Seeking the Messiah
By the Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Psalm 72:8-11
Devotional text: Matthew 2:1-12
Today, we are looking at yet another part of the Christmas tradition. It is the coming of the Magi who had traveled from the east to find the newborn king of the Jews.
In traditional manger scenes, we find Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. There are shepherds with their sheep, a donkey and sometimes a cow. Included are three Magi and their camels. Each Magi brings a gift for the Christ Child.
The traditional use of the Magi at Christmastime helps to pull together the miraculous birth of Jesus as the first coming of the awaited Messiah. The Hebrew people had been waiting for hundreds of years for a Savior to be sent by God.
When Jesus arrived as a baby born of Mary, he did not fulfill the circulating beliefs that the Christ (also known as Messiah and Savior) would come as a mighty warrior of God to save the Jewish people from their enemies. Instead, he came as a baby and his birth was miraculous.
We know from Matthew 1 that Jesus would be born of Mary through the Holy Spirit. We know from Luke 1 and 2 that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and his first bed was a manger “because there was no room for them at the inn.” Luke 2 also brings in the shepherds who had been told of Jesus’ birth by angels who came to the field where they watched their sheep. And then we go back to Matthew 2, where the Christmas story seems to continue. It is the visit by the Magi.
In early traditions, the Magi were believed to have arrived 12 days after the child’s birth. The date for this arrival became known as the Epiphany and was celebrated on Jan. 6.
The word epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning “appearance.” Other synonyms include a realization, insight, a flash of sudden understanding or a sign. The name “magi” (plural form of the word magus) identified a member of the priestly caste from ancient Persia. Another name for Magi is Wise Men.
According to the work of the Magi, they were a type of astrologers who looked for signs in the heavens. It is recorded that their religion was similar to that of the Jews as they believed in one God and had no idols. They also saw God symbolized as light. Is it any wonder then that a new star shining in the east would have gotten their attention?
Taking this information into consideration, let’s look at the scripture in Matthew 2:1-12.
The first word we read is the word “after.” From verse one we read, “After Jesus was born … Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”
“After” doesn’t really give us a timetable. It only means for us that the coming of the Magi took place after Jesus was born. Notice too that scripture does not tell us how many of the Magi had come. Identified in scripture only as “they,” their number could have been two or several.
As we consider their timetable, let’s read what Matthew has to say about their arrival in Jerusalem.
Scripture tells us they did not go to see the king, but asked the people, “Where is the one who has been born the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Only after King Herod had learned from his religious advisers that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2) did the King ask for the Magi to meet with him in secret. In his secret meeting with the Magi, King Herod wanted details. Specifically, he wanted to know when the Magi had first seen the star. This is important for us to know too. Because knowing this detail will give us a clearer picture of the King’s later decree.
Sending the Magi to Bethlehem, the King also asked them to report back to him when they found the Christ Child, saying that he wanted to worship him too.
In verses 9-10, we find the star the Magi had seen rise in the east “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”
The next line gives us an important clue about the age of Jesus as we read in Matthew 2:11, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
No longer a baby in a manger, the Magi find Jesus as a child living in a house. Offering the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the Magi returned to their own country by an alternate route. Verse 12 tells us they had been warned in a dream not to return to King Herod.
The continuation of this chapter informs us of an angelic visit to Joseph, advising him to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt until told to return. The reason was that King Herod would now try to kill Jesus.
In verse 16, we find a furious King Herod making a decree “to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were 2 years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
So now we can put the time line together. The Magi did not arrive at the birth of Jesus. Jesus, a child, was found living in a house. We also can surmise that the Magi’s secret meeting with Herod gave the King a timetable that would more accurately gauge the age of Jesus.
Now returning to Nativity Scenes of today and the addition of the Magi, we can see it as the completion of the Christmas Story. Celebrating the Magi as part of Christmas allows us to experience the gift of God’s Son who would grow up and become the Savior for all peoples.
Jesus is the light of the world. He is our epiphany too.