By Debbonnaire Kovacs, January 6, 2016
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12
Wouldn’t it be interesting to know more about the mysterious easterners who visited some months after Jesus’ birth? There are a few things we can be reasonably sure of: they weren’t kings, there weren’t three of them, they didn’t arrive on Jesus’ birth night (which probably wasn’t December 25). Most everything else is pure speculation.
They seem to have been astronomers of some sort, likely astrologers. (Who would think God would send signs in the heavens to astrologers? But then, who would think God would send Solomon’s most famous vision to him at the pagan “high place at Gibeon”? 1 Kings 3:3-4.)
They may have been from almost anywhere east of Bethlehem, though most commonly they are thought to have come from Persia or Babylon.
They may have taken a year or more to get there, given the two year margin King Herod left for his attempt to destroy the “new king of the Jews.”
Imagination has painted many a picture, told many a story, created many a myth, and even a few movies.
Perhaps most importantly, the consideration, imagination, and musings of so many minds through the centuries have found many insights and much to emulate. For instance, a very early tradition, perhaps starting in Armenia, labels them as representing the three divisions of humanity that we often call races (erroneously—there is only one race, and it’s human.) It is certainly true, though, that Jesus came for all humankind, and these visitors from the east exemplify that truth from the first stories of his life.
They are truth seekers who learn what they can, in the ways that they know—and God reaches to them there.
They bring what they have, and leave without knowing whether it will be of use or not—probably never knowing they finance the flight into Egypt (which, paradoxically, might not have been necessary if they hadn’t come…)
They worship without question, not arguing or debating or refusing what they find—a poor child with poor parents in a tiny town.
And what about the rest of the story? Did that trip change their lives? How? Did they spread the word? Did they come back? Did they ever learn about the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of the baby they briefly visited?
We can never know. But we can decide if we will be such worshipers. We can learn what we can in the ways that we know, bring what we have, worship without question, and pass the word:
Christ has come for everyone. For you.