Christmas has come and gone. Many people are sad, yet equally many are overjoyed. I am sure there were people who were removing their decorations as quickly as they could on Saturday evening. Now it’s immediately the ramp up for the new year, or the commercial excitement of after Christmas sales. As quickly as Christmas arrived, it has gone and our minds and hearts are elsewhere. The nature of our fast-paced culture is that our attention is shifted quickly even from the most important things. In this moment we should take heed to the example of a few characters from the Bible that are associated with the Christmas story but in reality are later than the manger scene. The wise Men, or magi, are ones we should look to on how to persist in the Christmas story.
Contrary to popular belief (and many nativities) the magi were not present at the manger scene. Matthew 2:1 says they came from the “east.” There has been much speculation as to where they were actually from. Many believe they were astrologers (observers of the stars) from Arabia or Persia; however, there is no way to know their exact locale. These individuals differ from the shepherds from Luke 2 who were “in the same region” watching their flocks. The magi had to follow the star for a tremendous distance.
The magi as observers of the stars knew that the star of Bethlehem has great significance. They knew the prophecy of Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” The magi knew that the star that they saw was a sign of fulfillment. Naturally, if you knew that the one who has been prophesied from old has come, you would want to go and worship him.
It is important to remember that these magi did not just hop in the car, get on the train, or buy a plane ticket. The magi had to walk, they had to make provisions, and they knew it would be a long journey. The Bible is not specific on how many wise men there were who visited Christ; tradition says there were three, because of the three gifts, but many believe there were many more. In any case, these learned men were caravanning across the desert with all they needed for the journey.
When they finally arrive they go to the palace in Jerusalem where one would think the prophesied king would be. Ironically, these foreigners bring the first news of the birth of Christ to the Jewish priests and scribes. Those that should have seen the sign, did not even know where he would come from. Finally, the magi persist to Bethlehem and worship Jesus in the home in which they were staying.
Herod then decides to kill all the boys two years or younger in that region. This bit of information is important for our story because it is estimated that Jesus could have been one to two years old at this time. This means that, from the point that the star appears in the sky on that first Christmas morning, they traveled for up to two years to find the King. Christmas was not just for one day and then they were on the next; they knew the significance of that star. The question that remains for us is this: do we persist like the magi?
So many times we can relegate the Christmas story to one day or maybe one week every year and then our focus shifts elsewhere. However, the Christmas story is of God himself becoming incarnate and being Immanuel, God with us. If we move quickly beyond the babe in the manger we can miss the beauty of what this means for us not just on December 25, but throughout the whole year. The magi themselves knew the value of the King that the star pointed them to. They did not think it was a futile task to pursue for such a long time.
Do we want to be truly wise men and women today? Then let us not move quickly beyond Bethlehem. Let us not relegate the beauty of the Christmas story to one day but cherish the birth of our Savior continually. When we fully grasp the significance of the manger scene then we will continually pursue the riches and splendor found there.
Great read. How did the Magi follow the Star of Bethlehem for so long? I have always assumed it was only visible for a short time. Could you help clarify? Thanks!
There are many different theories that people have since the Bible does not expressly say what the "Star of Bethlehem" is exactly. However many do believe it was a conjunction or alignment of planets in the night sky that made a brighter "star." This could have been Jupiter and Venus or Jupiter and the star, Regulus. It could have also been a supernova. Many of those would have lasted longer than just a moment and if they were observing the the stars they would know the direction, but all of those are just theories. However, what we do know is that the Magi were most likely astronomers/astrologers and would constantly be looking to the stars both for navigation and in religious observance. They would be ones who would look to the stars and understand them as an important event. I hope that helps!