Thoughts on the Three Wise Men
Text: Mt 2:1 - 12 Written for a western tradition congregation for just after Christmas
Three boys are in the schoolyard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, "My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem, they give him $50."
The second boy says, "That's nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, they give him $100."
The third boy says, "I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon and it takes eight people to collect all the money!"
What do you say on the Sunday after Christmas day?
Christmas is one of the two celebrations that all Christian churches celebrate. Together with easter it has been celebrated since the very earliest periods of the Christian church.
Christmas eve marks the changover between two seasons in the church year, from the season of Advent which is about the expectation and excitement of the incarnation of Christ and the 12 days of Christmas leading up to the epiphany or theophany.
Christmas is not, strictly speaking one day in the year but rather a feast that extends for 12 days, beginning on the evening of Christmas eve and extending to the 5th of January including 12 days.
Through the 12 days are a number of saint days or feasts. Probably the most famous is the feast day of St Stephen, proto martyr. He is the Stephen stoned in Acts 7 by the Jews, the story that begins the narratives about Paul.
The reason this feast day is the most famous is that it is remembered in Good King Wenceslas. The song goes - Good King Wenceslas last looked out on the feast of Stephen. The feast of Stephen falls on boxing day.
The 12 days of Christmas were bounded by Christmas eve and the 6th of January which marks the epiphany or theophany depending on your church tradition.
Both terms discuss the manifestation of God in the Christ story. In the early church they recognised 4 manifestations signifying who Jesus was:
1. THE NATIVITY OF OUR Lord
2. THE VISIT OF THE MAGI;
3. THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST;
4. THE MIRACLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST OF CANA.
In the eastern church they focused on theophany, the revelation of Christ in his baptism. He buried sin in a watery grave, he demonstrated the trinity - father speaking, spirit resting and son being baptised, and gave the example of baptism to us. As stated in their liturgy
TROPARION OF THEOPHANY
At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father's voice bore witness to You, calling You His "beloved Son", and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory be to You!
In the western church, which supplies most of our tradition, they focused on epiphany or the visit of the Magi.
Where were the Wise Men from? Japan-they all came in 1 accord.
What were the Wise Men before they were Wise Men? They were firemen. They came from a far(a fire).
Matthew writes a very different nativity to Luke. Luke emphasises the link between the gift of Christ and the reaching out by God to ordinary people in their individual situations. He has angels pronouncing good news to shepherds in the midst of their daily lives.
Matthew emphasizes that Christ was a king that came to rule. The context of astronomical events heralding the birth placed it firmly alongside the stories about the births of kings and great rulers
The wise men took the natural course, the star indicated a king so they visited Herod. Herod, noting that he didn't have any new heirs did the natural thing and killed all possible pretenders to the throne.
If we look at the passage we also notice that there weren't three wise men - the number is unspecified. Also we don't have their names nor are they described as kings. The number three appears to have come from the three gifts they offered. The names and their status as kings from accretion over time as Christians sought to understand the event in the context of various other bible passages.
The gifts themselves:
Gold always valuable and beautiful, was a basis of wealth but also adorned the sacred items of the temple and tabernacle.
Frankincense was a solid white gum produced in Arabia. It formed the basis of the incense used in the temple and tabernacle and was also placed before the Holy of Holies with the bread of the presence. It was added to some sacrifices but not to the sin offering or the cereal offering of Jealousy.
Myrrh was available as a liquid or as a solid gum. Besides being used for embalming and burials formed an ingredient in perfume including the sacred anointing oil used in the temple and tabernacle.
So what does this story say to us today:
1) Jesus is God, the sovereign ruler. The wise men describe Jesus as the king of the Jews. There was always the tension as to who was to rule - God or the Davidic king.
Here is Jesus the fulfiller of both. The one prophesied to lead and shepherd Israel. The God/Man whose birth was indicated in the heavens.
2) God is in control. There are four separate sets of people who are trying to do things in this story.
Joseph and Mary are just trying to get through the birth etc. They didn't plan any of this
The wise men have been dragged away from their work and have made this long trek. From the cost of the presents, they must have been involved in important things.
Herod was trying to ensure his succession, and to the person on the street appeared to have the most power in the situation.
But God was the one who achieved his purpose. He made a statement about who Jesus was and succeeded in protecting him.
3) God is faithful: This wasn't some new thing that God just decided to do. You can see God beginning to prepare for this very early in the history of the people of God. Some teachers trace the beginning of this preparation work back to the garden of Eden. This was what it had all led up to. The birth, ministry and death and resurrection of Christ
This story, the birth of Jesus with the wise men, firmly reminds us of the kind of God we worship. We can rely on our God, He is sovereign, He is in control and we can trust him to do what he has promised.
It doesn't matter how hard it is, God will carry us through. God will achieve his purpose