In the Christian calendar of the western church (which includes the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations), January 6 is the celebration of Epiphany, when the Magi came to worship the newborn king.
Before you break into song about the “Three Kings of Orient,” there are few things we need to understand. First of all, it is never said that there are three of them, and it is never said that they were exclusively men.
Second, the Magi, as they are called, were not kings but wise men, astrologers. They were the dreamers and thinkers of their time, searching out ancient wisdom from all quarters and looking for the fulfillment of prophecies discovered there. Most likely they were pagans, that is, not Jews. Yet, they still found something of value in the prophecies of the Old Testament and followed the star to find the newborn king that was foretold.
Finally, they never visited the manger, knelt by the shepherds, or heard the angels sing. In fact, the Magi visit occurred as much as two years after the child was born, when the family had settled into daily life with a toddler.
The celebration of the Epiphany not only extends the Christmas season, but it also takes us back to the meaning of the holiday we have just packed up in plastic bins and placed in our attics. The gifts are put away (or broken) and the new year is already a week old, but we are reminded, again, of the wonder of that first Christmas and its meaning for our lives.
There are many significant topics in the story of the Magi, more than I could elaborate about here. However, one aspect stands out as I write: When a God-seeker enters the scene, his or her presence always disrupts the status quo.
Consider the Magi’s arrival in Jerusalem. They knew only what they had read in copies of manuscripts. They naturally went to the “headquarters” of the Jewish faith to meet the new king. Such an entourage drew the attention of King Herod.
Not a king according to the line of David, Herod ruled by Rome’s pleasure. Such a position was tenuous at best, especially if someone else struck up a sweetheart deal with Caesar. Herod ruled not from a place of benevolence and care for his people, but rather with cruelty and arrogance. The appearance of the Magi disrupted his plans and security, especially when they announced the birth of the new king. Not only was did Herod have new competition, but this new “king” was also mentioned by the prophets. The new guy had God on his side!
When a God-seeker enters ones life, his or her very desire to meet God brings conviction to the person who is not serving God. Herod knew about God’s laws and what it meant to lead God’s people. But he also knew what he wanted out of life and would do whatever he needed to achieve it. Enter the Magi, and Herod realized just how easily he could lose everything. He could continue to live as he had or choose to worship this child-king as well. He pretended to do the second, but only to do the first and protect himself.
The presence of someone who wants to know about faith makes others nervous. You see, if he finds God, I will be challenged to acknowledge God, too. If she discovers a better way to live, by seeing the change in her I am convicted about my way of life. You want to avoid that person so you can avoid the necessary decision.
But it isn’t only the life of the sinner that is disrupted by a God-seeker. The Magi’s arrival at the home of Joseph and Mary disturbed their simple lives. Having begun their marriage in tremendous turmoil and hardship, the couple had settled down to raise their firstborn child. Joseph worked to provide for his little family, and Mary cared for them at home. No doubt the commotion of the night of Jesus’ birth had become a little hazy around the edges in the context of everyday life. There were no angels, no shepherds coming to worship.
When a God-seeker enters the life of a Christian, his or her desire to meet God challenges the believer to return to the basis of his or her faith, to the simple truth that Jesus is Lord. Living the life she had dreamed of—Joseph’s wife, a mother—Mary went about her day-to-day activities. Jesus cried, as all babies do, and had to be potty-trained, as all babies do. In the midst of this appears a caravan of strangers from the East, with gifts. They didn’t bring diapers, or baby blankets, or little outfits for the baby, but gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the kind of gifts Herod would expect to receive.
Once again, with their arrival and their gifts, the Magi reminded Joseph and Mary why they were there in Bethlehem and who their son truly was. In case the busyness of everyday life had overshadowed all that they had seen and heard, this visit brought them back to the messages they had heard from the angels concerning their child.
We who profess to believe in Jesus Christ, too, get involved in the day-to-day of our lives. We get busy doing the Lord’s work and being good stewards of our families and our gifts. And in all of that, we sometimes forget the true reason for our lives and the reason for the season of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
The presence of a person who is seeking God, one who wants to know about the truth and asks questions, will disrupt our status quo by reminding us how we became who we are, by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The presence of this seeker challenges me to go back, as the songwriter said, “to where I first believed.”
It isn’t said that the Magi became believers. They could have, or they might just have remained dabblers in many religions. But their presence did challenge Herod, Joseph, and Mary. Whether you, like Herod, are living your own life your own way, or like Joseph and Mary, are busy doing the right things and living for God, on this Epiphany, as you think about the wise men, my prayer is that you would be challenged to faith or to renewed faith. Extend the season of Christmas in your heart by asking God to fill you with faith for the first time, or once again.
Pastor Mary Kay Glunt