Summary: This series looks at the 5 stories after Jesus was born and the one thing whic unites all of them: their search for the Christ. This sermon looks at the search of the Magi for the Messiah from both a historical and theological perspective
The Search of the Magi
Advent is the season we prepare for the birth of Jesus and as we look forward to His return and when He calls us by name and welcomes us home. Typically during this time, we look at the stories leading up to Christmas but this year, we looking at the stories after Christ was born. They start a month after Jesus was born and are working our way back. Last week, we looked at King Herod the Great who in his paranoia and fear decided to send his soldiers to kill all the children of Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to kill the Christ child to maintain his grip on the throne. We talked about God’s way is not to keep evil things from happening in this world because that would rob us of the gift of free will. We have the opportunity to do wonderful things by blessing others but we also have the freedom to do terrible things. That’s why it’s so important to know what God wants of us. God does not take the evil impulses out of us but instead seeks to guide us to do the right thing. And so today, we’re going to see through the magi one way that God works in this world.
Our Scripture today is intertwined with the story of Herod because the magi were led by a star to where the Christ child had been born. On the way, they went to Herod to ask where the Christ child was born thinking that surely as King of the province he would know. The wisemen are a part of our Christmas story as they hold a prominent place in our nativity scenes and crèches. We know the magi by other names like the wisemen or the Three Kings. The word that Matthew uses in his Gospel is magi. Nowhere is it mentioned they are kings but rather that was taken from the Old Testament in Isaiah 60 which says that when the light comes into the world, the kings of the earth will stream to Jerusalem and bring gifts of gold and frankincense. Many read Isaiah 60 and surmised that the magi must be kings. They weren’t kings but instead were philosophers, astrologers, astronomers and wise sages. Some were earnest in their pursuits and others were fakes looking to just make a buck.
The real magi were priests following a man named Zorrow Astor who was a prophet in Persia or Iran today. They focused on God and on truth and believed that free will explained the pain and suffering of the world. We don’t know there were three. People just guessed that there were because there were three gifts. The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that there were actually 12. They also came to have names: Melcior, Gaspar and Baltazar which came into being by those studying this in medieval times. We really don’t know their names. They were made up over a period of time.
What we do know is that they were people very interested in when a king would be born who would change the world. The magi knew something of the Jewish people, their faith and their hopes because the land of Parthea where they lived had actually controledl ] Judea before King Herod came to power. From this, they came to know that the Jews looked forward to the coming of a Messiah and he would be a shepherd and rule with righteousness and be a light unto the nations. And so these magi were looking, waiting and anticipating by watching the stars. Many have wondered what they saw in the heavens which led them to believe that the Messiah had been born. There have been different explanations of this. Some had said it was a comet but most people believe that it was a conjunction of two planets, Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC, which loomed like a star and happened every 20 years. We believe that Jesus was born in 6 BC (before Christ). There was a miscalculation when they formed the Roman calendar. When the magi saw this sign, they packed up their belongings and began the journey from modern day Iran to Judea.
The journey to Bethlehem was 1000 miles and probably took about 50 days. To travel this great distance over difficult terrain, they clearly had a great desire to see and worship the Messiah. They also brought with them the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which were very valuable gifts. Why did the wise men give up the comfort of their homes to travel 50 days through desert and mountains and bringing gifts of great value to a baby? The answer may be found in what was happening in their homeland. Their land was ruled by an emperor named Phraates IV. Last week, we learned that Herod killed his wife’s uncle and brothers, his mother in law and even his own sons because he was paranoid someone was going to overthrow him. Phraates makes Herod look like Mr. Rogers. We know what he looked like because he put his image on all of the coins of his kingdom. Phraates came to power when he took the throne from his own father by killing him. His father was married to multiple people and he had 31 sons and so Phraates put all of them to death. He traded his own sons to Rome so they wouldn’t take the throne from him. One of his sons came back to lead a revolt which Phraates defeated and after that Phraates made sure his subjects felt his wrath. He was a cruel dictator and it must have been a terrible, dark place to live. And so the wisemen saw the star, you can understand why they would take such a journey. For them, this child represented hope and a better future. He represented life to them and hope that he would rule with justice. He would be a wise counselor and Isaiah says a Prince of Peace. They were yearning for this because maybe this King would be the answer to their prayers and not only change their nation but the rest of the world too.