Be like the Magi. As the Christmas Holiday draws very near, be like the Magi. As we continue to see and hear little reminders of Jesus’ birth, be like the Magi.
Who were the Magi? I’m not sure. Some scholars believe they were Gentiles and some believe they were Jewish men from Babylon. Traditionally they’ve been thought of as “Wise-Men” but they could have been astrologers, sorcerers, or some other occupation having to do with the occult. What we do know, according to the Gospel of Matthew, is that they came seeking out this baby born King of the Jews…this baby who is Emmanuel – God with us….this baby who to be named Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.
The Gospel of Matthew paints a stark contrast between the Magi and King Herod and the other Jewish religious authorities. Matthew informs us that Herod wanted to kill Jesus to such an extent that he had every baby boy 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem killed. This tells us something about the meaning of at least Herod’s fear of Jesus (cf. 2.3). Herod, focused solely on himself and his own kingly power, saw this baby born King of the Jews as a viable threat.
The Magi, on the other hand, began their journey not for themselves but for what God was doing. And so, even when sent on with the self-serving orders of Herod to report the location where Jesus has been born, the Magi continue their search led by the star. When they reach the destination, they are “overwhelmed with joy,” offering worship and gifts to Jesus. The joy experienced by the Magi in Greek New Testament is a four word phrase that actually reads something like “they rejoiced with great exceeding joy.” It is a very wooden phrase to translate literally (hence, “overwhelmed with joy” in the NRSV or “overjoyed” in the NIV) but it jumps out as a very emphatic point that Matthew is trying to make.
I’d like to suggest that the difference between the Magi and Herod and the religious authorities is the difference between what we seek. The Magi sought something besides themselves. Whether or not they could describe their search in orthodox terminology matters not, they were in search of God. Herod and the religious authorities were not (even with the scriptures right in front of them, they remain unchanged).
There is nothing new under the sun. Some people are in search of something beyond themselves, even if they cannot describe that search in biblical/church language. Others, even some who routinely gather with a church every Sunday where the scriptures are read and preached, are focused on themselves. They are just like Herod and the religious authorities who do not leave to go and worship but remain unmoved by the presence of God’s grace in their midst. The former, however, are like the Magi…they search with a self-surrendered heart, encounter an expression of God’s grace, and are overwhelmed with joy.
So…be like the Magi! Be like the Magi!