Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Wise Guys"

Well, it's the New Year, and already we're putting some distance between ourselves and Christmas. We've gone through the 12 days of Christmas, and now we wrap it all up with the arrival of the magi, the wise men who packed up their gold, frankincense and myrrh, and followed the star to Jerusalem.

These somewhat mysterious men provide an amazing contrast to the others who learned of Jesus' birth. While the shepherds were insignificant, disrespected Jews, the magi were prominent, well-respected Gentiles. While it didn't take much knowledge or experience to watch flocks of sheep, it took great education and learning to be the shrewd advisors to kings.

Even the way they learned of the Savior's birth was astonishing. An angel messenger announced the good news to the shepherds, but the magi were informed of Jesus' birth by an astral phenomenon, which is unknown to us. They called it a "star," but back then all sorts of heavenly lights were considered stars. It could have been a comet, some sort of planetary alignment, or a special, supernatural light God placed in the heavens for that particular event. Whatever it was, it announced the birth of the King of the Jews, and led the way for them.

As a child I always loved the song "We Three Kings," but the first line contains two, possibly three, errors. First, they weren't kings, they were advisors to kings. Second, they did not come from the Far East, the Orient. They came from somewhere in the Middle East, probably Persia or Turkey. Third, the Bible doesn't tell us specifically how many there were. We know there was more than one, but there could have been two or 22. The number three is assumed, most likely because of the three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

But these men had a remarkable faith. They travelled a significant distance to bring their valuable gifts to honor the special Child. When they arrived in the Jewish capital of Jerusalem, they made their way to visit King Herod. There they learned that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We read, "After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was" (Matthew 2:9). The next verse is my favorite: "When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (Matthew 2:10).

Matthew chose three Greek words for joy, and combined them together to give us a glimpse into their minds and hearts. For them, the long, difficult trek had been more than worthwhile; they were soon to be in His presence.

I often wonder if they were disappointed by the sight that unfolded before their eyes. The house they entered wasn't the opulent royal palace their monarchs called home. Mary and the young Child weren't dressed in the royal robes they were accustomed to seeing. But they were wise men, after all. Through faith they could see beyond the poor, earthly surroundings and recognize the mighty Son of God.

It reminds me of stepping into church after Christmas when all the decorations are taken down. Everything that looked so festive and ornate now looks common and ordinary. But to the eyes of a wise man, there is reason to rejoice exceedingly with great joy. In the weeks ahead as we prepare for Easter, we will watch Jesus set out on His heroic journey to the cross and the empty tomb.

In the meantime, we are mindful that one day our lives too will end, and like the wise men before us, we will enter that royal palace in heaven, and bow in wonder, praise and adoration before the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Now that Christmas has come and gone, how do you deal with the afterglow of the holidays? You can click here to share your thoughts.

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