The three Wise Men came to worship the baby Jesus, at least that’s what the carol says. The mysterious star that guided them tells us more.
Speaking of which, are you looking for that special Christmas gift for the one who has everything? How about a star? You can’t wrap it up but you can name it, and you will get a certificate with a deed to the name which will be registered in the “Star Registry.”
Depending on how much you have to spend, you can purchase a standard star with an emailed certificate for $19.95, an extra bright star for $44.95 or shoot for the moon (pun intended), a binary star gift set for $124.95.
You’re welcome and merry Christmas!
Seriously though, there’s one thing I learned this week about stars: all suns are stars, but not all stars are suns. A star is a sun if planets orbit around it, like our sun. Apparently there are other suns that are the centers of other solar systems. Scientists have discovered more than 2500 suns.
What does this have to do with the story of the Wise Men? When God created our solar system it became a tool to understand the times and the seasons. There is such order and certainty in God’s creation that what we now call astrology was, for several thousand years, astronomy, a science.
What does this have to do with the story of the Wise Men? These mysterious men were likely members of a priestly class who practiced a hodgepodge of science, astrology and medicine; certainly not kings, but highly regarded, the opposite of the low-life shepherd we met last week, but no less interested in what had happened in Bethlehem.
Yet never have we believed so much while actually knowing so little…
- As I said, they were not kings
- We don’t know their names, even though Catholic tradition has assigned, Casper, Melchior and Balthazar
- We don’t know how many there were although 3 gifts are mentioned
- We don’t know where they came from, other than that they were “from the East”
It is likely that the expectation of the Jews for a Messiah King was widespread throughout the world, perhaps owing to believing Jews who were exiled to eastern lands throughout their history. The fact that so little is known about them adds to the mystery of this beautiful story. But let’s spend the rest of our time reflecting on the star that led them to the Christ.
It Led Them to Worship
Remember, the first worshipers were the shepherds, even though the word “worship” is not used about them. They went in haste to find Jesus and “returned praising and glorifying God for all they had heard and seen.” That’s worship!
Now here come the Magi, without any introduction, onto the stage in Jerusalem about 5 miles away from Bethlehem. Unlike the shepherds, they did not need angels to persuade them to be worshipers of the newborn King. Instead they came with a question: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”
There are so many questions that we care about – the weather, the stock market, the time of the Patriots game (4:25 pm again the Steelers) – How our lives would change if we began our days asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Where is he in my life, is he ruling my thoughts and shaping the way I think and the things I say?
Let’s stop and realize what an explosive question that was in the Jerusalem of that day. It would be a little like someone going to Capitol Hill in DC and asking around, “Hey, where’s the new President?” Except we have elections so that would be a little unrealistic. But in Jerusalem talk of a new king was taken seriously since there were always rivals who were ready to take the place of the King.
Politicians never change. After hearing of a new king, Herod was “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” If the king’s not happy, you’re not happy! So the sitting king goes into full campaign mode. For Herod that meant conspiring to kill his rival.
As this story moves for a moment away from the Magi into the King’s court, it’s worth remembering that in this world God has placed us in the hands of politicians who make decisions on our behalf. We’re told to pray for them as they do their work, so that we, the Church, may live peaceful lives of holiness. You need only look to Paul’s example, and the many lives he touched in the government of Rome, to see the opportunity of witness.
The Magi were unaware and wouldn’t have cared about the politics of the situation. They had come to worship. When that is the aim of your life, the focus of your energies and your daily habit, it changes everything.
It Led Them to Safety
There were many Herods, This one was named, “Herod, the Great.” He was handed the throne by Marc Anthony, a name you’re probably familiar with and he was hated by Jews because he was a half-breed with an Egyptian mother. He was not afraid to shed blood, even that of his own family. Weeks before the appearance of the Magi he had two of his sons killed for insurrection. After the Magi left he would take the life of his eldest son.
A real family man!
Even these horrific acts would not compare to the one he would plan to remove this rival king: killing every child under the age of two. He was just a bad, bad man.
His first step in the conspiracy was to pull together all of the religious leaders and ask them where the Messiah was to be born. He didn’t know, for he was not a religious man, certainly not a Jew. They correctly answered, “Bethlehem,” quoting the prophecy of Micah, and the king, lying through his teeth, asked the Magi to find the child and let him know so he could come and worship him.
Of course, his plan was to nip this uprising in the bud and eliminate his rival. Though the Magi did not know it yet, their lives were at risk and they would surely be collateral damage in the king’s evil plan. What the king did not know was that the baby born in Bethlehem was the son of the living God, a true king who would reign forever. This King would keep them safe from the bad king.
Such a good reminder to us that we risk nothing when we trust in Christ. It is just as Jesus would later say, “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This Christmas give your life over to the one who keeps you safe and don’t allow those other predators to rule your life: your work, your fears, your worries and your family, your finances. Instead, make it your goal to worship Him. There you are safe.
It Gave Them Joy
The Magi listened to a wicked king, God used him to point them in the right direction, just a pawn in His hands, and off they go – their eyes on the Star and their hearts bent on worship. And in time, we’re not told how long, The Star was directly over the child.
Matthew, in describing this scene, has the same trouble Luke did when trying to express the terror of the shepherds – “they feared with fear greatly.” The Magi were not moved to fear, but to joy. The original language puts it this say, “they rejoiced with joy great exceedingly!” Notice they haven’t even seen the child yet, just the Star. It had led them from their homeland, to Jerusalem and now finally to their destination.
This whole story takes place up to two years after the birth – Jesus may even be a toddler – because they don’t arrive at a manger but at a house. Joseph’s family had an upgrade! The moment finally arrives, and the Magi see the one they had come to worship and they do just that. In true Eastern tradition, they hadn’t come empty handed but with gifts, “gold, frankincense and myrrh.” These were carefully chosen, gifts of value fit for a king.
Verse 12 is a finger in the eye of the wicked King Herod. God appears to the Magi in a dream to warn them of Herod’s wicked plan and keeps them safe as he would Joseph’s family. Verse 16 tells us that Herod scrambles to take the new king’s life by ordering the death of every male child under two years old.
Horrible and wonderful at the same time.
If you’re human, the slaughter of innocent children is unimaginable. If you’re a Christian, the beauty of this story is its mystery and being able to separate the things you don’t know (who were the Magi? Where did they come from? How did they know about Jesus? What exactly was this Star?)
So here is what they have taught us and what we know:
- Your greatest joy is as a worshiper. There are other joys, but the greatest is worshiping the God who made you to worship him.
- Your safest place is with God. Bring to him your work struggles, your fears, your family heartaches, and your financial stress.
The Star of Bethlehem was there to lead the Wise Men to Christ. This is still the destination of Christmas.