The story of the Magi says they were overwhelmed with joy when they reached the Christ child. Have you ever had that experience of being overwhelmed with joy?
Joy is one of the gifts of the Spirit and I know I have it. When I woke up and realised just how much God loved me, I was filled with joy, and it was so overpowering in some ways that all I wanted to do was give myself to God, and I was frustrated at times because of the perceived obstacles to that desire.
That joy of knowing how much God loves me, underpins my life and most of what I do on some level or another.
But there have been special joyous moments along the way as well. The day of my profession and the time I was ordained were especially joyous for me. Did you know, I made my life vows in a stable!
So what about you? When have you experienced joy! I believe joy happens in our lives when we are functioning in tune with God’s will and purposes.
The Gospel story today speaks of the magi, who when they finally found the Christ Child they were overwhelmed with joy and went and paid homage to him. The word in the Greek translated as homage is ‘proskyneo’ and means an act of submission to a person of great dignity and authority. It describes the proper attitude of people towards God.
So, what is the lead up and circumstances around which this probably life changing moment of joy and homage occurred?
There is a great deal of mystery in the story itself. Tradition tells us that there were three wise men, but the tradition is very misleading. The bible only tells us they are ‘Magi’ from the east! The word Magi is plural, so we know there were more than one, but we cannot be certain as to how many there really were, the tradition that there were three comes from the three gifts.
Were they wise men? May be, they were certainly educated and clear about what they were doing.
Part of the tradition says they were kings. Were they kings? Well truly we don’t know, there is some thought that they may have been advisers to kings or even king makers. Psalm 72: 10 speaks of ‘the Kings of Tarshish and Seba’ who bring tribute to him, and Isaiah 60:6 says; ‘all from Seba will come bearing gold and incense.’ These are the gifts of royalty and people of wealth. These are biblical prophecies which in many ways seem to be connected.
So, who were these Magi? Well no-one really knows anything about them apart from what we are told in this story. Historically Magi were a caste of Persian priests who had special claims to interpret dreams. Our Magi also seem to be astrologers or astronomers who looked to the movement of the stars as a guide to significant events. It was not unknown in the ancient world for people with the ability, to find the birth and death of great leaders revealed in the stars.
So, they could have been Persian priests or they may have come from Babylonia or the Arabian or Syrian deserts. What we are meant to recognise in them is that they were not local Jews but foreigners, whose ways and means are very strange to us, and even to the leaders of Jerusalem. They represent in many ways the nations of the world.
The Magi are meant to have this aura of mystery around them.
What we do know about them though is this;
Through their study of books and the stars they heard the voice of God calling them onto a journey in search of a new born ‘King of the Jews’.
These men may not have known intellectually the God of the Jews, or the Father of Jesus, but they were observant and attentive to the spiritual world and so heard the voice of God and believed it.
They attended, they heard and they believed and so they set out on a journey which was stimulated by the rising of a new star in the sky, which led them to believe a new ‘King of the Jews’ had been born.
So, if a king is born, where do you go? To the king’s palace! Of course; and so, they did. However, the current ‘King of the Jews’ was not the most open person.
And so, we come to Herod. The one who was called ‘King of the Jews’ by the Romans even though he was not a Jew, although he lived with all the trappings of Judaism.
Herod was a cruel man, who had one of his wives and three of his sons murdered. According to the Bible, later, in his attempts to get rid of Jesus he also murdered a whole lot of baby boys living in and around Bethlehem.
The Magi did not know any of this- their agenda was not political; their agenda was to honour the baby Jesus with worship and gifts.
And so, they arrived in Jerusalem and truly stirred up the apple cart. Herod was afraid and so were all his courtiers [all Jerusalem it says] probably because of Herod’s response and possibly because of being afraid of Rome.
Herod called out the people in the know, the scribes and the chief priests and asked them where the baby had been born. And they, knowing their bibles, could tell Herod exactly which town he was born in- Bethlehem- as the prophets have said, particularly Micah.
So how did they respond, were they excited by the coming of the Messiah, the ‘King of the Jews’, the long awaited one? Did they believe? Doubtful! It seems they weren’t even a bit interested, all they did was answer Herod’s question.
Just a little side issue for all of us to think about with this, do you believe? Meaning, does what you learn about God and Jesus and their lives actually make a difference to your life. If Jesus is the Son of God, the one who died for you, the one who came into the world for all of us to create a pathway to eternal life with God, does that actually make a difference to your life?
Compare the response of the Magi to the so called ‘in believers of Judaism’. The chief priests and scribes know the facts as revealed in Scripture, but they don’t really believe. The Magi don’t know the facts, but they believe.
Whilst a relationship with God can involve a lot of knowledge, what is important far more than knowledge is the desire to be with God and to give one’ s life to God, to do homage.
Eventually the Magi got away from Herod and now instead of going to the capital, they followed the star and to their intense joy, they found the baby, they worshipped him and gave him their gifts of Gold- a king’s gift, frankincense- a priests gift and myrrh- a gift for the laying out of the dead. And finally, in obedience to God-they were still listening, they left Bethlehem and avoided going back to Herod.
So, the joy of the Magi came to them through their journey of obedience and love which culminated in the ultimate reward, to meet the king of heaven and earth in the baby Jesus.
Where have you found joy in your faith journey and what does this say to you about what God is asking of you today? Because the gift of joy which comes with a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, requires a response. We can choose to ignore it- which ultimately means unbelief or we can become followers of Jesus and offer him our lives, our gifts, all that we are and have, regardless of how humble they might be.