One of the space icons of my time has died, John Glen. He was the first American to orbit the earth and also was the oldest astronaut to fly in space, at the ripe old age of 77 years, (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/08/252101790/john-glenn-first-american-to-orbit-the-earth-dies-at-95). Our generation is not the first to have been fascinated by the stars of the night sky. Many generations of people before us searched the heavens for knowledge and wisdom and to understand our place in the universe. Did you know that there were men who searched the night skies more than two thousand years ago and they saw something strange that needed explanation, a bright star in the Eastern night sky. I love the story of the wise men that searched the sky and saw the bright shining star over the place the Christ child was living.
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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 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 search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-12, (New International Version or NIV).
Who were the Magi and from where did they come? Little is known about these mysterious visitors or the time in which they visited the Baby Jesus. In the traditional view most of us know about today we assume that there were three Magi because three gifts were given to the Babe, but the truth is no one today really knows how many were in this group, there could have been more or less than three. Another traditional assumption is that they visited the Baby while Jesus was still in a manger at Bethlehem, just as the shepherds did, but this may not be true. Some scholars believe that Jesus may have been nearer to two years old by the time these travelers followed the star to Bethlehem. Two pieces of information that support this theory is that the star appears in the night sky when Jesus was born and it would take the Magi some time to study the star and travel to where it was located over the earthly dwelling place of Baby Jesus. The second piece of information that supports this theory is found later in the text in Matthew in verse sixteen which we will discuss later. One thing is for certain, the Magi were men who studied the night sky and were educated enough to be able to finance a lengthy journey in pursuit of the star. How it is that they knew what gifts to bring is also a curiosity but I think that they brought products for possible trade from the places they lived or perhaps the businesses they owned. They were certainly not slaves or poor. They had to have been men of prominence and importance because if you notice in the text, the first place they went for information was to the palace of King Herod. Common folk don’t usually feel comfortable asking for directions from a ruler of a nation.
Notice the reaction of King Herod. Being a leader of his people I am sure that he was always on the hunt for potential plots to end his life and would do anything to protect himself. It is obvious that he knew nothing about the prophecy of the coming Messiah because we see in the text that he called upon his wise counselors to decipher the matter for him. Not only was King Herod worried but the text tells us that all of Jerusalem was worried as well. This reminds me that in the world of politics some things just never change. Those in power want to keep it and those not in power plot to take it away from those who have it. Here come these foreign rich men from the east and they want to know where to find the new King of the Jews just born, the new leader to honor Him and the people in power scurry to protect that bit of power they possess. King Herod knew that he hadn’t fathered a baby born as an heir to his throne recently so no wonder he was worried. Being a politically minded King old Herod tried to make a secret pact with these rich men from the east, the Magi. He was smart to do this, but God had a different plan in mind and later we will see what happens when the Magi don’t return to tell King Herod where to find the Baby Jesus. But first let’s look at this visit to the Christ Child a little more closely.
The star that had blazed so brightly to gain the attention of the Magi for further study was still shining brightly. In fact it showed them the way to where Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus were living, in a house, not in a stable or a barn. And when the Magi saw the star stop over this house they were filled with joy! No wonder, they had traveled many miles to come to the end of the star. I can see them now, getting down from their camels and collecting their gifts and going to the front door and knocking. What anticipation they must have felt. These were not even Jewish men, but men none-the-less that knew about the coming of a Messiah they wished to honor with gifts of value. Inside they were welcomed graciously no doubt. I can almost feel the surprise that Joseph and Mary must have felt to see these wise men standing there with gifts in hand asking to see the baby King of the Jews! This was Jesus’s first official royal visit you might say. And how Mary and Joseph must have wondered what lay ahead for them and their son must have also been on their minds. And then the gifts are given, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Such an odd compilation of gifts I have always thought. Perhaps one day I will do a study on these gifts. I do remember hearing a sermon in the past about these and how they are tied to the death of Jesus but I can’t remember it all right now. Gold is always a commodity easily traded. Maybe God sent this with the wise men to help Joseph financially. He will need it because Herod is on the warpath!
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:13-18, (NIV).
King Herod was furious when he realized that the Magi were not returning to let him know where to find the Christ Child. He wanted to be sure that no new king would be taking his place anytime soon. How evil to order the death of the innocent, babies, boys, all under the age of two years old. Oh how Satan must have thought he had outwitted God through Herod to hatch such a plan to kill God’s Son while He was still a defenseless little child. But it is comforting to know that our God is always watching, always protecting, nothing ever surprises our God and the plot failed and Jesus fled to Egypt with His earthly parents to grow and thrive through childhood.
Today our God still watches, still protects, still outwits Satan. Christmas is a reminder of the good gift God gave to the world. It is a reminder of how the world doesn’t want to hear the good news. It is a reminder of the spiritual war that rages on between Satan and God. It is a reminder of how that battle sometimes is played out in the people we love and care about. I am thankful for the star that led the Magi to seek the Babe in Bethlehem. I am thankful that we can celebrate the birth of our Savior. Merry Christmas everyone.
Until next time…Katherine