Let’s begin with a review of the visit of the magi from a biblical perspective that’s a bit different from what many of our Christmas traditions reflect. First, the magi did not arrive before King Herod until after Jesus was born. Second, the magi followed the star not to where Jesus was born but to where He was living at the time of their arrival. Third, the magi did not visit Jesus in the stable … they came into the house where Jesus was with Mary His mother.
And now the biblical story of the magi …
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’ “
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matt 2:1-11 (NASB)
How long after Jesus was born did the magi finally arrive to see Him? It is really quite difficult to determine. We believe the magi traveled a great distance following the star. We know that Herod determined from them EXACTLY when the star appeared. We also know that when Herod realized the magi were not returning, he had all the male children two and under killed who lived in the vicinity of Bethlehem. We also know that Bethlehem is only about 6 miles from Jerusalem. So did King Herod patiently wait nearly two years for the magi to complete a 12 mile round trip before deciding he had been tricked? Seems unlikely … but admittedly that is little more than personal opinion. And did the star first draw the attention of the wise men from afar when Jesus was born or before? All things to ponder when considering the time of the magi arrival …
There are two types of gifts revealed in the final verses of this passage. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are oftentimes the only gifts of the magi we remember. And at Christmas, our giving is oftentimes a reflection of gift giving of the magi. These were all gifts of possession … gifts where ownership transfers from the one giving to the one receiving.
But the most important gifts in this passage are oftentimes the most forgotten gifts. They were not the gifts of possession, but the gifts of the heart that were given to the child Jesus:
FIRST, the magi rejoiced exceedingly with great joy when seeing the star fixed over the place where the Child Jesus was!
SECOND, after coming into the house where Jesus and Mary were, the magi fell to the ground and worshiped Jesus.
THEN and ONLY THEN …
From THEIR treasures, the magi gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Perhaps there is an incredible truth to be grasped here … we must give one our hearts before our other gifts have any value. And it would appear to me that little truth applies not only in our relationship to Jesus but also in our relationships with one another. Too often we give the gifts of possession when the gifts of our heart are what is most desired. Perhaps that also reveals a bit about why handmade gifts are so treasured … such gifts have a bit of both interwoven within.
“Wise men still seek Him.”
Merry Christmas my friends!