For many people Christmas is not the time for gift giving. Instead, the gifting part of the season takes place on Epiphany, which is January 6th. In Spanish speaking cultures the day is called El Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos, the “Day of the Three Kings.” The Three Kings, or Magi or Wise Men from the East (depending on who you talk to) are part of the “other” Christmas story, the one in the Gospel of Matthew. The Christmas story we are most familiar with (thanks to A Charlie Brown Christmas) is in Luke’s Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke the main characters are the Angels, Shepherds and Mary. In Matthew the main characters are Joseph, King Herod, the Star and the Magi.
There has been much speculation about the Star, where it came from, whether it was real, how it moved and showed the Magi the way and so forth. Another source of speculation is what the gifts represented with the conventional wisdom agreeing that the gold representing the kingship of Jesus, the frankincense representing the divinity of Jesus and the myrrh foreshadowing the death of Jesus.
And what often goes unmentioned yet assumed is the actual number of Magi that came to Bethlehem. We only know there were three gifts, but not how many Magi were there.
Ultimately these questions are subject to interpretation (and arguments, depending on your interpretation!)
As I have reflected on the scriptural story of the visit by the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) I have come to learn five things that I would like to share with you, so here goes.
First, the Magi were well educated. They studied! Despite the fact they were not Jewish they knew and studied the Jewish scriptures and knew about the long awaited signs of the Messiah. It was important to them, and should be for us; to be life-long learners. It’s about getting something from the day and not just getting through the day. Or as the art poster says, “Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”
Second, the Magi were also engaged with their world. We sometimes refer to this as “street smarts.” The Magi weren’t just satisfied with book learning, nor were they confined to their own world and culture. Which begs the question, “How much do we really know about our world beyond our own comfort zones?”
Third, the Magi were willing to test their ideas, to take risks. Once they thought they understood the “signs,” and in particular the movement of the star they got up and followed. It didn’t matter the cost or the risk. They got up and followed.
Fourth, the Magi weren’t afraid to ask for help. Even if that help turned out to be from negative sources. For all the wrong reasons Herod helped them find the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. One cannot predict the outcomes in asking for help, but it is important to be willing to ask.
And fifth, the Magi were changed by what they experienced. They “went home by another way.” The word way in scripture can signify changes in one’s life, in taking on a new way of living. I believe that is what the passage means. Through their learning, engaging the world, testing, and risking the Magi had an experience that sent them home by another way, to a new way of living, a new way of seeing the world and their place in it.
It can be the same for you and me. It is my hope for us all.
May your year be filled with laughter and tears, good work and service, family and friends, and love.