Text: Matthew 2:11 – ‘On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. ‘
To us, it’s as cosy as a Christmas tree and as comfortable as an old pair of slippers. Of course, we just couldn’t leave it alone, this story of the Magi from the East who came to visit the infant Jesus. So we’ve added a few bits of tinsel and some baubels of our own. We need a definite number of Wise Men: so let there be three. What names shall we give them? Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, they sound suitably eastern. Now let’s plonk them down in the stable along with Luke’s shepherds on Christmas night: shepherds on the left, wise men on the right, angels at the back. Now all together: “Ah!”
In fact, we don’t know the names of the Magi, or how many there were, or exactly where they came from, or precisely how long after the Saviour’s birth they came, or what led them to think that the star they had seen in the night sky signified the birth of a new king in Judea. Much is mystery.
But this much is clear. One day, towards the end of the reign of Herod King of Judea, a group of astrologer-priests, probably from what used to be called Persia, knocked on the door of an ordinary house in Bethlehem in Judea and asked to see the new king. And Matthew (2:11) tells us that they came, they saw the infant Jesus, they worshiped him, and they offered him gifts of gold, incense and myrhh.
They came, they saw, they worshiped and they gave. I’m going to take these four items in two pairs.
1. They came and they saw
See the contrast here with the great and the good of Jerusalem – the chief priests and teachers of the law. They didn’t come and they didn’t see. They knew from Scripture that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (v4ff). But they couldn’t even be bothered to leg it the 5 miles down the road to see for themselves. ‘He came to his own, and his own received him not.’
With these strangers, these Magi, however, it was very different. Theirs would have been a hazardous 500-mile journey that took several weeks. They would have had to travel through or skirt round the desert. They would have endured heat by day, and cold by night. They would have been in constant danger from robbers and wild animals.
They might well have stayed at home, and said to one another, “Oh, look up there in the sky. That means there’s a new king born over there in the West, in Judea. How interesting. Look at that time, it’s getting late. Let’s go to bed.”
Or, having travelled as far as Jerusalem, they might have said, “That’s quite far enough. Let’s leave the gifts here on the temple steps and get back to our wives and families.”
But no: they travelled until they found the new king. They came and they saw. I’m putting these two things together for a reason. There is a tendency these days to be more interested in questions than in answers, in problems than in solutions, in the journey rather than the destination.
‘It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.’
It’s good to have an open mind that asks lots of questions; but the point of having an open mind is the same as having an open mouth – to be able to close it on something solid.
The Magi were determined to reach their destination. They wanted to see for themselves. Nothing would deflect them from their search. Nothing was too much trouble.
So what trouble are we prepared to take in our search for Christ?
So often, the case for Christ has not been tried and found wanting, it has simply not been tried.
There will be some here who are interested in the Christian faith, but not yet committed to it. You’re on the journey, but you haven’t reached the destination yet. Don’t give up. Keep on asking those questions. I certainly don’t promise that we will be able to give you all the answers. But Christ himself has promised that if you ask it will be given to you; if you seek you will find; if you knock the door will be opened to you.” (Mt 7:7).
They came and they saw.
2. They worshiped and they presented gifts
The Magi, when they came to see Jesus, were bent on worshiping him: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (V2)
What a contrast with Herod! He was bent on destroying Jesus. This is entirely in keeping with what history records about him. Herod, you see, was only partly Jewish, and was not of the Davidic line. His title, ‘King of the Jews’, was given to him by the Romans, and was never accepted by the Jewish people.
Because his title was not genuine, he lived in constant fear of rivals. He didn’t trust anyone, and at various times suspected his wife Mariamne, three of his sons, and various other relatives of plotting against him, and had them all bumped off..
To him, Jesus was just another rival. “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” the Magi asked. These words filled Herod with horror. The slaughter of all boys under the age of two is entirely consistent with what we know of his character.
But the Magis came, and they saw, and they worshiped. And in this they are the first glimmer of a glorious new dawn. They are forerunners of a countless multitude from every nation, tribe, language and people who have sought and found the Messiah, the Christ. As it is written,
Isa 60:1-3 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
The Magi worshiped and they presented gifts. Again, I’ve mentioned these in the same breath for a reason. We tend to have a rather narrow view of worship. We are apt to regard it is a personal and private matter hermetically sealed off from what we say and do in the real world.
Well, that wasn’t the kind of worship these Magi offered. Look at these wealthy, educated, powerful strangers as they bow before the infant king. Watch them open up their treasure boxes and give Jesus the very best gifts that they can offer, gold and costly spices, gifts fit for a king. (I wonder what he did with them?).
What can I give him? Rom 12:1 ‘I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your whole selves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is the worship that makes sense.’
How will we spend our time, our energy, our money, in 2008? Will we give the left-overs, or the best? It comes down to how we esteem Christ. What is he worth to us?
When we think of what God has done for us in Christ. When we reflect on the kingship of Jesus over all peoples. When we read of these unnamed strangers tramping all that way, coming to see for themselves, bowing down in worship and offering the best that they had.
Let’s kneel at his feet. Let’s bring out our treasures. Let’s give him the worship of our hearts, our lives, our all. Love so amazing, so divine, demands no less.