Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all
It has frequently been asserted that one of Anglican’s distinctive features is an emphasis on the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh in the man Jesus. This emphasis is set in opposition to other churches and denominations that emphasize the cross. Because Anglicanism emphasizes the incarnation, it is stated, it is more comfortable with the material world and the joys of the body. The problem with this assertion is that it puts the incarnation somehow in tension with the cross and resurrection of our Lord. If we direct our eyes to that manger scene what do we see? The Creator of the world has been born of a woman; the Lord of all history and time has entered into time; the Word by whom all things were made is speechless, the Word is wordless; the One who opens his hand and fills all things living with plenteousness, has to be fed by his mother. “He did not account equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant.” The incarnation affirms the paradox of divine humility. If we were to write the script on God becoming one of his creatures, we would likely write him into royalty, riches, and fame, as we think befits God; instead, the Lord appears in a stable with a manger for a crib; born into the poverty of the working class; born under the infamy of a mother who conceived while unwed. What is the purpose of this divine humility? If a man is drowning and you are standing on the shore, there is little chance your exhortations for the man to exert himself or your tossing him a buoy, will result in the man saving himself—sooner or later you have to get in the water to pull him to shore. The only salve for human pride which has cast us down is divine humility—Jesus getting into the water, if you will. When we think of the incarnation in this way, it is impossible not to see the cross as the flowering of this divine humility. On the cross, this God-man, though innocent, takes upon himself the punishment and guilt of all humanity. The cross is the supreme manifestation of the divine humility that was evident to the eyes of faith there in
In the same way, today, as we celebrate the Epiphany, we could say that the inclusion of the Gentiles—non-Jews—in God’s people is latent and foreshadowed in the coming of the wise men who were Gentiles to worship the new born king. Epiphany is a Greek word that means simply manifestation. The feast of the Epiphany comes at the conclusion of the twelve days of Christmas. And on this day in particular, we celebrate the manifestation of Jesus to the wise men as the new born king, and in this season generally we celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as both divine and human, recollecting his baptism, miracles of healing & forgiveness and his transfiguration.
On Christmas Day it was the Jewish shepherds who received the message of the angels about the new born messiah. On Epiphany it is the Gentile magi who follow a star to this same new born king. This order of first Jews and then Gentiles is reminiscent of what Paul writes in Romans: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” The feast of the Epiphany is the good news for you and me as Gentiles that this salvation is “also to the Gentile.”
Matthew is the only Gospel to recount the coming of the wise men or magi. The word magi in fact does not occur in the King James Bible; magi is the Latin word used in the Vulgate—the Bible of the middle ages—to translate the ‘wise men’ of the King James Bible. The word magi highlights their pagan background better than wise men because they were essentially magicians and astrologers. Pious exegetes have sometimes argued that the magi knew the biblical book of Daniel—the historic Daniel lived in Babylon—and that the wise men divined the advent of the Messiah from the prophecies of that book. Interesting but there is no support for the idea in Matthew’s narrative. Rather, the star or light in the sky is a miraculous sign whose meaning God reveals to the wise men. No doubt their traditional wisdom played a part in how God revealed the sign to them.
The wise men stop in
If this is the reaction of stale orthodoxy, the reaction of Herod also contains an important lesson. Herod is the paragon of insecurity. Here is a man who is governor under the
Following the star, the wise men proceed to
The magi are an excellent object lesson for us. Before the appearing of the star, the magi were thoroughly indoctrinated in their practice of astrology and accompanying superstitions. But God called them, where they were at, and led them to his Son Jesus. It is easy for us to think that when we get our lives in order, then we will commit our lives to God, once we reach a certain point. We think, we have got to make a certain amount of progress on our own before we can be good enough for God and the church. The truth is God calls us wherever we are at; he commands us to cast our treasures at his feet, the only place where those treasures will ever be secure and lasting. He calls us astrologers in