Tuesday, December 27, 2022
Reader: “A Savior is born!”
Response: “Who is Christ the Lord.”
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-2; 7-12
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
While we are touched by the humility of the shepherds in the nativity story, we are also well aware that the Christ child was worshiped by magi from the East, possibly Persia. What is notable in reading this passage is that the worship of a baby was received with joy. Humans and idols were not to be worshiped. The word used here is the most common one used for the worship of God and Christ. It is the same word used at the end of Matthew’s gospel immediately prior to Jesus’ ascension. It is used to pay reverence or homage to God or to Christ. It is also the word Satan uses in reference to himself at Christ’s temptation. “If you will bow down and worship me . . .” (Mt 4:9)
These magi, astrologers, or some form of astronomers studied the heavens for signs. You’ll recall the Israelites spent many years in exile in Babylon, where the Scriptures were studied in synagogues, probably developed during the absence of the presence of the Temple. In other words, Old Testament Scriptures may have been studied by the magi which would account for their knowledge and interest in the star and Israel’s new born king. Daniel worked with such men hundreds of years earlier during Persian rule (Dan 2:27).
The gifts of the magi further attested to the significance of their visit. Gold is the symbol of kingship, a gift for kings. Solomon’s Temple was lined with gold (cf. Queen of Sheba I Kings 10). Frankincense is symbolic of deity and was used in worship in the offering of prayers, symbolizing prayers ascending heavenward. The gift of myrrh seems a little unusual in that it is used in embalming in preparing bodies for burial. Such a gift may have underscored the humanity of baby Jesus. It was also used in making incense. It is also significant that these men were not Jewish. We’ll say more about that on Epiphany on January 6th.
Upon the departure of the magi, an angel told Joseph and Mary to leave immediately in the middle of the night for Egypt for Herod was coming to kill all baby boys. Some commentators have speculated that the gifts of the magi were perhaps used by the poor couple to finance their journey to the safety of Egypt.
Music: “Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning” Keith, Kristyn Getty & Ricky Scaggs
Brightest and best of the stars of the morning
Dawn on our darkness and come to our aid;
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
What shall we give him, in costly devotion?
Shall we bring incense and offerings divine,
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest or gold from the mine?
Vainly we offer each lavish oblation,
Vainly with gifts would his favor secure
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
-Reginald Heber, 1811, alt.
O ye heights of heaven, adore him,
angel hosts, his praises sing,
powers, dominions, bow before him,
and extol our God and King:
let no tongue on earth be silent,
every voice in concert ring,
evermore and evermore!
Christ, to thee with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion,
and eternal victory,
evermore and evermore!―Of the Father’s Love Begotten, 4th century