Epiphany – Sunday, January 6, 2019

January 6, 2019  

Matthew 2:1-12

Were these guys wise men or kings? Were they astronomers? Were they magi? Were there three of them? Or twenty? Or somewhere in between? Were they all men? Could women have been traveling with them?

Tradition tells us one thing, scripture tells us another.

Tradition tells us they there were kings traveling.
But… not really. According to scripture, they were “magi” which can be translated “wise men,” “astrologers,” or as “magicians” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, p. 140). “Magi” does not translate to be king.

They were traveling from East to West. We don’t know where, exactly they came from. Most historians assume they were pagans—meaning they were Gentiles, not Jews. This is an important point. This tells us that the good news of Jesus Christ speaks to all people of the world, not just those who were God’s Chosen.

How many were there?
We don’t know. Tradition says there were three, but that is only because three gifts were given. There could have been more—probably were. People didn’t travel alone, they traveled in large groups. With family and servants and household members. The gifts the Magi gave were expensive, signifying the economic status of the magi, which in turn signifies they would not have been traveling alone. They would have been traveling with their “people.”

What is most interesting is the purpose of their travels.
The magi saw in the stars, particularly in the presence of one star, that a king had been born. They wished to “pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2).

Before I get to that point, allow me to make another.
The magi visited King Herod in Jerusalem prior to visiting Jesus. As I read, they told Herod a child had been born “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).
Don’t forget, Herod was king. And he was not Jewish, which deeply upset the people of Jerusalem. Herod the Great was an “Idumean…backed by Rome” (TNIB vol. 8, p. 142). He became a king “by military conquest” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 142). Folks “resented his rule” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 142).

In our reading, King Herod was a contrast to the Magi. Although they were all Gentiles, the Magi followed the star to pay homage to a king who was not theirs. King Herod could only feel the threat of this new king, a threat to his own power.

Which takes us back to our most interesting point:
One scholar wrote “The magi are Gentiles in the extreme, characters who could not be more remote from the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem in heritage and worldview. Even at the beginning of Jesus’ life, then, we see the dividing walls between races and cultures breaking down” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 145).

In the year 2019, what if we reclaim that reality? What if our new year’s resolution would be to reclaim the fact that Jesus came to the world to unite the world rather than to divide it? What if, in 2019 we embrace the reality of the love of Jesus, and let that reality live as it was meant to live, knowing the reason Jesus came to the world was because God so loved THE WORLD? (John 3:16)? God didn’t send Jesus to the world to save a small group of select people. God sent Jesus to the world to save the world!

As our gospel story illustrates, God’s love had the power to transform the hearts and minds of pagan magi… who followed a star to pay homage to Jesus—they worshipped Jesus!

Knowing this, who doubts the reality that God’s love has the power to transform the hearts and minds of all of us, even when we think differently, even when what we value (which might be the same) takes us to different places philosophically or politically?
There are so many things we humans have created in this world, intentionally creating barriers between ourselves and other people. This is not God’s desire.

 We divide ourselves by race. We divide ourselves by belief. We divide ourselves by nationality. We divide ourselves by how much money we have or how much money we don’t have. We divide ourselves by our politics. We divide ourselves by our abilities. We divide ourselves with labels and with colors and with dollar bills…

 This is not God’s desire.

 Why else would God have “unobtrusively and ambiguously behind the scenes” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 143) stopped a star in the sky in order to let a group of pagan magi follow it to the newborn King?
Stars don’t rotate. But the earth does, giving the appearance that stars do. This one stayed in the magi’s line of vision for as long as it took for them to travel to Bethlehem to find Jesus.  

God led the magi to Jesus even as God leads us. God leads us to Jesus! Because God loves us.
God loves the world. God desires that the world know God’s love. Always and forever.