Persia,      (IRAN)  or                                        Mesopotamia

Most popular IRAN

NOT JEWS

Went to Jerusalem—       as the Jewish metropolis.

** In the Revelation of the Magi, by    Landau —  they come from a    land called Shir,

which, because it is located at    the eastern edge of the inhabited         world, is probably equivalent to           China

LOCATION

  • NOT at stable-
  • Some sources say they traveled 6 months to two years
  • Matthew only place of story
  • “until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that   the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child –
  • According to Luke 2, it was shepherds, not wise men, who visited the infant Jesus in the manger.
  • Each GOSPEL writer was writing to a different audience—
  • Shaped stories to be more relatable and relevant.

SIGNIFICANCE of Visit

  • Matthew is the only gospel referencing the arrival of the Magi, specifying that they bring three gifts, not necessarily the number of Magi that arrived.
  •  The importance of their arrival and gifts offered bring great meaning to the story.
  • Matthew was Jewish and possibly a Pharisee, so his inclusion of the Magi was a reference to eastern gentile wisdom, which also included astrology, and was perhaps viewed in a negative light by the Jewish community.
  • Yet this point brings us to the conclusion that gentiles were included in the birth of the Messiah. Upon the Magi’s arrival, their bowing down to the infant offered the respect shown divinity, as did the gift of gold.
  • he other gifts have sparked debate, but I see frankincense representing the presence of God as an incense and myrrh as an anointing oil, both of which have significance throughout Jesus’ messianic journey and our own Christian tradition.
  • Being Southern, I recently learned about a tradition called “chalking of the door.”
  • In a ceremony held around the Epiphany, the letters “C,” “M” and “B” are chalked on a home’s entrance to bless all who live or visit there.
  • It is said:
  •  traditionally, the initials represented names of those Three Wise Men — Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. However, the meaning actually is
  • , Latin for “Christ, bless this house.” Regardless, Christus mansionem benedicat the inclusion of gentiles and recognition of the Christ child as Messiah ultimately point to the clearest meaning of the Three Wise Men.

DETAILS

The Magi are not always given their due –

I read a story about one person who keeps the Wise Men figurines from her nativity – out year round –

She says:

it’s a visual reminder to me. It    reminds me that the truth of the           ages from this part of the             “Christmas” story is, and always           has been, that wise men and      wise women, wise boys and wise         girls, still seek Jesus. Not just at Christmas time, but all through             the year.

  • the magi are a poignant reminder that Jesus welcomes all peoples from all places.
  • he magi, then, “unveil” this mystery and disclose the nature of God’s kingdom announced in Jesus.
  • They remind us that it cannot be limited to the Jews or any other singular people.
  • The magi symbolize the divine promise given to Abraham for “all peoples on earth” in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 12:3), and
  •  John’s vision of heaven with people from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” in the last book of the Bible (Revelation 7:9).

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A couple of weeks ago we talked of Living the Nativity –

Today’s story talks of how wise men met Jesus and returned home by a different path —
Mary and Joseph were warned in a dream to leave Bethlehem –

And they fled pagan Egypt where they found asylum.

  • That symbolic place of Israel’s bondage now became a place of protection.

As we all seek Jesus and to discern the main thing in life –

Once we find it, we too continue on a different path than we came…

Let us pray –

Continue to open our eyes, hearts and minds to the wonders of our walk in the light…

Help us to share our journey with all who wish to join… Amen