First Lesson: Isaiah 60: 1-6
Responsive Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14
Second Lesson: Ephesians 3: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 1-12
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel lesson tells us the story of the Wise Men. We know a little bit about the Wise Men, we know they came from the east, we know they brought three gifts, and we know they came to worship the Christ child. We don’t know much about the Wise Men beyond this. This morning, I wish to tell the Wise Men’s story.
One night some men were studying the stars like these men did every night. These men were known as “Magi”. Magi came from Persia where today Iran sits. You see several hundred years before the Birth of Christ; a man was born named Zoroaster. Zoroaster was the founder of a religion called Zoroastrianism known as the “Religion of the Stars”. Zoroaster’s followers would look to the sky every night as a way of trying to interpret the relationship between the movement of the stars and human events. We might know what these men do today as Astrologers. I don’t know what you think of horoscope readings. To understand the Magi’s story, you need to know that Astrology was a highly respected science in the days that Jesus lived. Hence, this was why people would call the Magi “The Wise Men.”
One night while gazing at the stars, the Wise Men saw something like they had never seen before. The Wise Men weren’t quite sure what to make of it at first. They didn’t know if it was an unusual alignment of the planets, whether it was a comet, or even whether it was a nova or an exploding star. This star rose, unlike anything the Wise Men had ever seen before in their lives. From where the Wise Men came, there was a significant belief about a rising star. Rising stars were thought to predict the birth of a ruler. The Wise Men witnessed the most important astrological sign of their life, so they decided to follow it for a thousand miles all the way to Jerusalem.
Once the Wise Men arrive at Jerusalem, they arrive at the palace of King Herod looking for answers. Considering these men’s esteemed role as scientists, Herod welcomes them into his presence wishing to find out details about the star they were following.
When Herod hears a child has been born who the Wise Men deem “The King of the Jews” he searches out answers. Herod had a great fright come over him upon hearing about the Messiah’s birth. Herod feared for his own throne. Herod did not think of the Messiah’s birth in religious terms.
Herod gathers together all the great religious scholars in the Chief Priests and Teachers of Jerusalem to find out where this child may have been born.
The scholars knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The scholars knew the words of the Book of Micah written several hundred years before
“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.’”- Micah 5:2-4
So Herod sent the Wise Men off to Bethlehem. Herod wishes for them to return to his presence, claiming to want also to worship the child. Herod's heart burns with jealously in wishing the child death.
As the Wise Men left Jerusalem, they still had no clue though how they were going to find this child within Bethlehem. Their despair quickly changes though when what appeared to be the same star they had seen months before appeared over them again. The Wise Men were “overwhelmed with joy”- Matthew 2:10. This star led the Wise Men to a house in Bethlehem where the child they were looking for laid.
Upon stepping foot, into the house, The Wise Men saw the child with his mother, Mary. The Wise Men’s reaction to this King of the Jews was interesting though. The Wise Men bowed down before him. What made this so interesting is that the Wise Men shouldn’t have cared about a King of the Jews. The Wise Men weren’t Jews themselves; this child wasn’t supposed to be born to be their king. The Wise Men become overwhelmed with reverence bowing down to this child as a sign of reverence and respect. A conviction that can't really be explained came upon the Wise Men at this moment that they were standing in the presence of a holy one of God.
The Wise Men then present Mary and Joseph with gifts. These weren’t going to be the standard gifts though of sheep and cattle. The Wise Men presented Mary and Joseph with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I suppose I should tell you a bit about these gifts and how they figure in our story.
The first gift was gold. Gold was the gift that you gave to a King. You might wonder what ever happened to the gold since you never hear about Mary and Joseph being rich. You see Joseph shortly after the Wise Men’s visit has a dream. The dream says that he needs to take his family out of Bethlehem and fast. King Herod is going to be looking for his child to eliminate any potential threats to the throne. Joseph is going to take his family to the land of Egypt. The trip to Egypt though was going to be expensive. Imagine staying for a year in a country with no place to stay, no work, and a young child. The gold that the Wise Men gave was going to keep this child safe in the year ahead.
The second gift given was frankincense. Frankincense was what burned during temple worship as they were offering prayers up to the Lord.
The final gift was the gift of myrrh. Myrrh was an embalming oil used for funerals and cremations till about the 15th century. The Wise Men give this child myrrh to point to how his kingship would not be made known in life, but rather in death. The King was going to die, and then three days later rise again.
What else can we say about the Wise Men? We often assume that there were only three of them because of the three gifts. We really don’t know how many Wise Men were present; the traditions of their homeland often believe that there may have been up to twelve Wise Men that journeyed to see the Christ child.
We also often talk about the Wise Men as Kings as sang in a famous song. The reason people believe this is because the pages of the Old Testament speak of “all kings fall down before him”-Psalm 72:11. Magi within Persia weren’t kings, but more so advisors to kings.
We also don’t know quite how long after Jesus’ birth that the Wise Men’s visit took place. Scholars debate this from being anywhere from a few months to a few years. King Herod would soon instruct that all boys under the age of two be put to death in Bethlehem. Herod though with his unchecked power probably wasn’t the most likely to show great restraint in whom he killed.
So what happens after the Wise Men leave Bethlehem? Christians from all over Asia began to claim the Wise Men as their own. Pakistan, Mongolia, China, Russia, Arabia all had their Christian communities claim to be descendants of the Wise Men. When famous benevolent kings rose up within these lands; they were thought to be descendants of the Wise Men. Rumors like this can only lead one to conclude that as the Wise Men journeyed back home on a different route from which they came, they reached people with the birth of the Christ-child. The Wise Men became some of the church’s first evangelists. In the year 1270, the explorer Marco Polo claimed to have seen the Wise Men’s bodies lying in the grave, uncorrupted on a visit to their homeland to the city of Tehran.
Other parts of the Christian Church though forgot the story about the Magi. Christians and Astrologists became bitter enemies from the Church’s earliest days. As Christianity spread throughout the empire, Astrologists like the Magi became increasingly denounced as quacks. Perhaps that is why in decades after their visit they were no longer known as “Magi” but rather “Wise Men” or “Kings”.
The Magi were strange men, with strange beliefs, with a strange way of life. The Christ child brought them into his presence. This child was going to bring in all sorts of people no matter how others may have regarded it.
When Matthew wrote his gospel telling the Wise Men’s story, it would be deemed “The Jewish Gospel”. Matthew wrote his Gospel to hardline Jews whose whole way of being in the Roman Empire was their adherence to tradition. The Wise Men stood far outside this tradition. Matthew tells this story to illustrate how the Wise Men would usher in a new age of religion, a religion that would be open to all comers regardless of background or levels of brokenness.
The thing about the story of the Wise Men is we often get it wrong by making it about how they went forth to Bethlehem to show praise for the Christ-child. Instead the story is really about God bringing forth these unique men to see the picture of their salvation.
This is the story of the Wise Men. Amen
 This section of the story was inspired by Markquart, Edward. “The Wise Men: Gospel Analysis”. Life of Christ Course. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Jan.5.2015
 This bit of knowledge was discovered by researcher Anders Hultgard in his 1998 writing “The Magi and the Star: the Persian background in texts and iconography”. This was discovered on the Wikipedia article on the Biblical Magi. “Biblical Magi”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4. Jan.2015. Web. Jan.4.2015.
 Matthew 2:1-2
 Matthew 2:3
 Matthew 2:4
 Matthew 2:8
 Matthew 2:10
 Matthew 2:13-18
 This is one of several traditions as to what happened with the Wise Men receiving the gift of gold. I use this story because it makes the most sense.
 This tradition has rose up in Syraic Churches which tend to actually bestow upon the Wise Men “Persian Names”.
 There is no such thing as a uniform tradition about the Wise Men. It’s worth nothing that the Wise Men play a prominent role in several different Asian Christian Traditions. “Biblical Magi”. Wikipedia
 Matthew 2:12
 This account from the journals of Marco Polo is also found in the Wikipedia article on the Magi.
 This background on the Wise Men’s origins in connection to Matthew’s Gospel was inspired by Bowen, Dr. Gilbert W. “Transcending the Tribe”. Lectionary.Org. Web. Jan.5.2015