The Christmas Season has come to a close and today we remember two events in the life of Jesus, the visit of the Three Wise Men and his Baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. We will leave the Baptism for another day and turn our attention to the Wise Men.
What do we make of the visit of these three men? The first thing that we have to understand is that we do not know how soon after the birth of Jesus the visit took place. For artistic reasons we often see them, along with the shepherds, standing outside of the stable where Jesus was born. The account from Scripture that we heard read this morning mentions a house, not a stable, and only mentions Mary as being there. Not that it matters much to the story, but a little context is always a good thing. You see we do not get an exact time line from Scripture, it is not a history book, but what we get should change our lives.
So we have these three men, some call them kings and some call them astrologers. They come from the east, or literally from the rising of the sun. Tradition and Tradition is not a bad thing, by the way; tradition tells us that they have come from Persia, Babylonia, and India. Tradition also tells us their names, Melchior, the Persian; Caspar, or Gaspar the Indian; and Balthazar the Babylonian. Three men, from three different places, all meeting on a journey.
They come because they were in search of something and noticed a star, or as the Scripture has it, his star. They first come to see King Herod; this is where the tradition comes from that they were kings as the first thing a king would do when entering another king’s territory is to pay him a visit. They come to Herod and ask if he knows where this new baby might be. Herod calls the chief priests together and asks them where the Messiah will come from, and they tell him Bethlehem. So he sends the men there and asks them to come back and tell him is this is so.
The three men set out on their journey, but why did they come what drew them? They were seekers in search of something that they did not understand. They saw a sign and were interested to find out what it all meant, and so they set off on a pilgrimage to find the answer. Not unlike what we are doing in our spiritual life, we are searching for meaning and for clarity and so we set off on a pilgrimage to find the answers.
So they follow the star and when it stops they find Jesus. They enter the house and find Jesus with his mother. Tradition tells us that two years has passed since his birth. They enter the house and kneel before him to pay him homage. For a king to kneel before anyone is an extraordinary thing, and the writer of the Gospel points this out, so we understand the gravity of the situation. This is not just another baby; even pagans recognize him as the Messiah.
They present the child with gifts, gold frankincense and myrrh. These gifts have a practical meaning, but they also have a spiritual meaning to them. Gold is obvious it is valuable and, once again, tradition tells us that Mary and Joseph used this to finance their time spent in Egypt. Frankincense is a perfume and would be used, well as a perfume, and myrrh was used in the burial ritual.
But they also have a spiritual meaning for us; gold is the symbol of kingship. Again we see these visitors recognizing Jesus as a king. Frankincense was the symbol of a deity or a god, and the myrrh was a symbol of death. So in these gifts, we see the Gospel story being told. Jesus is the Messiah or a king, but he is also God, and he will be crucified and die.
Another interesting fact is that these men represented all ages and races. We turn again to tradition. Caspar was the oldest and hailed from Tarsus the “Land of Merchants” located in present day Turkey. He is depicted in art as an old man with a white beard and convention tells us that he would be about 60. Next in line Melchior, who came from Arabia and was considered middle aged and would be about 40. The youngest was Balthazar and is origins are a cause for disagreement. He is usually depicted as black and, therefore, would have come from Africa perhaps Ethiopia, and he was thought to be about 20 and is therefore not depicted with a beard.
Why does this matter? Because they came from the ends of the earth, old and young, shepherds and kings, to worship the Messiah. What they all came is a search of something, and they all brought gifts to honor him, and so the question we have to ask ourselves today is what gifts do we bring?
All of us have various gifts that have been given to us from God for our use but also for the use in the Kingdom of God. Do we thank God for the gifts that we have? Are we using those gifts for the furtherance of the Kingdom here on earth? What are we using them for? Are we giving all we have to the king or are we holding back a little just in case? Do we trust him, and by that I mean do we trust him, to know us better than we know ourselves? These are all questions we need to be asking ourselves not just today but every day.
I recently saw a picture; it was a stick figure drawing, of a person standing before Jesus, you could tell it was Jesus because he has long hair. The person was holding a heart in his hand, and the caption read this is all I have, and the response from Jesus was it is all I need. In the end, that is all he needs your willing heart.
We have to be ready, like the Wise Men, to set off on a journey and follow the star wherever it leads us. It may lead us outside of our comfort zone, and it may lead us to think about things in a new way, but we have to be willing to take that first step. The Wise Men had an idea; they had an inkling inside them that there was something special at the end of their journey, and they were not let down. Tradition tells us that they were pagans, but tradition also tells us that they left changed in some way and that they eventually converted, and that is what we have to do. We need to leave here changed in some way, even if it is just a little.
By your Spirit, Almighty God, Grant us Love for others, Joy in serving you, Peace in disagreement, Patience in suffering, Kindness toward all people, Goodness in evil times, Faithfulness in temptation, Gentleness in the face of opposition, Self-control in all things. Then strengthen us for ministry in your name. Amen.