I am discontent with the Magi.
There is so much misunderstood and misapplied about the Magi in the Christmas story. The Bible only has 12 little verses in Matthew 2 attributed to their visit–which probably occurred as late as 2 years after Jesus birth–and yet somehow over the years, these Magi have become central figures in the nativity.
We sing “We Three Kings,” and yet the Bible does not indicate the number of Magi, nor is it clear that they were even kings…or even wise! They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh…really, strange gifts for a baby. Other than gold, the gifts have little value to a young, poor family. Frankincense is used in temple worship, and myrrh is an embalming spice. Yes, all three have symbolic meaning for the King of kings who was to die for humankind’s salvation, but how could the Magi have known? Moreover, the church observes the arrival of the Magi on Epiphany, January 6—12 days AFTER Christmas, marking the end of the Christmas season. Epiphany is not even a part of the Christmas season! In short, there are a lot of ideas about these Magi, but most of it is just guesswork.
A few years ago, an ancient text called, “Revelation of the Magi,” was recently found in the Vatican library and was translated for the first time into English. Brent Landau, professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, translated the text and believes the original text was written more than 1700 years ago.
The “Revelation of the Magi” was apparently written by the Magi themselves and seems to answer a lot of the questions about the Magi. Who were they? How many were there? Where did they come from? How did they know to follow the star? And most importantly, why should they follow the star? The most bizarre part of story is the depiction of the star descending to earth and transforming into a luminous “star-child” who tells them they must follow the star to Bethlehem and witness his birth in human form.
This fanciful manuscript almost seems too convenient, making it hard to accept. But one thing is clear, it seems that even the earliest Christians had a deep fascination about the Magi, and it did not take long before well-meaning storytellers filled in the gaps.
We have so confused, convoluted, changed, enhanced, forged, added to the Magi lore, that it might be worth considering removing them from the Christmas story altogether. We have no way of knowing what the true story of the Magi is. Maybe it is not worth studying (or believing) at all.
Afterall, what is it we really know about the Magi?
Most importantly, the Magi were not Jews. They were gentiles…foreigners…outsiders. If this is all we knew about the Magi, I am convinced that this fact would be enough for us to keep the Magi in the Christmas story.
Some of the very first to pay homage to Jesus were not his own people, not the Jewish priests or ruling class, not the descendents of David. The Magi traveled a great distance with great gifts to lie at Jesus’ feet. Their forefathers were not Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. They were not followers of the Law. They were not the chosen people. The Magi were strangers…outcasts…unknowns. The Magi were you and me. And they were welcome.
The Magi reminds us that Jesus came through the chosen people for all the people of the world—for everyone. At the foot of the manger, there is a place for the outsider. And Jesus went on to make room on his knee for the child. Among his friends, the tax collector. In his ministry, the woman. At his table, the outcast. And ultimately, at the foot of the cross, there is a place for everyone.
As followers of this Jesus, who made space for everyone, how well are we doing at making room for outsiders? How is the church making room for non-believers? For believers who believe differently; who worship differently; who speak differently?
How is your church skooching over and working hard to make space at the table for those seeking Jesus–the child, the youth, the aged? The sick? The infirmed? The prisoner? The homosexual? The home-bound? The politician? The homeless? The hungry? The lonely?
How is your small group making room for people whom you disagree with? Who do not look like you? Who are not of your socio-economic class?
How are you making room in your heart for the outcast? For the person you have a grudge against? For the person you don’t understand? For whomever it is you blame for the problems of the world, the church, or your life?
Jesus has made room for all of them…and then some.
If all we knew about the Magi was that they traveled a great distance, knelt before the Christ child, and offered gifts…that would be enough to keep them in the Christmas story…because it puts us in the Christmas story too. May we make room for others the way He makes room for us.
Rev. Brandon Dirks