Matthew is the only gospel writer to include the story of the magi. He starts out their story by writing:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – 2:1-2
One author offers the following context:
“They seem to materialize out of nowhere. Matthew gives practically no details about them – what country they came from, what system of belief they represented, or how they knew the meaning of the star they had seen. They just show up, leave their gifts, and disappear…. The magi were still men of tremendous power at the time of Christ, but they were foreigners as far as the Roman Empire was concerned…. We actually don’t know how many there were. We assume there were three since Matthew mentions three gifts. But there could have been more. They might have been traveling with a small army, since their journey took them into Roman territory. They must have been an imposing sight!”
We could focus on a few implications in their story i.e. “wise men still seek the King of Kings”, Satan’s attempt to kill the baby, etc. But let’s focus on the part about how Almighty God became helpless, humble, lowly – the antithesis of everything people expected the Messiah to be. (My mind hurts just trying to wrap my mind around that.)
I really like how The Jesus Storybook Bible for Children puts it:
“Far away, in the East, three clever men saw the very same star. The star that God had put in the sky when Jesus was born. They knew it was a sign. A baby king had been born.”
“They rode their camels across endless deserts, up steep mountains, down into deep valleys, through raging rivers, and over grassy plains. The journey took months.”
“Jerusalem was by far the most important city for miles around and, as anyone can tell you, that’s where a palace would be and kings are born in palaces. So that’s where they went. But they were in for a surprise….”
[After meeting with King Herod], “They followed the star through the streets of Bethlehem, out of the nice part of town down a little dirt road until the it stopped right over – a little house.”
“Sure enough, in that little house – there, sitting on his mother’s knee – they found him. The baby King…. But this child was a new kind of king. Though he was the Prince of Heaven, he had become poor. Though he was the Mighty God, he had become a helpless baby. This King hadn’t come to be the boss. He had come to be a servant. And the Savior of the world.”
Oh, one more thing.
Next time he comes it will be much different.
The first time Jesus came, he came as a suffering servant. The next time he comes, he will come as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Mighty Judge.
Do you know him?
**In contrast to most nativity scenes, the magi were not at the manger. In fact, they didn’t arrive until a year or two later. Matthew records they came to see Jesus at a “house,” rather than a “manger” where the shepherds saw Jesus. (But, I think God is ok with us placing the magi at the manger. It’s sort of a “time compression” thing. 🙂 )
Merry Christmas, St. Nick