Matthew 2:1–12 – In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Summary – Most Christians are familiar with the story of Magi coming from the East. We often see the icon’s three kings on camels at this time of year, though the text here does not specify three. In our nostalgic view of Christmas we picture three kings bowing to the newborn Jesus, along with animals and shepherds, and sometimes Santa Claus. The real story is much more dramatic that Christmas pageants. The Gospel of Luke, written to a Rome-wide audience, contrasts the birth of Jesus with the claim of Caesar Augustus claiming to be a god (Lk. 2). But in Matthew (written to Jews) the contrast is between the infamous Herod the Great, titled by Rome as “King of the Jews” (39 BC), and the actual King of the Jews, the Messiah to all nations. Herod the Great is a study in a wicked ruler; he was hated by the Jews of his day. He had many people killed, even his (favorite) wife and some of his own children. However, he was a major player on the world scene at this time. He presented many costly presents for the likes of Julius Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra, and most of all, Augustus (Octavius) Caesar. Matthew makes clear that through the prophecies of the Scriptures the birth place of the Messiah could be known and possibly the general time (Mic. 5:2; Dan. 9:24ff). When the Magi found Jesus, probably 1-2 years old at the time (after Jesus was born, v1). They knelt down and worshiped Him and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God warned them against the evil of Herod and they “went home by another way.” The Magi event is one of the major themes of Epiphany because it is the first hint that the true King of the Jews is actually the Savior of all Nations, the Light of the world.
Insight – There is a well-known song about the visit of the Magi, “We Three Kings” which was written by an Episcopal minster, John Henry Hopkins, Jr. in 1852. The insight that Hopkins put to poetry was that the gifts given have symbolic significance. “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, Gold I bring to crown Him again.” Gold symbolizes Christ’s kingship. “Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh.” This aromatic resin was often used in the worship of gods. Finally, a very interesting observation on the last gift. “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone cold tomb.” The last verse of this carol has reference to the resurrection: “Glorious now behold Him arise; King and God and sacrifice.” (To hear my new version of the tune of this hymn, go here.)
Child’s Catechism – What did the Magi bring to Jesus? Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Discussion – Many believe the Magi were Persian wise men and star gazers (e.g., from the areas where Daniel lived, current day Iraq). How do you think the Magi knew about Christ?
Prayer – O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Epiphany)