1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “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.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘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.’”
The Christmas story is filled with wondrous irony! Here is a story about a birth from a virgin’s womb! It is a story about the glory of God coming down to outcaste shepherds! It is about the King of Kings holding court in a stable of livestock! And today’s text adds a twist to the sweet irony of a God whose ways are not our ways. Today we read of wise men coming from Iraq to worship God’s little Messiah.
Translators of the New Testament have always been hard pressed to know how to handle the Greek word translated here as “wise men.” Various Bible translations render the Greek word magoi as, “magi,” “astrologers,” “kings,” and of course, the traditional, “wise men.” Our English word “magic” actually comes from the Greek word magoi and gives a clue to its root meaning. The magoi were a coterie of astrologers, sorcerers, and other occult practitioners that were sternly excluded by the Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).
Adding to the conundrum of these strange visitors to the Christ Child, was the fact that they had come from the dreaded East. For centuries people from the East had only meant trouble for the Jews. It was from the East that the cruel Assyrians had come, devastated their land and slaughtered the people. It was from the East that the Babylonians had come, destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and carried off their best and brightest into the Babylonian Exile. Fear and bitter hatred of the people from the East were branded into the collective psyche of the Jewish people. Yet here are wizards of the dark arts coming from the East to worship Israel’s Messiah!
Here is the irony and gracious wonder of Christmas. God hangs a star in the heavens to invite magi from the pagan East, and dispatches holy angels to gather in his shepherds. God turns away no one who comes to him. The old hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” revels in the richness of God’s Good News for all people:
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest with the text below,
and today’s devotional:
And as Jesus sat at dinner* in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting* with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Today’s Moments of Diaphany
- an answer to prayer
- evidence of his love and care
- evidence of his creative power and wisdom
- his help to do his work