The Last Day of Christmas - The Model of the Wise Men
The Christmas story is not complete until the journey of the wise men is told. Their visit, celebrated on January 6, marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and is also known in the church calendar as Epiphany – “the appearing”.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the reign of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘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’…After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they were overjoyed. On coming into 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.” Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11.
How amazing is that? The opulence of royalty from the east laden with finery, jewels and gifts contrasted with the smelly stable stall birthplace filled with animals, hay and a very poor couple from Nazareth. There is nothing commonplace in the Messiah King’s story. Whether or not Mary, Joseph and the babe were still in the stable or in a house this was an extraordinary narrative.
We don’t know how many wise men there were nor where they came from. The biblical text does not reveal their names though an early Christian text gave the men names assuming there were three: Melchoir, Balthasar and Caspar. As the visit of the magi is chronicled in art throughout church history artists portray them as differing in ethnicity and age.
What stands out is the demeanor of these men who were guided by this spectacular star. They told Herod forthrightly that they came to worship this star foretold King. They had their gifts ready. Finding the child they immediately bowed down and worshipped him. Seeing the Christ Child prompted adoration, gift giving and worship of the child. Afterwards, being warned a dream NOT to adhere to Herod’s instructions, they returned to their country by another route.
The immediate response of these pagan men was adoration and worship. In the Presence Deity that was the obvious response. What must Mary and Joseph felt as they witnessed this. Did it confirm to them what they had been told? What must the angel Gabriel felt, the heavenly host – the Father and the Spirit watching?
All of these events were well timed and all the characters were playing their parts exactly as the Script had been written from eternity past. Consider Psalm 72:10 “ The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.” And, “… there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. ” Numbers 24:17
Biblical scholar Robin M. Jensen, in the article “Witnessing the Divine: The Magi in Art and Literature,” traces depictions of the magi through centuries of early Christian art and literature to reveal the extraordinary role they played as the first visitors to recognize Jesus as messiah.
These dear wise men modeled the right response to Christ. They worshipped. Instead of trying to comprehend this babe intellectually as men of wisdom and astrology, they simply bowed low and worshipped. They also presented Him with valuable gifts. We cannot be certain what each gift symbolizes though a lot has been mentioned about that. What we do know is that they DID give Him gifts and who knows in God’s economy if this was a God-ordained way to provide for Mary and Joseph financially in the days ahead.
For us, the readers – what will my response be to this model of the wise men? What is your response?
“Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under his care.” Psalm 95:6-7
Will you join me?