Sunday, January 08, 2017

Adoration Of The Magi

(Adoration of the Magi - Bartolome Esteban Murillo c. 1655)

Today the Western Christian calendar celebrates the Epiphany, the coming of the Magi to Jesus.

We actually do not know a lot about the Magi.  They are only mentioned in Matthew 2 (1-13).  We do not know how many there are (the number is always traditionally three, but that may be as much about the number of gifts they brought, assuming one gift per Magi).  We do not really know where they were from, other than "the East".   We can guess, based on the use of the word Magi in the Latin, that they were possibly from Persia, astrologers that watched the sky (Zoroastrian priests were known for their astrology and we do know that the Magi were referred to as wise men interpreting dreams stars back to the Babylonian Empire 600 years previous).

We do know that they were scholars and observers of some kind, because they came based on what they had seen in the sky:  "For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him" (verse 2b) - yet they were probably not Jews because they were not familiar with the Scripture quoted by the chief priests and scribes 'And to you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6, based on Micah 5:2).  We do know they were men of some kind of status because the gifts they brought - gold, frankincense, and myrrh - were expensive and most would not even have access to such things.  And we know that that they believed in and were attentive to the supernatural:  when later they received a dream to avoid Herod, they take another route back to where they came.

 The church could not stand to leave them anonymous and so gave them names:  Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (for which we have really no known basis).  Over time tales grew up about how they interacted with the early Church and how they spread knowledge of the Christ throughout the East.  And one of the kings, Balthazar, figures prominently in the book Ben Hur by Lew Wallace.

They come, they worship, they offer their gifts, and then they vanish into the pages of history.

What can we take away from these men who make this one brief appearance and then disappear?

1)  They acted in faith:  They saw a star that proclaimed a king - and acted upon it instead of merely staying at home.

2)  They worshiped:  When they arrived, they offered up worship  to Christ.  They understood that something miraculous had happened.

3)  They offered:  They gave precious gifts that would honor any royalty but also were symbolic of the roles Christ would play:  gold for royalty, frankincense for the priesthood, myrrh for the death of Christ.

4)  They disappeared:  We never hear about them again. They could have made public pronouncements (thus perhaps directing Herod's soldier's more quickly) or glorified themselves and their abilities.  Instead they journey back in anonymity.  For them is was about the King, not how far they had come or how they had found Him.

(The Magi Journeying - James Tissot, 1890)


Anonymous said...

Hi TB,

Here's something that you might find interesting.

Magi - The True Story of the Star of Bethlehem


Glen Filthie said...

TB I know enough about the faith to be dangerous and that's it. From what little I know - it seems to me that all kinds of things and events are symbols for something else. For them to appear and disappear like that seems odd. Could you be missing something here?

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thank you Jeff! I appreciate the link.

Thanks for stopping by!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Oh, I could always be missing something, Glen. That said, the Magi are not the only figures in the Bible to come and disappear - Melchizedek in Genesis, for example. Or really, true of our own lives as well - how many people have shown up in my own life at exactly the time needed, and then we never hear or see them again or have any knowledge of where they came from? In some ways the Magi probably reflect life as it actually happens.