The wise men were wiser than I realized.
Why bother with the Magi’s visit with Christmas behind us?
- The church holiday celebrated on January 6th
- On the 12th day of Christmas (remember the song?)
- It’s the day we celebrate the Magi’s arrival
- Many cultures celebrate it as Three Kings Day
Never heard of Epiphany? Until recently, Epiphany was an unknown holiday for me, too. If my home church celebrated the occasion, I missed it.
Hence my investigation.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Notice that the Magi identify the babe they seek as “king of the Jews,” already aware of a significant event in Jewish history. The guiding star invites them to worship the newborn King at a time when Gentiles worshiped Caesar and many Greco-Roman gods.
These details prepare us for an epiphany, a moment of sudden understanding or consciousness about something that is very important, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary.
In short, it’s an ah-ha moment.
What epiphany does this seemingly simple Sunday school story reveal?
1) God guides these non-Jewish astrologer-scholars with intentional inclusiveness. They arrive as some of Jesus’ very first worshipers. This is evidence that Christ came to the world for everyone, both Jews and Gentiles.
The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
In contrast to the commonly held belief that the Messiah would come only for the Jews,
Jesus is the welcoming light for the whole world.
2) The travelers from the east know the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures. Their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh weren’t everyday household items or ancient baby shower gifts. They appropriately symbolize Jesus’ significant roles, revealing His identity as King, priestly mediator between God and us, and suffering servant..
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
- Gold, a gift for royalty, signifies Jesus as the promised King in the line of David.(Jeremiah23:5)
- Frankincense, used for worship in the temple, symbolizes Christ as the permanent, eternal High Priest.
- Myrrh, a perfume used to anoint dead bodies, identifies Jesus as the promised suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophesies.
Additional interesting information:
These gifts of equally high value provided wealth for Mary and Joseph.
According to Douglas Daly, a curator at the New York Botanical Garden, in the 1st century A.D., the Roman Empire was in deficit spending as it imported hundreds of tons of frankincense and myrrh, derived from the sap of two thorny bushes.
Daly compares frankincense fever to the modern oil wars. “Because they were tired of paying through the nose for it,” Daly says, they sought to cultivate plants in their homeland or conquer land where the plants grew naturally. It is said that botanical spies of the female pharaoh Hapshetsut secured the first domestic myrrh tree.1
Hence the highly sought-after gifts gave Mary and Joseph the means to fund their escape to Egypt and their life as refugees. God provides!
The Epiphany: God guided Gentiles to worship Jesus and their gifts signified His identity.
Have you ever felt uninvited or unworthy of God’s love? Please be encouraged that from the moment of Jesus’ birth, God set a star in the sky shining for outsiders to come-and-see. Jesus’ life further demonstrates an open invitation to follow Him. No one is beyond His grace.
Far from being a sweet addition to the Christmas narrative, the Magi provide a meaningful component of God’s message in Jesus.
I’m surprised by the number of ah-ha’s in this story. What did you learn?
I often share ah-ha moments as I uncover new insights in scripture. I’ve learned that:
Press the ah-ha button at SeedsofScripture.com to discover more!
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1 “What are Frankincense and Myrrh, anyway? The history and mystery of these botanicals go way beyond the Magi.” Popular Science, December 6, 2021, https://www.popsci.com/what-are-frankincense-and-myrrh/