Summary: Why did God speak to the Magi through the stars
Let us open in prayer
Father, I pray that you will anoint my words this morning that they may be words for each of us from you. I ask what I say may be relevant in our Christian lives. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Story: Maddy and I recently moved from Frisby on the Wreake in the Diocese of Leicester to Tilney St Lawrence.
When we started to pack up in Frisby, we came to take the bedroom apart and I was surprised to find a small basket underneath our bed with three eggs and £1000.
I was a bit puzzled and so I called Maddy and asked her what this was all about.
She said: “Well I have to be honest with you. Every time you preached a bad sermon, I put an egg in the basket.”
I thought – well three bad sermons in 3 years – not bad going.
But I was still puzzled – “Well, what is the £1000 about”
She replied, as wives always do : “Every time I got a dozen, I sold them”.
I hope this morning won’t be an egg sermon!!
Today we celebrate Epiphany and our Gospel reading is so well known that it is difficult to find something new to say. But I would like to start with a question
QUESTION 1. Who were the Magi?
Very little is known about the Magi.
Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were.
All the Bible tells us is the Magi came from the East to Jerusalem. And so it is more than likely they were NOT Jews.
Tradition has it that they were Magi from Persia, once a mighty country where modern Iran and Iraq now are.
What is known about the names and number comes from legends and what exactly Magi were from information gleaned from history about the Persian kings.
In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship him.
He also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
History tells us that they were astrologers reading the future in the stars
It is generally accepted that “the Magi were a priestly caste (in the Persian Empire), numerous enough to be regarded as one of the six tribes of Media” (based on J.D. Davis Dictionary of the Bible p. 489).
The Magi worshipped the elements of fire, air, earth and water.
But the only temples they had were fire temples, generally on the roofs of houses, where they kept the sacred element burning day and night – a bit like the Eternal Flame in Arlington Cemetery over President John Kennedy’s grave.
And it is from the term Magi that both of our modern words “magician” and “magistrate” are derived.
It seems to me that the Magi were drawn to come and worship Jesus as the result of astrology!!
So why did God speak to those practising astrology
After all astrology is firmly condemned in the OT
Take for example the passage from Lev.19:26
26 You shall not eat anything with the blood; neither shall you use magic, omens, or witchcraft or predict events by horoscope or signs and lucky days. (Amplified Bible)
So if that is so specifically condemned - as being contrary to God’s will – why then does God the Father speak by sending a special star?
Surely, conventional wisdom would suggest, God should speak to the leaders of His own people the Jews than to pagan foreigners?
It seemed to me that the key to the answer of these questions can be found in the attitude of the Magi compared to the attitude of the Jewish King Herod and the Jewish religious leaders.
So let us have a look the attitude of three groups of people in our Gospel lesson
1. The JEWISH RELIGIOUS LEADERS;
One might have expected them to be the last people on earth to miss out on meeting Jesus.
After all the religious leaders knew all about the Messiah from prophecies in the Old Testament.
And that he was going to be born in Bethlehem.
But what did they do about it?
Once they heard the report of the Wise Men - did they go and check Bethlehem out - to see whether this special baby really was God’s Messiah?
No. They missed the Son of God because of indifference.
They had the facts about the baby.
They knew how special he should be.
They knew he was the Messiah sent to save them.
They been waiting for him for 300 years – but perhaps the wait had become a tradition.
But they didn’t really care enough to find out more about the Messiah.