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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández









Of all the characters represented in the Christmas story, none has had our understanding shaped more by Christmas carols and Christmas cards than the Magi who came to visit the newborn baby. For example, though we sing We 3 kings from Orient, we don’t know how many Magi there were. Nor do we know how large their travelling contingent was or what their names were. Tradition may try to tell us but that’s all it is, tradition. In fact, the names commonly associated with these men came to us by way of a 7th Century opera. Another thing we don’t know is how the Magi got the information they did about this newborn king or what was it about this spectacular star that compelled them to leave their countries and travel a significant distance to seek out the place of Christ’s birth. Despite speculations, we know this is no ordinary star, no comet, no asteroid, and no unique aligning of planets. Why? Because it didn’t do what those things do. This star led, and when this star was removed long enough to take them into Jerusalem ask, Where is this one who is born King of the Jews? - this star is not on show but when the star needed to return to strategically point light down upon a house, this star changed from guiding light to spotlight.

We do know these wise men came from somewhere in the east, from well outside Israel. Due to their interest in astronomy, it is speculated that they could have come from Babylon, Persia, Ethiopia and beyond. It’s clear that something about what they saw in the heavens moved them from a place of interest and curiosity to a place of, we have to act certainty. The certainty that compelled them to go. Did God also give them an angelic visitation as he had with the shepherds or appear to them in a dream as He had with Joseph? We don’t know. What we do know is that determined to find this new King, the Magi dropped everything that to that point, had preoccupied them. We also know their actions were far more than a whim. The evidence of that is their gathering of provisions needed for a long journey, chief among them gifts of great value befitting a king. Based on what was presented, we know they were certain the One they set out to find was a king unlike any other. Geographically, a king of another kingdom, but of another Kingdom in more ways, than they could possibly know. His kingdom would not be limited by race, nationality, wealth or boundaries - this in some way known to these foreigners who travelled so far. If not, what benefit was it for them to come to Him? A king of another kingdom wouldn’t grant favour to them because of some gifts. He couldn’t offer them positions of power or influence. In truth, how could a baby offer anything?

And yet they came – to worship Him. Don’t miss that. They didn’t come just to witness who this child was, nor come all this way just to offer gifts. No, before they set off on their journey, they had already determined that they were coming to worship. To bow before One who in some way would be a king, unlike any king they had ever known. Setting aside everything else. Their busyness. Their prior commitments. The inconveniences. Travelling a great distance, not certain where their travels would take them. But going and bringing their best.

Their best is evidenced in their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Because of its scarcity, gold was particularly associated with royalty and nobility. Over the years, the lure of gold has not changed - nations acquire it, individuals treasure it, merchants trade for it and wars are fought over it. No wonder. God Himself validates its value – consider, the Ark of the Covenant was overlaid with pure gold as were the mercy seat and cherubim that covered it. Even the poles used to carry the Ark were covered in gold. And if that weren’t enough, the walls of the Holy Place were also covered in gold. God uses gold as a representation – pointing to something greater. Which is what the Magi were doing with their presentation of gold to the One before whom they bowed. Giving it as a gift - laid down before a King. In a similar fashion, they brought frankincense which was used in the tabernacle and later the Temple as incense offered to God. Mixed with spices, pure frankincense was consecrated as pure and holy Ex 30:34,35, the only incense permitted at the altar. The burning of frankincense is most associated with the worship of a deity. In this way, the wise men honoring this newborn king as greater than any other. And then there was myrrh, which at first glance seems out of place with the other two. After all, myrrh was used to embalm the dead. Yet as Exodus 30 tells us, myrrh was a main ingredient in the anointing oil used to purify the priests and everything in the Temple, including the altar before sacrifices could be made holy unto God. Specifically, Scripture tells us, whatever oil touches them will become holy. So myrrh was equated with purity and holiness yet there is one

qualifier for its use, as 32 tells us, myrrh shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person. Yet baby Jesus is presented with myrrh which later as we know, Joseph of Arimathea wrapped our holy, sinless Redeemer with 75lbs of myrrh. Gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts from the Magi travelling far to give their best to Jesus.

I wonder, how far are we willing to go to do the same? To set aside all the things that preoccupy us. That fills our schedules. That occupies our time. Set aside to go and worship Jesus. Compelled by hearts that must bow before this King worthy of all our worship.

Contrast what the Magi did with those to whom they came when they stepped into Jerusalem. They travelled from far-off countries; those in Jerusalem weren’t prepared to travel beyond city gates. They searched as far as the star would take them; those in Jerusalem, when asked where this child might be, didn’t know, didn’t care and weren’t about to look. They left everything behind; those in Jerusalem were too busy with all the other things they had to be done - businesses to run; family obligations to fulfill; religious ceremonies to fulfill. Searching for this king was too inconvenient. And searching out this king in a no account of hamlet like Bethlehem was beyond absurd. No king would come from such a place. Perhaps in a time long ago of shepherds and no account villages but hardly in a time of religious and political cities of prominence like Jerusalem. Besides if there were any truth to the story that was told, they would wait for this King to come to them. They were hardly going to Him and instead would settle for a secondhand account of whatever news this contingent of wise men would bring.

And yet as they wait, we are told in Matthew 2:3, this news about a newborn king caused distress both to Herod and to all of Jerusalem, When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him.

It’s not hard to understand Herod’s response. Time and again, he’d proven himself paranoid about the slightest threat to his rule. Even those closest to him had been executed at any hint of opposition. And the religious rulers? They had spent years enjoying the perks of their position and they weren’t about to lose that. But all Jerusalem? - that’s harder to determine. Perhaps they feared Roman response or perhaps, this new king would change their way of living.

One thing is clear, it was God who led the Magi into Jerusalem so the whole city could hear about the arrival of this newborn king. It was that news that caused Herod to gather the chief priests and teachers of the law to hear the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s birth. You would think that their review of the prophecies might stir up faith and anticipation. You would think it would have them on their way to Bethlehem to see what the prophets foretold. But it didn’t. Because they were too busy hanging on to what they had. Too busy enjoying the power. Too busy protecting the influence they’d earned over time. Too busy even for the arrival of God’s Messiah they supposedly longed to see. Too busy to even go and look.

Just like we are prone to do – too busy to take a close look, too preoccupied with so many other things. Too busy pursuing the things in which we put value.

Don’t miss the contrast with the Magi who left everything to follow a God-directed star. A star that as soon as they left Jerusalem, reappeared, leading them to the very house Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying. The text tells us a house, not a stable 2:11 meaning not sharing space around a feed trough with some shepherds and sheep.

So what do we take from all this? Above all, it is this – with whom do we identify when it comes to Jesus? To those preoccupied with life that they have little space to fit Jesus in alongside a host of other things? Or perhaps, people who will take a look IF this King comes to us but as for us going to look for Him? Not going to invest a lot of time doing that. And honestly, only if that search doesn’t take us too far from all the other things we have to do.

But what if this story is fully true? That God has come to offer us forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Wouldn’t / shouldn’t that demand that we take on the heart of the Magi where we drop everything to find the Lord who comes as God’s Promised King? Going after Him with a no holds barred, got to do everything in pursuit of unfathomable treasure?

Pursuing Him as a people on a quest who when finding Him, fall before Him in worship – offering our very best to Him. God’s Almighty King who we are told will reign forever and ever.

For this One is: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end - upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. Is 9:6,7

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