Each year we close our Christmas celebrations, we remember an unusual event of mysterious visitors from the East who seem to drop in on Mary and Jesus and shower them with valuable gifts. The visitors seem to photo-bomb our Christmas celebrations by showing up unexpectedly, dropping off their presents, then disappearing into the horizon, never to be heard from again. Many legends have formed over the centuries about these men, including that there were three of them, and that somehow the church even knew their names. But Matthew’s story does not tell us how many visitors attended Mary and Jesus, and their anonymity suggests that we focus less on them as individuals, and more on their actions and the message they bring to us today.
The word Matthew uses to describe these visitors is Magi, a term that historically was used to refer to a class of priests practicing the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians were known for their work in astrology, and their efforts to divine God’s work in the world by studying the positions of stars in the sky. One particular star caught their attention, and it led them to the house where Jesus and Mary resided. While Zoroastrians were not active in deeds of sorcery, their practices were misunderstood and the term “magic” has its origins in the word Magi. Translations and interpretations of the event have called these visitors, wise men, or even kings. But whether they were priests, royalty, or learned folk, they were important men who stepped way out of their comfort zones to find an ordinary family residing in an obscure village in Palestine.
The Magi were important enough to get an audience with King Herod, and seek direction from him as to where to find the child Jesus. Herod thought enough of them to be both threatened by their information, and to receive counsel from them on the whereabouts of Jesus, should they find him. Perhaps referring to Magi as wise men is most appropriate because they discerned that Herod did not have pure ambitions in asking about Jesus, and they decided to travel home without returning to Herod.
These men, who were not Jewish, and obviously not even Christian, still saw God at work in Jesus and not only sought him, but honored him with lavish gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Of course, we all know that gold is a precious and rare metal, even today, but frankincense was a valuable resin used in temples as a symbol of divine presence, and myrrh was another type of resin used in the embalming of priests and kings. The Magi were among the first to see that God gave the world a new priest and a new king to lead us. The generosity of the Magi, became the example for our own practice of gift-giving during the Christmas season.
The story of the Magi continues to speak to us today to remind us that even the most celebrated or self-important people of the world, are not nearly as wise as the one who created us…and recreates us, each time we are in the presence of Christ. While we may think we are wise, we are reminded that wise people always seek Jesus to find a greater wisdom, a greater purpose, and a greater light to illumine our lives. Come find Jesus, and lead a wiser, freer, and more generous life.
For the full text of the sermon - CLICK HERE
Devotions for Week of January 8, 2017
Welcome to The Soul Cafe, a place for gathering, for learning and for conversation.
We invite you to join us as we study and discuss how God reveals himself to us in the Bible and in our lives.
Please read our blog, share our devotions and join the conversation.
About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.