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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1 (NIV)
It seems a bit out of place to be sitting here in mid-January reading a text that is normally read exclusively in the month of December for Christmas. Along my journey, however, I’ve learned that it is good for me to read things outside of the “normal” contexts. Doing so allows me to see things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. Jesus spoke of those who had eyes but didn’t really see. My desire in this chapter-a-day journey is always that the eyes of my heart will be fully open to see what God wishes to reveal to me in the quiet. I have found that this sometimes requires me to shift focus, as they say in filmmaking.
Shifting focus away from the entrenched visuals and contexts of a commercialized Christmas this morning, I pulled back to examine “These Three Kings” from where I sit amidst the harsh realities of a deep Iowa winter (current temp feels like -3 degrees F). A few things I noted in my observations:
Nowhere in the text does it say there were only three visitors. It only says that there were three gifts. Also, nowhere in the text does it say they were kings. It does make clear that they represented a group that paid attention to astronomy and practiced a form of astrology.
I then considered that Matthew’s audience was primarily Hebrews, and he was writing to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. Hebrews were keenly aware of two great events in the history of their people. The first was their deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. The second was their captivity and seventy-year exile in Babylon (which was in Persia, directly east of Israel).
When the “Who’s Who” of Hebrew nobility were taken into exile, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to them. He told them:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
It would seem, therefore, that at least some of them (e.g. Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther) obeyed. They lived and interacted with the community and culture. They shared their stories with their captors. They even shared prophetic words about stars and the coming messiah who would be “king of the Jews.” They shared prophetic words and conversations which existed outside of the text of the Great Story but were recorded and remembered among the heathen hosts of the exile.
In the quiet this morning, I am struck by the fact that Matthew chooses to record that those who were looking for the Messiah, those who came to seek Him, were not Hebrew priests and scholars but those considered foreigners, aliens, and enemies. Matthew makes clear that the infant Jesus was intimately connected to the exiles of Babylon through these mysterious visitors. He was connected to the exile in Egypt by fleeing Herod the Great’s infamous slaughter of the innocents.
What does this mean for me? Here’s what I’m pondering in the quiet:
- God, the Creator, is constantly at work in places I don’t expect, and in people I would never recognize.
- Jesus’ arrival began the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham back in Genesis: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
- I find it telling that the Hebrew scholars consulted by Herod showed no interest in pursuing the object of the Magi’s inquiry, but the despised “foreigners” went out of their way to seek Him.
I come full circle this morning, contrasting the icons of a commercialized Christmas and the text of the Great Story. Amid the bling and blather of tinsel and tales, I find there is one wearied Christmas phrase that rings true for me:
The wise still seek Him.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.