“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”(Matthew 2:2)
Today’s feast is like a second Christmas but with a slight difference. While we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus on the 25th of December, we are celebrating today the realization that God was born in human flesh.
The key to understanding today’s Gospel passage is to bear in mind that Matthew was writing primarily to a Jewish audience, a people who were already familiar with today’s first reading where Isaiah speaks of a time that nations shall bring gold and frankincense to Israel. While Luke presents us with so many details surrounding the birth of Jesus, Matthew simply says: “When Jesus was born… wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” It is interesting to note that this visit of the wise men is found only in Matthew’s Gospel.
Who were these wise men and what impact did their visit have to say about the identity of the new born Jesus? How did they know about Jesus and what lessons do we learn from them?
1. Who Were They?
The only information Matthew provides is the fact that they were wise men from the East. As we say in pidgin: “wetin concern agbero with overload?” The implication of this visit is that Jesus was not born simply for the Jewish nation. Jesus is born as Saviour of the whole World. This is exactly the message that was revealed to St. Paul as he describes in our second reading today: “The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)
I feel sad when I hear people tell us Africans that Christianity is a white-man’s-religion, a symbol of colonialism or a form of oppression. To say such would be implying that Jesus came only to save the white race. From the wise men’s visit, we can see that God had us in mind from the very moment of Jesus’ birth. God had the whole world in mind while He was taking flesh in Mary’s womb.
2. What led them to Jesus?
The wise men did not have the privilege of having an Angel appear to them like the case of Zechariah or Mary, they probably had no knowledge of the prophets. A star captured their attention and they clearly were able to understand that this star was an indication of the birth of a King; a King whose coming among men cannot be ignored; a king whose very presence requires the necessary adoration and movement of all other kings. The wise men knew they had to go and worship this new-born king. Herod was deeply troubled because he knew that these wise men were not merely joking, he knew that the child who has been born was truly a king. Herod felt threatened.
The fact that the star led the wise men to move from their homes reveals that nature is vocal, nature speaks; nature tells us of the wonder of God the creator. The wise men were wise enough to understand that the star was not god to be worshipped but a voice that spoke to them about God.
One question we must ask ourselves today is: “where is my star?” In other words, what is that thing which attracts people to me? Like Jesus, each of us has a star, we were born for a purpose. Your life is not and can never be a mistake. Again, just as we all have stars, we are meant to become stars ourselves capable of pointing people to Jesus. There should be something about you that would make the wise men search for Jesus.
3. What Went Wrong?
The wise men upon getting to the land of Israel assumed there is no better place to find the new King than in the Palace of Herod. Despite being terrified at the news of another king, Herod was wise enough to consult the chief priests and scribes regarding the Christ (the long-awaited Messiah). Herod even helped the wise men by telling them to go to Bethlehem to search for the child but he did so with a wrong motive.
This experience teaches us that, one, not all that glitters is gold. Two, God works in mysterious ways. The palace may seem attractive yet it may not be God’s plan for us. Three, not all those who smile with us mean well for us. Four, in moments of difficulty and anxiety, we can find light by reading the Bible just like Herod who consulted the chief priests and scribes when he was troubled.
4. What did they Bring?
The wise men upon seeing the child FELL DOWN and WORSHIPPED HIM. Every time we come before Jesus, we are supposed to do exactly what the wise men did. The wise men are called wise because they were able to recognize the divinity of Jesus. No wonder the psalmist says: “Only a fool will say there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1)
Lastly, the wise men brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is again another Epiphany; a revelation of the identity of Jesus as KING, PRIEST AND SAVIOUR of the world. Jesus had not even started to talk or walk when this happened yet it is clear to the whole world that He is God in human flesh. He rules as King with gold, He sanctifies as a Priest with incense (which we still use today at mass) and as Saviour of mankind, Jesus’ body would be preserved with myrrh when he offers his life for our salvation.
The wise men gave gifts to Jesus because they recognized His Divinity, His Kingship and His Sacrificial role for mankind. The question is: “what kind of gifts do I render to Jesus? And what do my gifts say about Jesus?” Indeed, the best gift we can offer to Jesus today is the gift of a righteous life, a pure heart and hands willing to do God’s commands.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, fill me with light, deepen my love for you and use me to bring the world out of darkness to worship you. Amen
Bible Study: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72, Ephesians 3:2-6 and Matthew 2:1-12).