Summary: Finding ourselves in the story of the Magi and responding in worship
Worship Like the Magi – Matthew 2:1-12
December 16, 2001 – Steve Simala Grant
“The God of power, as he did ride
In his majestic robes of glorie
Resolv’d to light; and so one day
He did descend, undressing all the way.”
- George Herbert
I think George Herbert, in that simple verse, captures part of the amazement of God becoming human – of voluntarily stripping Himself of, in Herbert’s words, “majestic robes of glorie” and becoming an human infant.
This is the third Sunday in Advent, and as we walk towards Christmas together we have been preparing to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. We’ve been looking to worship, like the people in the Biblical story. The first Sunday Pastor Sue reminded us that Jesus came as light into a darkened world. Last week we looked at the shepherds, and saw how they enthusiastically searched for the Christ child in order that they might worship, and then left sharing that wonderful news with everyone. Today we are going to look at the Magi, and see how they worshiped. And my hope is that we would find echoes of our journeys in the stories of how the first participants responded in worship to the infant Jesus, and that we would likewise come and worship Him.
Background to the Magi – we don’t really know. There has been lots of speculation, some substantiated by logical suppositions. But we really don’t know anything conclusively outside of what Scripture tells us – which is quite limited. We know: their title – “Magi;” which generally referred to astrologers and magicians, that they were from “the east,” though we don’t really know where (Persia and Babylon are common suggestions), and that the brought gifts fit to honor royalty which obviously demonstrates that they belonged to a priviledged class of society. We don’t know how many there were – our popular conception that there were 3 comes from the fact that there are three specific gifts mentioned, but in fact the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were.
So they are kind of mysterious. They appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and start asking questions about a new king – to the obvious dismay of the current king, Herod. Their direction comes first from a star – not unexpected from a group of astrologers. There have been all sorts of explanations of what this “star” might have been, including Halley’s comet and an alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. But this raises an interesting question – did God speak to them through astrology? It appears that the answer is yes. Some of us might have difficulty with that – God working through a different faith system, but it seems to me that the point to be taken is not that God is in all religions, but rather that He meets us where we are at and then draws us to Himself. And so God may choose to speak to us in a different way, even through a different religion, in order to draw us to the Light. Secondly they got direction from Scripture – from the prophecy of Micah which the chief priests pointed out. So God spoke through His Word. Third, this star appeared again, to the great joy of the Magi (vs. 10), but this time with a difference – this time it miraculously guided them to the very place that the child was. The star itself moved ahead of them and then stopped over the house. Then finally, they got direction from a dream which warned them not to tell Herod that they found the King. So do you see all the different ways God spoke to them? And can you relate to any of them – can you see how God has spoken to you in any of those same ways? God speaks, and draws Himself to us, really for one purpose: that we might worship.
These foreigners teach us about what it means to worship, and provide a model for us. Maybe you’ll find echoes of your journey in theirs, and perhaps you will see how you can worship like the Magi…
1. The Intention of the Journey (vs. 2):
Right from the very beginning of the story, we know what the goal of the Magi was: to worship the newborn king. That is very plain in vs. 2. To accomplish their goal, they travelled great distances, certainly at great difficulty, possibly facing danger and hardship of various sorts along the way.
I’m struck by how much effort they went through to worship an unknown king. We know they saw a star, concluded by whatever means that this indicated that a king of the Jews was born, and so they set out on a journey of great effort and cost, so that they could simply worship this king. It makes me ask the question: how much effort do I put into worshiping this same King? It is a lot different now – we know who He was, why He came, what He did for us. We know lots of His life and His teaching. We know Him personally – in relationship with Him. So how much effort do we put into worship? Oh, we have to get up on Sunday morning or give up our Saturday night, we have to get in the vehicle and drive a few minutes. Sometimes we have to sit through an un-inspiring sermon, sometimes there are other things we don’t like.