Summary: Surely one of the great stories of Christmas is the account of the visit of the Wise Men from the East. This delightful tale of strange men from some faraway land who brought Christmas presents to the baby Jesus is filled with mystery and intrigue.
Right away we discover something interesting. The Wise Men show up in Jerusalem after the birth of Jesus. That runs contrary to many of our nativity scenes that show the shepherds and the Wise Men arriving in Bethlehem at the same time. The shepherds were there the night Jesus was born. The Wise Men came sometime later maybe up to two years after the birth of Jesus.
One of the things that intrigues me about this story is the incredible wrong turn these guys took as they neared the end of their trip. Instead of following the star to Bethlehem, they stopped off in Jerusalem to ask Herod for directions (someone has suggested that this is why the wise men are so famous they’re the only men in history known to stop and ask for directions!).
Who were these Wise Men? They were the professors and philosophers of their day, originating from the country we now call Iraq. These professionals were brilliant and highly educated scholars who were trained in medicine, history, religion, prophecy and astronomy. Our modern word “magistrate” is a direct descendant of the word magi. Since these men thought deeply about life, it certainly makes sense to call them “Wise Men.”
They were also trained in what we would call astrology. Back then, astrology was connected with people’s search for God. The ancients studied the skies in order to find answers to the great questions of life--Questions like: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?
The important fact for us to know about these Christmas Characters is that they were highly influential men who served as advisors to the king. While they were not kings themselves, it would not be far from the truth to call them kingmakers.
What possibly could have motivated them to make a treacherous 1,000-mile journey across the desert? There’s only one answer to that question -- they have come to see a baby King. This is fascinating. They knew a baby had been born but they didn’t know where. They knew he was a King but didn’t know His name. So they come to Jerusalem--the capital city--seeking help. It actually makes sense that they went to Jerusalem because they wanted to welcome the “King of the Jews.” They guessed that this newborn king was the son of Herod the Great. They assume that everyone must know about this baby. But a great surprise awaits them.
Star of Wonder
Verse 2 adds a detail that has baffled and intrigued Bible scholars and astronomers for 2,000 years: “We have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.”
What was “this star in the east?” There are many theories in fact two new ones appear in this week’s issue of US News and World Report (12/20/99).
One astronomer from Rutgers University argues that it was an alignment of stars and planets that ancient astrologers would have recognized as significant. Jupiter was considered the planet of kings, and a lunar eclipse of Jupiter in the constellation which was an ancient symbol of Judea, would have excited expectations of a divine birth in the Jerusalem area. According to sophisticated calculations, this would have appeared in the year of Christ’s birth.