Who were the magi? What were the magi? We read about them every Advent, but what do we really know about these mystery men who appear ever so briefly in the Christmas story, and then fade back into the fog of time never to be heard from again. On this Feast Day of the Epiphany, I’d like to take a closer look.
They’ve been described as ‘wise men’, and ‘kings’, and ancient historians believe they were from a priestly caste in Persia, in the Zoroastrian tradition. Historically, magi studied the stars as astronomers, were adept at interpreting dreams, and were often charged with the duty of choosing the king.
Tradition tells us there were three magi in the Gospel narrative, based on the fact that three gifts were brought to Jesus. And the gifts they brought prophesied about the mission of Jesus.
The magi brought gold, symbolizing kingship—a clear statement that these ‘king makers’ somehow recognized that Jesus was in fact a King, albeit the King of a different kingdom.
The magi brought frankincense, a gift representing Jesus’ priesthood since frankincense was used in temple worship and accompanied the meal offering. Jesus is the Great High Priest, who would offer His very life for the salvation of humankind.
And the magi brought myrrh, an ingredient in sacred oil used to anoint the Tabernacle, high priests, and kings. Myrrh was also used as an embalming agent. Jesus, the King and High Priest, was born to die.
Many sermons could be preached on the significance of the three gifts, and should, but I want to return to the givers of the gifts for now—the three mystery men of Advent, mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel.
They were outsiders; from a different country, from a different culture, and from a different faith tradition.
Yet, somehow they were looking for the Messiah, and they didn’t miss the sign when it finally appeared. They saw the star, understood what it meant, and journeyed to find Him. When they found Him, they knelt before Him and gave generously. And when culture, in the person of King Herod, asked them to sell Jesus out they refused.
You think maybe there’s a message in any of this for us? Or better, a challenge?
Nestled comfortably in the fullness of faith, do we still search for Him? Do we still look for signs of His presence among us? Do we honor Him with our hearts and our material gifts? And when our culture of death asks us to betray Him, do we stand fast in our beliefs?
I pray that, like the mystery men of Advent, we too look for Jesus, love Jesus, and honor Jesus with our lives—and not just at Christmas time.