“Magi”

On January 6, Pastor Jim preaches on Matthew 2:1-12.

1 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.

We call them “Kings,” or “Wise Men.” We’ve given them names and developed apocryphal stories about them, yet the truth is we know very little about them. We don’t know if they were wise; we don’t even know it they were all men. The Scripture above uses the term “wise men,” but the actual word is “magi,” or “magoi” in Greek, which means “Zoroastrian priests.”

Since they brought three gifts we assume there were three of them. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church contends that there were 12 of them! That must have made for a pretty cramped  stable, although Matthew doesn’t mention a stable and instead says they entered a house. I picture them pulling up to a little rent house on the poor side of town.

They were not Hebrew, not Christian, and certainly not Methodists. They were stargazing astrologists fascinated by dreams and signs in the heavens. The words “magic” and “magoi” share the same root. Spooky! They were foreigners in every sense of the word.

We can only imagine what caused them to follow that great light in the sky. Somehow they knew who it would lead them to, but they didn’t know where or how far. Still, they rose up and went. They had hope, and they had joy.

We’ll think together about the magi this Sunday. Who knows? God might use them to lead us closer to the one “born King of the Jews.”

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