Have you set your gaze on Jesus recently?
Now, today is actually Christmas eve for some Christians. Does anyone know where in the world they will be celebrating their main Christmas day tomorrow?
The former Soviet bloc, Middle East and some parts of Africa
We sponsor a 12-year-old girl who lives in Ethiopia and tomorrow she will celebrate Christmas. Their calendar is very similar to the Julian calendar with was the predecessor to the Gregorian calendar that we use today. It is tomorrow that she will exchange her gifts to her family and friends. Today we will remember the magi who visited Jesus with their gifts.
Who were the magi?
Greek uses the word magoi. The only other time magos occurs is in Acts 13 verse 6 and in Daniel 2 verse 2 where it
is used to describe someone who practices sorcery, i.e. a magician. If we look in another ancient manuscript
written by Josephus we see that the Magi first appeared around 7BC. At this time they were also priests who
practiced astronomy and they believed that a new star will mean that a new king
has been born.
These people came from east of the Roman Empire (probably in modern day Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen). Although one of the magi may have come from Ethiopia. This journey may have taken them two months. They went straight to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem – an obvious place for a king. But he wasn’t there. So they asked where he will be (V1)
How many magi were there?
Christmas cards and the song about the wise men often suggest that there were three because of the number of gifts recorded. “We three kings of orient are”.
What are their names?
Gaspar, Melchoir, or Bathasar. Melchoir from the Christmas carol
Apellus, Amerus, and Damasius, which were used in Peter Comestor’s medieval Historia Scholastica
does not say how many there are, nor what their names were. These names started appearing from about the
seventh century AD.
How old was Jesus when the Magi visited him?
In Luke 2:21 Jesus was circumcised when he was 8 days old. In Luke 2:22-24 once Mary had passed her 40 days of uncleanliness based on Jewish law before she could present Jesus in a temple Herod had all male children killed who were under the of two in Bethlehem. Once the magi had visited an angel warned Joseph in verses 13-15 to depart to Egypt. They did so that very night, therefore the presentation in the temple must have happened before their great escape. Therefore, Jesus must have been between 41 days and 2 years when he was visited by the magi.
Herod was afraid that his own position as king was threatened and he was murderously jealous of any rebels- having murdered two of his wives and three sons for suspecting to plot against him. Jesus is troubling to people who do not know him and will bring opposition to those who do know him.
What is the significance of the visit?
Epiphany = is a celebration of the revelation of the baby Jesus to the world. It is defined as a moment when you feel that you understand something, or something that you suddenly be conscience of that is important to you, or simply a powerful religious experience. Some of you may be familiar with the words “Day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray, to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly and to follow thee more nearly”. This is my prayer. The magi were the first of the gentiles (i.e. non Jewish) to worship Jesus. Jesus is the messiah – the King of the kings and should be honoured as such. Jesus is to be worshipped not just by the Jews but by all nations and peoples.
So why these gifts apart from them being foretold in the passage from Isaiah?
When we worshipped at our last church we were heavily involved in the Sunday School. One of the things we did was a Christmas production involving all of the children in front of the church. There were three wise men who through every practice gave gold, myrrh and Frankenstein to Jesus. Luckily on the main performance he did give frankincense. But what are the significance of these gifts? (verse 11)
Gold – precious metal and very valuable. In the Bible is often a symbol of divinity. The ark of the covenant was overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:10-17). This baby Jesus was God in the flesh. Are we today able to stand up where ever we may be, whether at work, home, with our friends, at school and say that Jesus is king of Kings and Lord of Lords and the king of us?
Frankincense is an opaque resin or gum found in the Bowellia tree which was grown in remote parts of Arabia, North Africa and India and is very expensive. The oil is aromatic and is used in incense, sacred oils and performs. Today it’s used for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties amongst others. Frankincense was placed in front of the ark of the covenant within the tent of meeting in the tabernacle (Exodus 30:34-38) and was also offered with the grain offerings as in Leviticus 2. When incense is burnt it produces an aroma that rises up in the air symbolising our prayers ascending to heaven. Therefore Frankincense symbolises Jesus’s priestly role. So let us offer up our prayers to God on a daily basis.
Myrrh is an aromatic resin used in incense, sacred oils, perfumes and in some medicines. Myrrh was one of the ingredients used in a sacred oil used in the tent of meeting. It was also used to anoint Aaron and his sons for service to the Lord. The use of myrrh symbolises our willingness to serve Jesus actively in our lives by living according to the truth that Jesus teaches. When I face Jesus face to face I want to hear the words “well done good and faithful servant”. Is this also one of your aims?
God revealed the identity of his one and only son to both the Jews with the shepherds and also to the gentiles, i.e. the rest of the world. This is a fulfilment of the prophesy of Simeon in Luke 2: 31 “a light to the gentiles”.
We know that the star rested in Bethlehem and not Jerusalem and they rejoiced when they saw the star again after seeing Herod. It was a house that the magi visited and therefore they did not see Jesus in a manger as the cards suggest.
They are plenty of evidence for various astronomical events happening all around the birth of Jesus. Using historical diaries of astronomers and historians along with computers there are several theories. Was it a Supernova where a star comes to the end of its life and explodes (5BC)?
Was it a comet? – but these keep moving – it makes good art but the Chinese did record a slow moving comet that lasted for 70 days in 5BC, i.e. the year that is most commonly accepted as the year that Jesus was born. Herod (Verse 4) had to seek advice and they quoted from the book of Micah.
Was it a massing of planets? – A triple conjunction of Jupitar and Saturn in 7BC
Jupiter, Venus and Regulus (bright star in the constellation of Leo – Israel referred to this constellation as the Lion of Judah. (3-2BC)
Or a Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus (2BC)
Did you know that if you are one degree out for every 50 miles you will be off target by 1 mile? This does not sound much but if you aimed from Iran’s capital city Tehran to Jerusalem which is about 2034 miles, if you were 1 degree out you would be about 41 miles off course! This would be like aiming from Tamworth but ending up in Warwick! Aiming for Sydney in Australia from Birmingham is about 9198 miles. One degree out will mean being 184 miles off course. This will be like aiming for Tamworth and arriving to the Scottish borders! Travelling to our sun would equate to about 1.6million miles off course! We need to keep our eyes on Jesus and allow him to direct us. If we think that some of the so called “small sins” are okay, we ought to think again. Think about how that one biscuit suddenly becomes they whole packet and you simply can’t shake that weight off or that tooth ache.
Try not to let any sin enter our minds. The giving into temptation about looking at something or someone soon becomes an addiction and may damage relationships that you had or could lead you further away from God. Small things can have massive consequences!
Have you gazed on Jesus lately – let’s all try and make it our goal to walk closer to Jesus this year. What is it you are seeking this year? The magi fixed their eyes on the star and followed, bringing their gifts to Mary, Joseph and Jesus. It is now our turn to fix our eyes on Jesus, to fix our gaze on him, to read about him in the Bible, to listen to him, to worship him and to follow him. It is time to give our lives to him by living a life of servanthood. To quote Christina Rossetti poem – “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him? Give my heart”. Amen