Foreign worshipers “after Jesus was born”

Posted Dec 25, 2019

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Daily Scripture

Matthew 2:1-12

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel” [Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 5:2].

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Reflection Questions

The Greek word magoi usually identified students of the stars. They most likely came from modern Iran, though “from the east” could mean a whole range of places. They arrived, not on the night of Jesus' birth, but an unspecified amount of time “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem.” Israel was just a minor Roman province. No one would expect non-Hebrew scholars to travel far to see, much less worship, a “king of the Jews.” Yet these notable visitors said, “We… have come to worship him.”

  • Due to this story’s familiarity, we might miss the oddness. Wealthy people who’d visited King Herod’s court “saw the child with Mary his mother [a young peasant girl]. Falling to their knees, they honored him.” Since it wasn’t outward trappings, what do you believe showed these foreign wise men that this was a king worthy of their honor? Do external cues or less visible spiritual qualities impress you most? What traits of God most move you to “fall to your knees” in worship?
  • There’s a tragic irony in this story. The “legal experts” could rattle off Micah’s prophecy about Bethlehem but didn’t seem to care about whether it actually meant anything for them. King Herod only cared out of political paranoia. Yet the guests from far away truly sought the new king. How can your worship and Bible study nurture a holy curiosity like the magi’s, not the settled, routine boredom of the scribes?

Prayer

Lord God, we’ve kind of reduced this story to a bumper sticker: “Wise men still seek him.” Give me the gift of true inner wisdom, the ability to value and wonder at what your power is doing in our world. Amen.

Advent Family Activity

When your family sits down to eat, sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus after you pray. You might even bake a cake and decorate it to celebrate the birth of Jesus. After your meal, walk around to the homes in your neighborhood singing Christmas carols. Include “Happy Birthday” to Jesus among the carols.

During the season of Advent, we are sharing ideas for family activities as we “Countdown to Christmas!” Each day includes a simple way for families to remember what Christmas is all about. See this post and others like it on our @churchoftherez Instagram.

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Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Visiting Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

Merry Christmas! Christ is born! The star announces Christ’s birth that turns the world upside down.  The star that "stood over the place where the child was" signals that nothing will be the same, that God-with-us breaks into our score-keeping world with radical mercy and love.

Matthew 2 tells us that it was the “magi from the east” who saw the star. Why didn’t everyone see the star? Why did it take foreigners who were not even Jews to point it out? It took people from far away to come tell all Jerusalem the news about their own country. Outsiders who seemed to know more about the sky overhead than the very people who lived there.

Why couldn’t everyone in Jerusalem, the religious leaders and political experts, all see it? Maybe their eyes were so focused on the latest scandal in the news that they couldn’t pay attention to anything else. Maybe their lives were so stressed just keeping a job and raising a family that they never paid attention to the sky that draped over their lives every day. Maybe they hadn’t watched the sky enough to know that this star was remarkable, out of the ordinary, amazing enough to portend the world turned upside down. Or maybe they refused to ever be in the dark long enough to see stars, preferring instead only sunshine?

Today I’m wondering about the out-of-the-ordinary star that may be over my life— today, right now—that I don’t see. Who are the outsiders, the unexpected foreigners who can see the star over my life and point it out to me? Am I willing to stay in the darkness long enough to see it?

O Light of the World, hold me in the darkness, open-hearted to those who follow your star, so that I may see it, too.

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