25 Days of Christmas – Gift of the Magi
It happens every year. We watch the Christmas Pageant and inevitably the wise men are there at the manger scene with the baby Jesus. But that is not the way it is told in the scriptures. Luke doesn’t even mention the wise men at all. We find that account in Matthew. Matthew leaves out the whole traveling to Bethlehem and shepherds thing. He goes from the genealogy, to the angel visiting Joseph and telling him to take Mary for his wife, to the baby Jesus being born. Then in chapter 2, Matthew jumps right into the story of the wise men, otherwise known as the Magi.
Who were these Magi and where did they come from? The bible doesn’t really say. It simply states that they were wise men from the east. They were men who studied the stars and knew enough about the Hebrew Scriptures to know to look for the prophesied king. Some scholars believe they may have been descendants of men who studied with Daniel in Babylon many years earlier. And the bible doesn’t state how many there were. Our pageant usually has three because there were three gifts presented but it could have been as few as two or a small party of six. We don’t know.
We do know they set out as soon as they noticed His star. We don’t know how long the trip took but the bible gives us some clues. They stopped at King Herod’s place to find out where the newborn king was and then went on their way. They found Jesus at His mother’s house (v11), not at the stable. This meant Mary had gone through the ritual purification process and was allowed in the house again. We see further in the chapter that Herod was incensed that the wise men didn’t return to tell him where the baby king was as he wanted to kill him. So Herod had all infants in that region two years old and younger killed. From this information we can guess that Jesus was not a newborn infant when the wise men showed up.
Then there is the whole gifts thing. The wise men came bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now gold I can understand. Who doesn’t like to receive cash. But the other two? Well, frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke, while myrrh, which was often used for burials, symbolized death. They were valuable gifts with many purposes both medicinally and symbolically. Frankincense was used in offering sacrifices to God in the Old Testament. Both were used as a perfume for covering up body odor, though only the wealthy could afford them. Myrrh was used in mummifying and preparing the body for burial. Definitely not your typical baby shower gifts. They were symbolic of Jesus being a sacrifice and His impending death. But they were truly gifts fit for a king.
So what point am I trying to get across about the wise men? They paid homage to Jesus. None of them were Jewish, yet they treated Him as a king. They gave him gifts. When warned not to tell Herod that they found him, they obeyed and left by a different route. All good points, but not the focus I’d like to leave you with. As we’ve examined the Christmas story this year, I’ve come to realize just how little we truly know it. We’ve gone all Hollywood on this story. We’ve taken the facts and added some extra pizazz and drama and have developed a Christmas story with a lot of incorrect facts. We need to dust off the old bible and get to the crux of the story. And not just for Christmas either. This Christmas, pull out the Word and read for yourselves. Don’t assume you know it all. God just might surprise you!