Each year, my church asks the members to help write Advent devotions to be used in the preparation for Christmas. It is one of the highlights of my year to write for the book. The last couple of years I have then shared what I wrote here. Since today was the day of my devotion, I've chosen today to share with you as well. Hope it encourages you!
The Visitors from the East
Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time 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 to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
The visitors that came to the manger and to the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to celebrate his birth all tell us something about the inclusiveness of this Saviour that is born. The shepherds speak to the inclusion of the poor and those who live on the fringes of society. The visitors from the East, the wise men, show us the inclusion of the Gentiles. They show that we, non-Jews, will be welcomed by the Messiah.
Maybe it is that reason alone that the Eastern visitors are my favourite characters in the unfolding drama of Jesus’ birth.
But who were these visitors and would we see them as favourites if they showed up in our churches today? They were, in fact, star gazers. We would call them astrologers, or more derisively say that they were horoscope watchers/readers/believers. They watched for signs of major events and celebrated those events. When they saw the star they were not looking for a Messiah. They were watching for the celebrity happening of the time. They saw the sign and they loaded up their gifts and high-tailed it in the direction of the event. The star that was seen was interpreted to mean that a king had been born. The gifts were representative of what a king’s family would find acceptable. These stargazers were not looking for The King they were looking for a king. They were not excited about meeting a baby that would change history. No they thought that this moment was the event. They had no clue about a Messiah. This was all about importance of an earthly family. So, to answer the question, we probably would not be so excited to see them in our churches today. After all, they believe in the power of the stars and are looking to meet power and celebrity. We (okay I) would most likely look down our(my) nose and believe that they were not really sincere about Jesus.
It is at this point that the story gets the most interesting. They show up at the palace looking for the newborn king. Of course, there is no newborn king at the palace. So inquiries are made. Finally an answer is obtained, “scripture says Bethlehem” the scribes announce. Now at this stage of the story I would think that those scribes, those people who knew the Jewish Scripture and who were, supposedly, looking forward to the day of the Messiah, would be getting excited. I would think that they would say “let’s go and see this thing that has happened.” But, that is not what happens. Instead they just send the Eastern visitors and King Herod says “bring me back a report.” So the Eastern visitors go, find Jesus and somehow in the midst of all of this recognize that this is bigger than just an earthly king being born. They bow and they worship him. They don’t just give him honour, they worship. And when the angel tells them not to go back to Herod, they recognize the message of God and heed it. Meanwhile, those scribes and advisors back at the palace remain clueless.
I wonder sometimes if we truly see the irony in this situation. The “star-readers” (say it with the derision we would feel) see the hand of God and honour Him. The “scribes” (say it with the reverence they would demand) miss that God is moving at all. Why is it that way? Why were the scribes blind to the truth and why did the Eastern visitors see it? I believe that some of it had to do with their willingness to see outside the box. The Eastern visitors were looking for new and wonderful and were willing to go to great lengths to find it. They had flexibility in their view to see a bigger or a different picture. But the scribes were narrow in their view. They understood what tradition said and therefore how the Messiah was supposed to look. They expected a conquering hero not a baby, and no matter how much the baby fit the profile of Scripture it did not fit the profile of tradition. Trusting tradition instead of trusting God caused them to miss the coming of the Messiah completely.
This holiday season, let’s not be so dependent upon tradition that we miss the wonder God may be showing us. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to a broader view. We may even catch a glimpse of the Messiah that we’ve never seen before.