What we're talking about
In Matthew 2:1-12 we see the story of the Magi, astronomers from the east who came looking for the child who was born king of the Jews. The magi are gentiles who recognize the kingship of Jesus and Jesus' birth is a threat to the establishment. In Matthew 2:2 it says “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?..." Did you catch that? They want to know who is born king of the Jews. Herod who was king at the time was not born a king. He was born in Edom, outside of Judea and only came to power because of his loyalty to the Romans and his ability to conquer his own people through military might. Jesus poses a threat to the establishment and Herod was a violent establishment. He was known for his great building campaigns and how ruthless he was. He killed several of his own sons and Agustus Ceasar even said that it would be better to be one of his pigs than to be one of his sons. When the emperor of Rome is calling you out, you know you have a reputation.
The Magi come bearing three gifts though, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Many scholars have looked at these gifts as a foreshadowing of what is to come. Gold is a gift for a king, frankincense is a rare incense used in worship and myrrh is a rare perfume used in burial ceremonies. In the beginning of Matthew's gospel, we are told that gentiles are the first people to recognize Jesus' status as king, worthy of worship, and honor him in his death. Jesus will be rejected by the religious and followed by the outsiders.
Questions for Conversation
- Is the story of the magi/wisemen essential to the nativity story of Jesus?
- What do you think it means that non-Jews were the first to recognize Jesus' status?
- How do you acknowledge who Jesus is at Christmas?
- How do we acknowledge Jesus' death at Christmas, just as the wisemen did with the myrrh?