In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Isreal.'"
— Matthew 2:1-6 (NRSV)
The Wise Men hold a prominent place in our Christmas nativity scenes, bowing in worship of our Lord along with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and their sheep, and some gently lowing livestock. But if you're a true stickler for chronology, the Wise Men wouldn't show up until the 13th day, January 6th, which is Epiphany. In case you're wondering, dont' worry, the Wise Men have been at the manager on our mantle since December 7th.
We are told these Wise Men, or Magi, traveled from the East to visit the child who has been born the king of Jews. While we are accustomed to seeing the Wise Men at the manager today, this moment was truly significant in previewing what God was about to accomplish through the live of His only Son. These men were likely Medes, Persians, or Babylonians whose wisdom came from advanced studies in astronomy, astrology, and enchantment. Simply put, these are the people who would least expect to pay homage to God's Son. And yet they followed the shining star to the child in Bethlehem, and they brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, a gift befitting a king. Frankincense, an incense symbolizing deity. Myrrh, a fragrant spice used to prepare the dead for burial. From the beginning of the story of Jesus the Wise Men have already told us that his child was indeed our God and king, and yet he would one day die.
When King Herod was greeted by the Wise Men he was frightened, and Jerusalem with him. How was it that these men of a vastly different spiritual tradition from the Jewish people came to know that the Messiah was born, and they desired to pay him homage? How could God work through people outside of the faith to proclaim the good news that God has taken human form? We must remember that when the angel visited the shepherds that Christmas night he told them, "I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." Good news of great joy for all the people. The good news of salvation in Christ is boundless, reaching far beyond the constraints we may construct. There is no stopping this good news from reaching the very ends and every nation of the earth. God was indeed doing something entirely new through Christ, and whether or not the world was ready for this new reality, it all began on a midnight clear in a humble manager.
This Ephiphany, as we celebrate that all people are gathered into one in Christ, let us be generous stewards of His message of hope, love, foregiveness, and salvation. Let us begin this new year with a passion for serving others as Christ first served us. And, as we begin a year of celebration of 75 years of ministry, let us not forget that our work in Christ's name is far from complete. May God bless you, and may God bless our next 75 years and beyond of proclaiming the mission and ministry of Christ through American Lutheran Church.
Lessons in Wise Faith
"The Magi teach us true faith," said Martin Luther. Given the obstacles they encountered, we would understand if they had given up altogether!
First, the travelers were "off the mark," coming to Jerusalem to seek a newborn king in a "royal palace," Then, directed to Bethlehem, the Wise Men found a sight "so utterly out of keeping with a king" — a poor young woman and child, in a "poor hut" — that one might expect them to head straight home. "But," declares Luther, "with a great, strong and full faith they … follow the word of the prophet and the witness of the star in all purity of heart," bowing to worship and honor the Savior.
—Based on Luther's sermon for the Festival of the Epiphany (1522), Luther's Works