The Richness of Scripture
As we begin the new year it may be worthwhile to ponder the first assigned Gospel reading of 2019: Matthew 2:1-18. The Magi (often called the three kings) after up to two years come to see the Christ Child. This beautiful story in Matthew uses the term Magi to designate those who came to pay homage to the baby Jesus. Magi is a foreign word to Hebrew and Greek. It perhaps denotes highly educated elite coming from the Middle Eastern to far Eastern world. It is also neutral in gender meaning it designates neither male nor female. We don’t know much about the Magi other then they come from afar and were willing to travel for at least a year to find this amazing baby and carried with them three gifts. We don’t know exactly who they were, how many there were, and we don’t know their gender. All of which I believe is intentional on Matthew’s part. We have foreign, amazing, persistent, and mysterious visitors coming to pay homage to this new child.
The Magi bring with them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is from the three gifts that we assume there were three Magi, but there could have been more or there could have been less. Gold it is assumed to mark Jesus as an earthly king. Frankincense to denote that he is God — frankincense was incense used in the worship of gods. And myrrh was part of embalming dead bodies — so the gifts reflected Jesus’ life as earthly king, God, and his laying down his life for all on earth. The story of Jesus Christ’s life on earth foreshadowed in the gifts the Magi bring.
In the story we hear that King Herod takes great interest in the Magi. Why have they come? He wants to know. Where is this new king? He asks. Pretending to want to go and worship this new king himself. Of course we learn a little later in the story that Herod only wants to know this so he can find and kill this baby who has been designated by the scriptures to be king.
After the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to their home through Jerusalem but rather to take another route Herod realizes has been tricked and decides to take matters into his own hands. He sends his troops to the area of Bethlehem and there they kill all the children who were two years old and younger to assure that there will be no king coming from where Jesus was born. The Bible warns us that those who have power will do almost anything to keep it.
Mary and Joseph had been warned by God to flee Israel and go to Egypt. So the family become immigrants with a young child to find safety in another country. Sadly we see the same thing happening today, desperate families leaving their country to try and find safety in another. Luckily for Mary, Joseph and Jesus Egypt did not deploy troops to their border to stop foreigners from entering the country and once in the Egyptian government did not separate Jesus from his parents. It seems that after the long and exhausting trip on foot from Israel to Egypt this poor family were welcomed and watched over by the people of this foreign country.
There is much to learn from this powerful story. Our scriptures are amazing. There is far more to them then we often know. We also have to be careful to not make assumptions about them. We don’t know the gender of the Magi — they could have been male or female. In a male dominated world we simply assume male. We are warned about the dangers of those in power and how they will fight change to the point of murder. And finally they open our eyes to the need to welcome the stranger for if Mary, Joseph and Jesus and been treated as we treat immigrants today it is hard to know what would have happened.
Be ready to embrace the wonders of our scriptures. Keep ears open and minds clear to hear what God’s Word has to teach us in today’s world. And Happy New Year as we begin 2019!
In Christ’s Name,