Today’s Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
Every morning we go through our morning routine. We make coffee, take a shower, drink coffee, get dressed, drink coffee, find our keys, drink coffee, drive to work while drinking coffee, honk our horns a few times, and start a regular work day. For the most part nothing changes for us. Our days are oddly uneventful, it is no wonder we are so anxious for a weekend so we can do something different for a change.
The life of most people is a similar story, maybe without coffee, but we all have ritualistic lives that rarely change dramatically. Yet sometimes things do change. A new parent’s life changes the moment their bundle of joy comes home, and suddenly the word sleep causes their eyes to glaze over in desire. Eventually the baby is added into the daily routine and life goes on. Humans tend to gravitate toward the boring.
We do this because we must. We have bills to pay, food to gather and eat, and other responsibilities. Historically things have changed little. Daily the shepards watched their flocks, daily the farmer tends the grounds, and daily the scholars researched their fields of knowledge. Celebrations emerged around things like harvest, the birthing in the flocks, and other cycles of life, to celebrate the changing of tasks and responsibilities. Many of these holidays continue to celebrated today, days like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving have historic roots that lie in many cultural traditions revolving around the agrarian culture. Scholars studying the paths of the stars and the changing seasons began to develop calendars, and were able to predict when changes were about to occur. Things like the phases of the moon, how many moon phases to a season and year. These scholars would wave stories around their knowledge, develop rites and religions the support their lifestyles and keep order in the society. They held great power because they held knowledge and they interpret that knowledge to direct the decisions of the masses.
These wise men from the East were such scholars. The magi, magicians, or priests are all words used for these men. But who are these people? Magic is a term we tend to tense up around in our culture. It holds a mysterious, unexplainable aura that lead us to believe power is held that is beyond us. The magi were above other things astronomers they watched the stars, tracking their courses and interpereted the meaning. For the most part things in the offices of the magi were not that much different than the office of Sprint, the same thing happens pretty much every day.
They are given a task of watching one star or one star grouping. They track the time of it rising, the setting, the unique position in the sky and the distance it is to other groupings. They make reports, many of these reports can still be read, if you are interested in star positions in ancient times. At some point something happened in night skies, something that these well educated people could not explain. So like every person needing answers they began to search for answers.
These men from the East came from an area readers of scripture know well, the area of Persia, Babylon, or Assyria. The land of excile. One well known figure rose in power among these governments one named Daniel. Daniel was a government official one with power, he was also one of these wise men, from the ranks of the Magi. Among these wise men of the East a portion knew about the Hebrew history and prophecy, they learned from Daniel. When they were faced with a problem, they found an answer from the little but persistant land of Isreal. That answer could only be that the day of the Lord was near. The long awaited king had come.
Imagine the excitement in the towers of the magi the night the star appeared. The young assitant running to the master magician’s quarters to announce the news. The stress of the wisest of the order pouring over the clay tablets trying their best to explain what exactly was going on and why they didn’t foresee it. You may have had a conversation similar to this, your manager was caught off guard and now you have to try to explain why. No one can answer sufficiently so now it is time for damage control.
This priestly order was a very influential group. Some have even called this group king makers. They come from a defeated but down and out nation of Persia. This once great empire streached from Greece to India. It land mass was equal in the East as Rome was in the West. And Isreal was that small tract of land seperating the two empires. Just as Isreal has been in all of ancient history. Rome’s interest is there because if Palistine falls it can open the door to Rome. Persia needs this land so they can again put pressure on the western nations. Money is at the heart of the matter.
The magi missed something big and they hope to correct the error. They are influential members of the Persian culture, they are religious leaders who have followers not only in the land of the Mead’s but through out their former empire so these leaders whose livelihood comes from the prosperity of the nation go as a diplomatic entourage to hopefully gain an alliance with the king of the Jews.
They however aren’t the only players in the story. Herod the current king, rules under the direction of Rome. For the most part they live unharrassed by Rome, but there is unrest. He sees the group of magi coming. Remember this is not just merely three individules but a group of wealthy foriegn government officials, most likely with a large group of armed escorts. He too begins to wonder what is going on. What did he miss? We have two groups of people, two empires meeting in a small pocket of the world. Two super powers meeting unannounced, for reasons yet unknown. If they had cable tv in those days every channel would be broadcasting this story and everyone’s normal daily routines would be shaken. Think of a time like this in resent history. A day we all remember a day when towers fall and the strength of a nation is questioned. This is not just a small insignificant story. This is the announcement of a new day, the opening of a new age, the world as it was known was about to change.
Three gifts they bring to pay homage to the king. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are gifts of honor that rise well beyond tribute, but prophecy and worship. Gold even today is the internationally currency. Those that have gold have power, the currencies of the world rise and fall with the nation but gold holds value, it holds a consistant value. The amount of oil that can be purchased with an ounce of gold in the 1970’s is the same as today, even though the amount of hours we must work to fill our tank increases. Gold and wealth show where the power of the nation resides. Our nation is worried about the 99 vs the 1% yet our true worry shouldn’t be with who hold the dollars but who has the gold. When our dollars don’t buy as much it means our nation’s strength has gone elsewhere, and our gold has been given to pay homage to others. The gold of Persia was not going to Herod the king but another, the gold was not passed to Rome but the Persian magi of the east were honoring a new power one unseen by the eyes of the current regime.
Frankincense is a spice of worship. It is burned in the temples of various religions as a symbol of worship. The smoke rises carrying the prayers of the worshippers to the heavens and the sweet aroma symbolizes the blessing of the gods. Even the Hebrew temple to the one true God offered incense as a form of worship. If we read through the progression of offerings burned on the altar it begins with drink offerings of wine, moving to sin offerings of animals. Both represent the toils of man and the sour pungent stench created alluded to the vileness of humanity before God. After these offerings are burned and the worshippers are nearly sick from the odor of burning flesh the priest throws incense on the fire, quickly the room is filled with a new odor one refreshingly sweet. Their eyes are lifted to the heavens in praise and thanksgiving because their sins have been covered by the blood and blessing restored. These priest of foreign lands bring offerings of worship to the king. He is not just a human ruler but of devine heritage. He is more than a king he is lord, in a land where the emperor is worshiped as a God this does not bode well.
Myrrh is also a spice of religious quality. The name means bitter, it is a bitter oil used in morning and funeral rites. This giftgive a prophetic vision to this king. We who know the story know that this gift speaks of the suffering of Jesus, but it goes well beyond Christ individually. Myrrh is the spice of death, suffering, and war. These wise men were saying war is approaching a clash between the East and West, we gladdly embrace the challenge and seek the alliance. Suffering is at hand.
Three gifts with strong messages. They speak of power, worship, and suffering. They are carried not by the worshippers in Jerusalem but from the pagan priests of a foriegn land. Those directly affected, who eagerly await this day are so caught up with their own issues they miss it all together. And those who watch from the outside are brought into the fellowship.
We all get caught up in the daily grind. We often miss the chances to do something big, something of great importance. One hundred years ago the largest Christian nation in the world was caught in a bloody war of ideas. The revolution started as a protest against the unequal distribution of wealth. We know this revalutionary war as the red revaluation of Russia. The war that caused the last monarch of Europe to fall and the rise of communism. This war waged yet where was the Church the church that sheparded the largest single nation of believers? They were sitting in there domed buildings guilded in gold arguing not to minister to the hearts and minds of those they served but what leturgical color was most proper to display. The nation was gripped in suffering yet they did little and lost much.
We stand at the dawning of a new day. A day where many protest against the powers of the world. A day where the gold, frankincense, and myrrh are distributed to various factions. We seek power in places we never did before, we idolize gods empty of hope, and we are covered with the spices of morning because we wonder in darkness, lost. There is hope. These wisemen these scholars of ancient sciences saw a new hope in a baby found not in a great nation but in a land ruled by their enemy. A land lying on the crossroads of the nations.
He was not their king but he was a king whose power and stregnth took the greatest minds by surprise. They sought an alliance because in this king all their hope found reality. They invested their riches, praises, and eternal hope not in an emperor but an eternal king born in a stable. Do we invest in hope or security, in the dream or the known. Are we willing to risk our future to this stable born king or the might of the world? This king brought suffering and pain, but through it all honor, hope, power, strength, and assurance. Both of these once great empires dwindled to nonexistance yet the kingdom of God through Jesus rein from ages to ages.
As we enter holy expecency and communion with God as Friends let us risk our passions, dreams, desires, and hope in the king that unites the world in love, hope, and peace. Let us be a community loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living Christ’s love with others.