They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” 

-Matthew 2:10-11

While the Magi were traditionally numbered and named as three, the Bible does not in fact say how many there actually were, or whether they were kings. The number 3 is an assumption based on the three gifts they Magi brought. Where did they come from? Who were they? Matthew calls them Magi – but what are the Magi? The word Magi is the plural of Latin Magus and Greek Magoi. They were men of great learning and they studied the stars (Astronomy). Most significantly, they were Gentiles. The Messiah is hence for all peoples, not just the Jews. God chose first to reveal himself to “outsiders” and to foreigners. In the kingdom of God there are no outsiders, nor is there any discrimination.

The Star of Bethlehem was a phenomenon in the night sky. No one really knows what the star in the sky was, and there are many theories which include comets, supernovas, or a conjunction of planets. We should not place too much significance on these. What is important is that God used a star to guide these Magi to the Messiah. God is in control.

The phrase “from the east” is the only information Matthew provides about the region from which the men came. East, called by the Greeks “Anatolia”, literally means, ‘place of the rising sun’, points to the lands to the east of Greece. The rising of the sun in the East alludes to the imagery of light, which relates with salvation in the Bible (Isaiah 60:1-6).

Now we turn our attention to Herod. Why would a king be troubled by a baby? He was paranoid. Herod would murder any potential rival to his throne, even members of his own family. He was backed by the Roman authorities. The Jews, who wanted a king of their own, resented him. Given an opportunity, they would have him overthrown. He would of course be worried about a Jewish King being asserted other than himself.

The Magi came to Jerusalem, because the capital city is the obvious place to look for a king. We are told that they “have come to worship him” which in Greek, proskunesa from proskuneo, combining the Greek words pros (to) and kuneo (kiss or adore). The Magi who may not be kings, were still of great social standing in their era, and they sought no honour for themselves but the truth. They gladly humbled themselves, to kneel before a woman and her child. They are portrayed to be more like servants than kings. God’s glory manifested where we least expected it. These Magi saw in this child someone much greater than them. They kneeled to Jesus, which foresaw and foretold the day when “every knee (shall) bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue (shall) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Can you humble yourself and bow before the Lord and “pay him homage”? The Lord in a beggar, the Lord in the colleague that ticks you off, the Lord in your family member? Does the sight of Jesus or rather another brother and sister fill you with joy?

Note the vast contrast between the joy of these Magi (who were least likely to care for a Jewish Messiah) in finding Jesus and the fear of Herod and his court. The people who should readily receive Jesus with eagerness are instead afraid. At times, the faithful, ‘we’, become light for others (Isa. 60:3); at other times ‘we’ appear blind to the light others can see (Matt. 2:1-6). However, the light is always there, as God graciously, mysteriously, and defiantly breaks into our lives. Will you be like the scribes who heard the message of the Good News, yet just continued with their way of life? Or will you be like the Magi, who received the message, got up and went in search of the Lord, not knowing where He would lead them, yet embarked on an adventure with Him? Or will you be like Herod, who received the message and destroyed it out of fear?

The gifts the Magi bear seem strange for a baby. Baby clothes or toys would have been more appropriate for such an occasion. The gifts offered speak of Jesus’ destiny. Gold is a gift suited for a king. Frankincense is used in temple worship (Exodus 30:34) and is a gift fitting for a priest. The high priest uses myrrh as an anointing oil (Exodus 30:23). Myrrh is also used to prepare bodies for burial (John 19:39-40). What gifts from your treasure chest are you willing to offer up to our Lord in service of His mission, this year?

Joyous Praise,