B7 CHRISTMAS - Wise Men
St. Matthew 2.vv.1-12
~ In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage". When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage". When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. ~
A few years ago there was a rash of car stickers in the rear windows of cars. The majority of these were blatantly in bad taste or suggestive of impurity. There is one, however, that appeals to Christian people, one hopes; it runs, "Wise men still seek Jesus".
The so-called wise men of St. Matthew's Gospel were astrologers who held the belief that this is an ordered universe, and a new star appearing signified a special birth.
Whether or not their beliefs were justified, we may without fear of contradiction assert that the Gospel writer was right in at least two of his facts; first, at the time of Jesus' birth there was an air of expectancy in Israel and in many of the surrounding nations. Secondly, the coming of Christ was not an event which would affect only the Jewish nation, but one which would affect the Gentile world too.
What did these first century people expect?
The Jews expected a Messiah, the Anointed One; the later books of the Old Testament abound in references to the "Coming One" who would champion his people's cause, one who would restore Israel's fortunes and bring her back to obedience to her God. Christian people see in Christ (Messiah) the fulfilment of all these prophecies in the "Word made flesh". To those people in Israel gifted with spiritual insight such as Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna (the "Quiet of the Land"), here was the promised Saviour.
Not only the Jews, however, but many Gentiles too shared the Jewish expectations of a Saviour. Writers such as the Roman Sallust, Tacitus and Virgil, especially in his 4th Eclogue, refer to a hoped for Saviour.
Jesus came to a waiting world. "Wise men" are those with a desire for God in their hearts. Are we among them?
At Christmas we celebrate God's present to us of his Son. At Epiphany we celebrate God's love in sending to us, who are Gentiles, Him who is to be a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of his people Israel. Epiphany is the first festival of the new year. On the threshold of a new year we crave for light on our path. God in his mercy veils from our eyes the things that shall be. We are like a lone oarsman rowing into the dark future; before us the past lies open; beside us we glimpse the banks (the present).
For many there are few grounds for optimism, but for us as Christians there is the conviction that God cares, because we know that God's loving purposes for his children cannot be thwarted, and that Christ is with us in our earthly pilgrimage.
George VI in a New Year message to the nation quoted some lines of Louise Haskins; "I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown'. But he said to me, 'Go out into the unknown with your hand in the hand of God. That shall be for you better than a light and safer than a known way'".