Sunday’s Scripture –January 5, 2020
We say “wise men,” the Greek word is “Magi,” the song says “kings.” So just what were these guys? Well, we’re not sure. The same word Matthew uses for them is translated as “magician” in Acts 13:6. Later, there was a social class of priests in Persia (Iran) called the Magians. Most biblical scholars, though, agree that the wise men, or magi (MADGE-eye), were astrologists. They studied the stars. This is why they spotted the unusual star when it first came over the eastern horizon.
One thing is for sure, though: Matthew did not mean the magi came from the eastern side of Israel. These guys would not have been Jewish, not by a long shot. Even from the beginning of Jesus’ story, then, we see that he was meant to spread the good news about God beyond the boundaries of Judaism.
A curious thing about this passage is that Mary is barely mentioned, Joseph is completely ignored, and Jesus doesn’t do anything. The main characters are the wise men and Herod. Oh, and the maybe star too.
In Jewish thought, the birth of a great person is often accompanied by a star doing something out of the ordinary. Many attempts have been made to explain what the Christmas star really was and why it drew attention. Halley’s Comet was visible in 12 B.C. Jupiter and Saturn passed close by one another three times in 7 B.C., probably making them appear as one, brighter star. (Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke even wrote a short story in which it was a star, 3,000 light years away, going supernova.) Any such speculation, though, is pretty pointless. Matthew is not trying to describing a natural occurrence, but a supernatural phenomenon.
Though Saint Nicholas (eventually known as Santa Claus) was a real person who gave simple gifts to poor children in Fourth Century Turkey, the tradition of giving Christmas gifts really began with the wise men on that first Epiphany.
A sad truth of today’s church is that, in almost every aspect of daily life, most Christians behave indistinguishably from non-Christians. From cheating at school to marital infidelity, statistics show that, overall, those who claim to follow Christ live no more morally than those who make no such claim. Many church families in the U.S. celebrate Christmas no different than non-Christians. They forget Advent is a season unto itself and instead treat it only as a time to shop, decorate, and party; they treat Christmas as a single day rather than a twelve-day season and they ignore Epiphany all together.
Thank you, God, for the gift of Jesus. Thank you for the celebration of Epiphany and what it means. Take these and all the things we offer to Jesus and use them according to your will.
- Do you see any symbolism in the specific gifts being given to Jesus?
- Why would the wise men give these specific gifts?
- Do you think Herod really wanted to worship Jesus like he said? If not, then what did he want to do?
- Is there any significance in the Jewish people and religious leaders having no idea that their long-awaited Messiah had been born, but these non-Jewish foreigners did?
- What do you think Mary was thinking when the gifts were presented?
- What does it mean to “pay homage” to someone?
- How do we pay homage to Jesus?