“We three kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar…”
This week marks the Feast of the Epiphany — the observance of the arrival of the Wise Men who came to worship the baby Jesus. Now, the date is not exact, and it’s exceedingly unlikely that the wise men arrived on the night Jesus was born (although the shepherds certainly did), and there may have been three or more wise men. Also, tradition –not the Bible — says their names were Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. But again, we don’t know.
What we do know
The Magi were astrologers from the countries east of Israel. They studied the night sky and the significance of what they saw there. The Good News according to Matthew explains that they saw a celestial phenomenon that foretold the birth of a king. Here — you can read it yourself (It’ll be good for you!):
The Visit of the Wise Men
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” – Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)
What the wizards knew
Seek truth relentlessly – If these ancient sages hadn’t been attending to their studies, the events of Christmas could have passed them by.
Act on what you know – When the star of Bethlehem appeared, they understood its significance, so they headed out to follow its leading. They didn’t have all the facts or perfect directions, but they began. We too need to have a bias toward informed action. As General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell — who was wise for other reasons — has said, “Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.”
Ask your questions at the highest level possible – The Wise Men, accustomed to attending and advising kings, sought the Roman-appointed Tetrarch, Herod — the “king” of the Jewish population — to ask where they could find the newborn King of the Jews. Herod’s advisers, familiar as they were with Hebrew prophecy, directed these men of the East to Bethlehem — where the Messiah was to be born. This had to be less frustrating than the “I don’t live around here” answer that marked the pre-Siri era.
Bow to greatness – The text says they followed the star to Bethlehem and the house where the Holy Family was staying and they were overjoyed. And when they went into the house and saw Mary with Jesus, they prostrated themselves before him. They fell at his feet in worship and adoration. Even confident, accomplished men need Someone — or something — to worship. These astrologers sought the King, and when they found Him, they worshiped Him. We should do no less.
Worship at your own expense – The precious gifts the magi offered may or may not have been symbolic, but they were the sort of expensive gifts one would give to a king. We do not hear that the voyage of the wise men was sponsored by a rich patron or another ruler, although Herod tried to co-opt their mission.
Instead, these wizards opened their own treasures and worshiped Jesus with their hearts and souls, but also from their own wealth. Genuine worship requires more than halfhearted attention.
Remain agile – Despite Herod’s request that the Wise Men return to tell him where they found Jesus, they received a warning in a dream to return home by a road that kept them far from Herod. We all have plans, but wisdom is knowing when those plans need changing or even scrapping.
Some people who seem furthest from you can be your greatest allies – Virtually everyone else we meet in the accounts of Jesus’ is Jewish. Although one of them may have been Jewish, it’s likely that two of the Wise men were gentiles — that is, non-Jews. This suggests that from the very first Christmas, God was about bringing salvation to all nations. The Wise Men may have been the first gentile converts! Don’t you imagine they told their countrymen what they had seen?
These days we worry and fret and fear those who are different from us. But consider that some of those same people may be seeking Truth — and we can help them find Him. A blessed Epiphany to you.
So how about you? What lessons do you take from the example of the Wise Men? Add your comments below.