Today is what the Christian calendar calls the second Sunday of Advent. Throughout this Advent season we have been and will be looking at the advent(ure)s of people in the Scriptures that first and second “Advent”.
Last week we looked at the advent(ure) of the Shepherds. The idea that God uses those who are on the margins to further his kingdom, that God calls us to not be afraid in this advent(ure) and that this advent(ure) of following Jesus is open for all.
Next week we’ll be looking at the advent(ure) of Mary and Joseph and then the following week, the last Sunday in Advent we’ll be looking at the principal character within the Advent story (and I believe the entire story of God) that of the advent(ure) of Jesus when he came to this world, took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood, so to speak.
But this week we’ll be looking at the advent(ure) of the Wise Men. We’ll be talking about what their journey following the star to Bethlehem and their worship of Jesus can teach us 2,000 years ago in our advent(ure) of following Jesus.
So let’s begin to look at this text together and see what it an say to us. The story of the Magi is found in Matthew 2:1-12. Matthew 2:1-12 says, “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.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and 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. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
So before we totally dive into the text for the morning we need to look at three misconceptions that have cropped up concerning the Magi. The first misconception that you need to know about is the fact that the Magi weren’t there that first Christmas night when Jesus was born. It isn’t like the pictures of the manger with the Shepherds and the Magi coming to the manger. In fact it could have been anywhere up to 2 years later that the Magi showed up. And if you look at verse 11 you see that they showed up at the house of Jesus.
The second misconception surrounding the Magi is the idea that they were Kings. Maybe this misconception is based on the song We Three Kings. The Magi weren’t Kings but wise men which means that they were astronomers. Jewish legend says that that Daniel was the founder of the order of the Magi. And that these Magi, who were ancient scientists from Persia, were alerted to the prophetic significance of their time by the prophecies of Daniel and other Old Testament prophets.
And finally the third misconception is that there were only three wise men. This is no doubt connected to the fact that there were three gifts. Tradition even gives these Wise Men names (Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar) and supposedly their bones are housed in the cathedral in Cologne, Germany. But there were probably more than three Magi.
And so let’s dive a little bit more into the advent(ure) of the Wise Men and see what we might be able to apply to our advent(ure) 2000 years later
And so when the curtain comes up on this story in Matthew 2 we see the wise men coming to Jerusalem, during the time of Herod, and asking about the ones that was born the King of the Jews. And that what led them to seek out the newborn King of the Jews is what they call “his star”. Now there has been considerable speculation surrounding the star and what it was exactly. Some say it was a curious coming together of planets, others a comet, and some say that it is possible that God provided a completely unique phenomenon for them to see and to follow. But whatever this was, planets, comets, something unique (never seen before, never seen after), we see that it continually led them as they sought the Christ Child. We see in verse 2 that it came up when Jesus was born. We see in verses 9-10 that the saw guided them, that they were overjoyed when they saw it, and that it eventually led them, and that it stopped right over the place where Jesus was. On their advent(ure) Jesus used a medium that would connect with the Magi in order to get the Kingdom message about the Christ Child out into the world. God meets the Magi in their own medium so to speak. God guides astronomers by a star. I believe that is so brilliant of God. He speaks their language. He after all is a missionary God and understands the cultures of the world, and what would be considered good news and how best to share the good news (in this occurrence the good news of the birth of the Christ Child) with that culture.
In this advent(ure) of following Jesus we need to follow our missionary God out into the world, and seek to know and to use those things that will connect with the people and the culture(s) that we are trying to reach. It is no different than what the Apostle Paul said in 1st Corinthians 9:19-23, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Also in this advent(ure) God has used things that have spoken to us. Things that He knew would connect with us. Maybe it’s been a relationship with just the right person. Maybe it’s been a word spoken at just the right moment. Maybe it’s been a trip or mission experience. Or maybe it’s been a song, a poem, a piece of art, or something related to the arts. But whatever it was or is for us, know that God, this missionary God, if he is able to speak to Astronomers by the use of a star, than he is more than able to speak to us through his word, each other, the world around us, etc….
Also in the advent(ure) of the Wise Men something stood out to me. In a world devoid of GPS, map quest, and google maps, here you see the Magi being led by the star. The are getting their navigation and direction from the star. They were trusting that star would lead them to the place where the King of the Jews was born. They didn’t have to listen for the women’s voice to say, “Turn right in 1/2 mile.” The only time they stopped and asked for directions was in Jerusalem. But as soon as they left Herod and Jerusalem the star came out again and led them right to the place where Jesus was.
So that got me thinking and wondering about what “star” are we following on this advent(ure) of life? Are we following the North Star (Jesus) or one that we put up in the sky? Is Jesus setting the trajectory of our life or do we want to? Are we following Him or do we want him to follow us? To make our own decisions and ask God to bless them instead of asking him first? In this advent(ure) of life and also in the advent(ure) of following Jesus, we must put him as the North Star of our life, and then leave the directions up to him. The magi didn’t have to decide which way to go, they just needed to follow the star. We don’t need to decide which way to go, we just need to trust and follow the great North Star Jesus and he will lead us to the right place.
And lastly, I want to look at the reaction of Herod to the news that a King of Jews was born. Look at verse 3, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Why was Herod and Jerusalem disturbed? Herod was disturbed because he was concerned about his own position as ruler of Israel. He saw wise men who traveled thousands of miles that were guided by a star looking for one called “the new born King” as a hugely provocative “political” event. He had to know that if this baby, was truly the King of the Jews, then his days were numbered. He was disturbed and if he was disturbed, he was the kind of person who would act out on that fact, and Jerusalem would suffer. That is why Jerusalem was disturbed with him.
And so we all know that you can’t have two royal houses, whether in Israel, in Rome, or even today and so Herod would do all that he could to resist the charm of the christ Child. And we see later on in the Scriptures the effort to rid Israel of the Christ child by killing all male babies that were 2 and under in Bethlehem so that he could again have the title King of the Jews.
In this advent(ure) of life that we live we are in much the same place. We have to decide which King we are going to have on our throne of our lives. There can’t be two Kings ruling in my life. It either has to be the King of Me or the true King of Kings Jesus.
And so these are probably the most poignant questions that we need to wrestle with today. Which King are you living for? What star are you following? Are you following the North Star Jesus? Are you living for the King of Kings? Or are you following your own star and living for your own Kingdom? Let’s unpack the Scripture that we just looked out together and also talked about the questions that I just raised in our discussion time.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and the message?
2. What “Kings” do people put on the thrones of their lives? What “stars” do people follow? What about you? What “King” do you put on your throne and what “star” do you follow?
3. God “spoke” in the language of the Magi (the Star). How might you and I be called to speak the “language” of people we meet each day? In what ways can we follow the model of our Missionary God and the Apostle Paul to “speak” the language of our culture(s)?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?