I once spoke for a Christian Indian-American gathering and had a great time fellowshipping with my brothers and sisters from the great sub-continent of Asia. I enjoyed the curry-rich food with hints of many other spices I could not name.
While eating with my new friends, I was reflecting on why a person born in India would want to come to the USA. My assumptions were: better economic prospects, easier assimilation than some immigrant populations because they already speak good English, and family already in the United States. These were all somewhat true, but none were the primary reason. Repeatedly, I was told that America was the place where they could live as Christians without fear of persecution or discrimination. India is a large, diverse country, but the Hindu majority sees conversion to the Christian faith as both heretical and, to some degree, unpatriotic. I struck me: they journeyed to America to serve Jesus more openly.
A delightful part of the Christmas story is the part played by the magi, popularly known as “wise men.” Only mentioned by Matthew, the magi story is sparse on details. Sometimes we call them “kings.” It is possible they had royal status, otherwise their quick access to King Herod is hard to understand. We like to think there were three wise men, although Matthew does not say. This comes from Matthew’s mention of three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (assuming the “one gift per magi rule”). We often say they were from Persia, but Matthew simply says they were from the “east.” Persia is east of Jerusalem, and given the historical circumstances at the time, it is as likely as anyplace for their origin. If true, this would mean they came from outside the Roman empire into the Roman world, and I think that is what Matthew wants us to understand.
The occasion for their coming to Jerusalem was the appearance of a new phenomenon in the sky, what Matthew calls a “star” (ἀστέρα). This indicates the magi studied the stars and has led us to conclude they were astrologers, people who believed the movement and alignment of astral phenomena signaled or even controlled future events. This has led many to conclude they were not Jews, but this is not a necessary conclusion. Later Jewish sources indicate a place for astrology in practice. This includes the Talmud and the much later Jewish phenomenon known as the Kabballah. I think it is both possible and even probable that these men were Jews. We must imagine the details, but I think the background of the magi was something like this:
There was a guild of Jewish men who studied both the Torah and other Jewish writings as well as the stars and planets. A new, unusually bright star-like light appeared in their night sky and they concluded it was a sign from the Lord that the long-promised Messiah of their Scriptures had been born. They determined that there were no further answers for them where they lived in Mesopotamia and decided to travel to the most Jewish city of all, Jerusalem, to get answers. Once there, they went to the head man, King Herod, perhaps not realizing he was not really a Jew. They unintentionally created a crisis for Herod, who feared any legitimate claimant to his throne. Herod had quick access to the best Scripture scholars of his city, and they determined that the scroll of the prophet Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This made sense to everyone, for Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, the prototype of the Messiah. Therefore, the magi hurried to Bethlehem, just a few miles south, promising to come back and report to Herod what they find (probably the next day). As they set out, they find guidance from a truly miraculous “star,” perhaps a visionary experience that only they could see. They find the young Jesus with his mother and father in a Bethlehem house where they worship (bow down) to him and give him three lavish gifts.
Like my Indian friends, they had journeyed far to worship the Lord Jesus. It was a hard journey, a journey of faith. It was rewarded with joy and fulfillment.
As we come to the Lord Jesus in this season of Advent, may we, too, come in faith. May we brush aside the unbelievers like Herod who would exploit us or discourage us. May we realize the purpose of our journey, to serve and worship Jesus the Messiah.
O Come, let us adore him.
O Come, let us adore him.
O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University