Early Christians added the visit of the magi to Bethlehem to the baptism of Jesus as a second interpretation of Epiphany. (The first interpretation of Epiphany was the day of Jesus’ baptism, which we now celebrate the first Sunday after Epiphany.) The star-guided trek of the magi from the East to Bethlehem to see the child born in a manger adds to our understanding of God: God not only is the God of the Hebrew people and nation but also the God of people everywhere, in every nation. When we consider the star that guides the magi, we recognize that God is also the God of the universe.
The wise men come from ancient Persia (modern Iran) where Zoroastrianism, which accounts for the strong apocalyptic currents in Judaism and early Christianity, prevails. The story of Herod’s murderous plot to eliminate a competitor has garnered most of the attention paid to their visit, but something else deserves serious attention. True to their Zoroastrian training, the wise men look to the heavens for guidance. After a conference with Herod, they set out, “and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Joy overwhelms them. They kneel down and honor the child with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In an age informed by science, we treat star-guidance with considerable skepticism. In Matthew’s age, however, reliance on astrology made perfect sense. God, the God of the whole universe, uses nature to direct humans. In our own time we are learning anew that all the world is alive with God. It behooves us to pay attention to what God says to us through nature as well as through history and our own lives. Our survival will depend on it.
Sensitize us, O God, to your presence in our whole world lest we miss your word in the natural world. Amen.
Read Isaiah 42:1-9. What does it mean for Jesus to be a Servant Messiah? In what ways does God suffer with or for you?
Read Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14. As children of God, we are called to reflect God’s righteousness. How do you defend the poor and deliver the needy?
Read Acts 10:34-43. Consider the author’s proposal that those who fear God and do what is right may include people of other faiths. What would this mean for your faith and your relationships with those of other faiths?
Read Matthew 3:13-17. Remember your baptism. Did you make the decision to be baptized or did someone else make the decision for you? How does remembering your baptism guide you to do what God wants?
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