I have always loved the wise men. As a young child, it was my favorite part of the Christmas Eve pageant in our beautiful church. I don’t think it had anything to do with my mother having sewn the costumes and created their crowns from her costume jewelry, but it might have. The sanctuary seemed to glow from the candlelight. The huge evergreen trees in the front of the church gave part of their greenery to garland the pews and the crown molding. The church was transformed into a fairytale. In addition, later that night Santa Claus was to come down our chimney.
All of these things I held dear to my heart called me to ponder God becoming a baby to live among those whom he came to save.
When I recall the pageantry and the anticipation of presents, I remember being stunned by the grandeur of the Magi. Everyone else made sense. A dirty stable attended by shepherds made sense. Even the angels made some sense, though I had never thought how odd it is that heaven descended to earth on that night. But the Magi were mysterious and weird.
It seemed understandable that a few people would have come to visit baby Jesus. Certainly news would have traveled fast that unfortunate visitors had to find a dirty stable to birth a baby. The animals would have been in the stable where Jesus was born so that made sense to me. The shepherds, who had fallen down with fear when the angel appeared to them proclaiming a baby’s birth, seem to have been close by so they went. But, the wise men had a long way to travel! And there is mystery about where they were from and when they actually visited Jesus. The wise men went to King Herod to tell of this wonder that a star proclaimed the coming of a savior.
In the Gospel of Matthew the Magi, often translated as “wise men”, but more accurately astronomers or astrologers arrive at the court of Herod in Jerusalem and tell the king of a star signifying the birth of the King of the Jews. Our English word magician comes from this same root “magi”. But these men weren’t magicians. They were likely priests of Zoroaster, a Persian who formed a religion in the East that is not well documented. Their journey and their gifts indicate they were wealthy, educated, and influential. The fact they were able to have access to Herod implies they were far more than travelers.
But who are they? Why do they show up only in Matthew’s gospel? Perhaps, most disturbing was they were pagan, non-Jewish, star and omen reading priests seeking the King of Jews? And once they found him and gazed into his face and the eyes of his mother and father and heard the stories of the shepherds and angels, what were they thinking?
Before they departed they received a dream that indicated not to tell Herod and so they took another route back to their country. What did they tell their friends, colleagues, and family about their journey? It is all deeply bizarre and beyond our comprehension.
Maybe that is the point.
I so often ponder to understand something and when I can’t seem to wrap my mind around what is going on, I quit.
It is like a Rubik’s cube. I spin it in my hands for a few turns and the colors clock around crazily and after a few minutes I quit.
Pagan sky readers bring gifts to Jesus’ family and read dreams to avoid giving data about his life to a predatory, merciless ruler. What am I to understand about this part of what is already a bizarre, nearly unbelievable story?
The best I can offer is to follow the intrigue of my young soul that knew without much basis that something truly incomprehensible and alluring is embedded in this part of the story. There is something about Jesus that befuddles me enough to throw my hands in the air and say: “I don’t know why, but I have to find you.” “I don’t know how far I have to travel and what danger I will face, but I have to find you.”
If pagan Magi need to see you, then how can I, who claim to be your follower, not start the journey this season to find the child who tears down kingdoms and raises up the dead?
I put some frankincense in my dispenser, got a cup of tea, and set out on this cool, wet day to find God.