Week 4, beginning 21st December:
The final explanation is worth a watch.
We are somewhat jumping ahead of ourselves, since this part of the Christmas story doesn’t take place until 2 years after Jesus birth, and is usually celebrated on the Sunday closest to the 6th January, known as Epiphany.
But, in any case, the Magi are still involved in the birth narrative, and are often included in Nativity scenes and Nativity plays, so there’s no harm in reflecting on their part in the story.
The Magi appear in Matthew’s Gospel, which is odd. Matthew was writing to spread the Good News of Jesus among Jews. That’s why chapter 1 of his Gospel lists Jesus’ genealogy; that’s Matthew’s way of showing Jews reading his gospel that Jesus is who He claimed to be: the Messiah, descended from the line of David.
So, if Matthew is trying to win over the Jews for Christ, why would he then include a story about Gentiles (non-Jews) so early on in his Gospel?
Tom Wright, a favourite theologian of mine, has a knack for being able to explain complex theological points in concise manner. Here is a quote from his book, Matthew For Everyone (2004):
The arrival of the ‘Magi’…introduces us to something which Matthew wants us to be clear about from the start. If Jesus is in some sense king of the Jews, that doesn’t mean that his rule is limited to the Jewish people. At the heart of many porphecies about the coming king, the Messiah, there were predictions that his rule would bring God’s justice and peace to the whole world…. Here, even when Jesus is an apparently unknown baby, there is a sign of what is to come. The gifts that the Magi brought were the sort of things that people in the ancient world would think of as appropriate presents to bring to kings, or even gods….
Listen to the whole story, Matthew is saying. Think about what it meant for Jesus to be the true king of the Jews. And then – come to him, by whatever route you can, and with the best gifts you can find. (Wright, 2004: 11-12)
Jesus is for everyone. Jesus is for you this Christmas. But, what sort of gift should we bring, when we come to Jesus? In answer to that, let me point to the final verse of the hymn, “In the Bleak Midwinter”:
What, then, can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
What, then can I give Him? Give Him my heart.
Sola Deo Gloria. Amen.