Summary: From the beginning, perceptive outsiders have been welcomed into the presence of Jesus.
Yesterday was the Twelfth Day of Christmas. That means that today is Epiphany. Epiphany means manifestation or revelation – a turning on of the light – the shining light. And in some ways Epiphany is about the light of the Christmas star – but it’s also about the Magi who followed that star so that they could worship the newborn king.
“Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come
to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)
There is real drama in this story of the wisemen who traveled from some distance to worship the young Jesus. What a great story!
And with all good stories there is a lot of legend that develops alongside the facts.
I don’t think anyone is going to be terribly surprised when I say that we don’t really know how many wisemen there were.
The number three became associated with them because they came with three kinds of gifts–frankincense, myrrh, and gold.
Nor do we really know their names. The legendary names Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar seem to have been first used about 250 years after the birth of Jesus.
We don’t know their country of origin – but several eastern countries claim them as their own.
Furthermore there is no indication that they were really kings. Don’t take it too seriously if we ever sing “We Three Kings of Orient are...”
The text says they were magi – that is, scholars – academics – wisemen – or better yet PAGAN ASTROLOGERS! For that was their academic system.
Astrology, by the way, was a practice that God prohibited in the Old Testament. He didn’t want his people dabbling in projections based on the alignment of the stars. He wanted them to look exclusively and directly to him.
Yet, when Jesus is born there comes from the East – Babylonia, Assyria, Iraq – somewhere out there in the desert – there comes ungodly pagan magi who have somehow figured out that the King of the Jews has been born.
This is incredible drama! But it’s more than that. There is also an amazing point to it all: FROM THE BEGINNING PERCEPTIVE OUTSIDERS HAVE BEEN WELCOMED INTO THE PRESENCE OF JESUS.
Remember, Matthew is the most Jewish of the four gospel accounts. And remember, too, that the first century Jewish people were very suspicious of – and disliked outsiders. The rabbi’s called Gentiles “dogs” or worse.
Yet, here at the beginning of the Matthew – the MOST Jewish flavored gospel – we have these magi pagan astrologer wisemen bringing gifts to Jesus.
And God seems to be blessing their intentions. For he is the one who put the star up as a direction beacon that they would understand.
(Would you please put up the picture on the screen.
http://www.heqiarts.com/gallery/gallery2/pages/TheVisitOfMagi.html) I had this up earlier but I want you to see it again.
First of all, notice that the baby is holding an apple – which we talked about a few weeks ago. Jesus is the new Adam.
Secondly, though, want you to see how very Asian looking the magi are. The painting is from a Chinese artist, He Qi, which is appropriate since the wisemen were from the East.
They were outsiders – not from Jerusalem – not from Europe – not from the US – and certainly not from Turlock. Perhaps they were Assyrian or Indian or even Chinese – who knows!
“East” here in Matthew 2 means – outside – distant – a long way off – foreigners – aliens.
The local king fails to recognize the baby but the aliens from the East come to worship him.
By the way, here is a source for understanding why we have an offering as a part of our own worship.
Verse 2 – "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him."
Verse 11 – “They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were, and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Worship and giving go together. If worship isn’t costly then it isn’t worship. This is why we consider the offering to be an integral part of worship. It’s not just a collection to keep the church organization running. If that is all it were we could figure out more effective ways of collecting money.
We could have membership fees. Maybe premium levels of
membership. We could encourage you to let us autodraft from your bank account. We’d get a lot more money that way and we’d make all of our lives a lot easier. But that’s not the point.