Summary: Christmas Sermon on the Magi: God reveals Himself to all kinds of people – and the least likely are often the most open.
I haven’t seen them for a long time, but about this time of year when I was a kid, we would see ads on TV that informed immigrants that they had to fill out certain forms to register with the government. Which wouldn’t have been that memorable, except that they didn’t call them immigrants. Does anybody else remember those ads? Do you remember what they called them? Aliens. I did not know at that time, that the definition of an “alien” is just “a resident foreigner.” When I thought alien, I thought, ALIEN!
So when the ad said that
It’s not hard to figure out how a word which meant “resident immigrant” came to be more commonly understood as “extra-terrestrial.” Especially in days when travel was difficult and expensive, you wouldn’t often see someone who was not from your village, your tribe, your race. They may as well have been from another planet!
Today we read about the coming of the wise men, or Magi, from the East. They came from a place that was about as different from little Bethlehem as Mars would be. And seeing them arrive in the humble home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have been just about as weird as seeing a spacecraft drop down on our front yard.
Magi were aliens to the Jews. The word “magi” comes from the word “magoi” in Greek, from which we get the word “magic.” The word has a couple of meanings, but one of them refers to a caste of high priests in Persia or thereabouts. They obviously were men who watched the stars to determine the course of human events.
It is likely that they also specialized in the interpretation of dreams, like we see Joseph doing in the book of Genesis and Daniel doing in the book of Daniel. We don’t know if they were kings, exactly, but, as with Joseph and Daniel, they would have been highly respected men in the court of the King and were believed to have special magical powers which enabled them to do their work.
It may sound surprising, but throughout history people have often drawn a very fine line between magic and religion. The connecting point between the two is that they each offer a way to relate to supernatural powers.
When I’m talking about this kind of magic, I don’t mean sleight of hand tricks and that kind of thing, but the actions of people who believe they are tapping into supernatural power.
The difference between magic and religion is that someone who practices magic or dabbles in the occult is trying to gain power over the supernatural. There is a sense there’s this supernatural power that’s just out there. It’s “up for grabs” and whoever knows how to get their hands on it can get do so and use it as they please.
Religion – and in particular, our Christian faith – believes that there is one God, who holds all the power and our job is to learn how to relate to Him in the way He has chosen. We are here to serve God; God is not here to serve us. God is the one in control; We cannot control Him. Attempts to control forces in the supernatural realm are doomed to eventual failure, because even if they somehow are made to “work,” they do so only by tapping into a spiritual being who is inferior to the all-powerful God of the Universe.
So here they were, these three wise men from the east. I said it was very likely, although not definite, these men were from Persia, which is located around modern-day Iran. Have you heard anybody speak about Persia lately? Probably not in everyday conversation or in USA Today, but we talked about Persia quite a bit when we talked about Nehemiah.
That’s where the people of Israel were in exile, and where Nehemiah had served as cup-bearer to the king about 4 or 5 hundred years earlier. So what does that have to do with anything? Well, how do you think these wise men had gotten to know the Jews?
Why would they think, when they saw the star indicating a great king of the Jews was to be born, that they should go to see him and to worship him? How did they know that the God of the Jews was not just the God of the Jews, but a God who loves all and all peoples? That was NOT a concept common to those times.